What is Dyslexia

Mother helping son with homework

The Dyslexia Association of Ireland defines dyslexia as a specific learning difficulty affecting the acquisition of fluent and accurate reading and spelling skills

This occurs despite access to appropriate learning opportunities. Dyslexia is characterised by cognitive difficulties in (1) phonological processing, (2) working memory, and (3) speed of retrieval of information from long-term memory. Dyslexic difficulties occur on a continuum from mild to severe and affect approximately 10% of the population. People with dyslexia may experience greater stress and frustration as they endeavour to learn, resulting in heightened anxiety, particularly in relation to literacy acquisition. People with dyslexia may also have accompanying learning strengths.

The Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia (2001) suggests the following definition: “Dyslexia is manifested in a continuum of specific learning difficulties related to the acquisition of basic skills in reading, spelling and/or writing, such difficulties being unexplained in relation to an individual’s other abilities and educational experiences. Dyslexia can be described at the neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. It is typically characterised by inefficient information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing and motor skills may also be present.” (p.31)

How common is dyslexia?

Estimates of prevalence vary significantly and depend on the particular definition of dyslexia used in each research study, as well as other factors including language complexity. Depending on the definition used, between 4% to 17% of the population may be considered to have dyslexia; The internationally agreed consensus is that 10% is the average worldwide estimate.

Indicators of Dyslexia

Indicators of dyslexia vary with factors such as age and environment, and also differ somewhat for each individual, as dyslexia covers a broad spectrum. The Task Force Report outlines potential indicators of dyslexia at different ages as follows:

Indicators of Dyslexia (Ages 5-7+)

Many of these indicators may also be noted in students with other possible learning difficulties.

  • Is slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds (alphabetic principle)
  • Has difficulty separating words into sounds, and blending sounds to form words (phonemic awareness)
  • Has difficulty repeating multi-syllabic words (e.g., emeny for enemy; pasghetti for spaghetti)
  • Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
  • Has poor word-attack skills, especially for new words
  • Confuses small or ‘easy’ words: at/to; said/and; does/goes)
  • May make constant reading and spelling errors including: letter reversals (e.g., d for b as in dog for bog); letter inversions (e.g., m for w); letter transpositions (e.g., felt and left); word reversals (e.g., tip for pit); and word substitutions (e.g., house for home).
  • Reads slowly with little expression or fluency (oral reading is slow and laborious)
  • Has more difficulty with function words (e.g., is, to, of) than with content words (e.g., cloud, run, yellow)
  • May be slow to learn new skills, relying heavily on memorising without understanding
  • Reading comprehension is below expectation due to poor accuracy, fluency and speed
  • Reading comprehension is better than single-word reading
  • Listening comprehension is better than reading comprehension
  • Has trouble learning facts
  • Has difficulty planning or organising
  • Uses awkward pencil grip
  • Has slow and poor quality handwriting
  • Has trouble learning to tell the time on an analogue clock or watch
  • Has poor fine motor co-ordination

Indicators of Dyslexia (Ages 7-12+)

Many of these indicators may also be noted in students with other learning difficulties.

  • Has continued difficulty reading text aloud or silently
  • Reading achievement is below expectation
  • Still confuses letter sequences (e.g., soiled for solid; left for felt)
  • Is slow at discerning and learning prefixes, suffixes, root words and other morphemes as part of reading and spelling strategies
  • Poor reading accuracy, fluency, or speed interferes with reading comprehension
  • Spelling is inappropriate for age and general ability (e.g., spelling the same word differently on the same page, use of bizarre spelling patterns, frequent letter omissions, additions and transposition)
  • Poor spelling contributes to poor written expression (e.g., may avoid use of unfamiliar words)
  • Uses avoidance tactics when asked to read orally or write
  • Experiences language-related problems in maths (e.g., when reading word problems and directions, confuses numbers and symbols)
  • Is unable to learn multiplication tables by rote
  • Still confuses some directional words (e.g., left and right)
  • Has slow or poor recall of facts
  • Lacks understanding of other people’s body language and facial expressions
  • Has trouble with non-literal or figurative language (e.g., idioms, proverbs)
  • Forgets to bring in or hand in homework
  • Has difficulty remembering what day or month it is
  • Has difficulty remembering his/her own telephone number or birthday
  • Has poor planning and organisational skills
  • Has poor time management
  • Lacks self-confidence and has a poor self-image

Indicators of Dyslexia (12 Years+)

Many of these indicators may also be noted in students with other learning difficulties.

  • Is still reading slowly and without fluency, with many inaccuracies
  • Misreads words (e.g., hysterical for historical) or information
  • Has difficulty modifying reading rate
  • Has an inadequate store of knowledge due to lack of reading experience
  • Continues to experience serious spelling difficulties
  • Has slow, dysfluent and/or illegible handwriting
  • Has better oral skills than written skills
  • Has difficulty planning, sequencing and organising written text
  • Has difficulty with written syntax or punctuation
  • Has difficulty skimming, scanning and/or proof-reading written text
  • Has trouble summarising or outlining
  • Has problems in taking notes and copying from the board
  • Procrastinates and/or avoids reading and writing tasks
  • Does not complete assignments or class work or does not hand them in
  • Is slow in answering questions, especially open-ended ones
  • Has poor memorisation skills
  • Still mispronounces or misuses some words
  • Has problems recalling the names of some words or objects
  • Has poor planning and organisational skills
  • Has poor time management skills
  • Has more difficulty in language-based subjects (e.g., English, Irish, History) than in non-language based subjects (e.g., mathematics, technical graphics)
  • Lacks self-confidence and has a poor self-image