Frequently Asked Questions About Dyslexia

The information below has been adapted from Developmental Dyslexia (2001), a SPELD SA information sheet written by Rose Price and Karen Hodson, Adelaide psychologists, and Dyslexia – Action Plans for Successful Learning (2003), by Glynis Hannell. The use of the first person indicates that this is the author’s professional opinion.

What is dyslexia? top

The following is the definition of dyslexia adopted by the Research Committee of the International Dyslexia Association in August 2002:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary problems may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a:

  • Learning disability
  • Specific learning difficulty
  • Reading disorder
  • Reading disability

Is there a special test for diagnosing dyslexia? top

There is no single test for dyslexia. To reach a diagnosis, a psychologist analyses the results of an IQ battery, achievement tests and questionnaires to determine the reason for a child’s learning difficulty. Diagnosing dyslexia can be difficult as individuals present inconsistent and contradictory profiles.

A child who appears bright and capable and displays many of these difficulties may be at risk for dyslexia. However, it is important to remember that the levels of development and speed of learning in early childhood differ significantly for each child. For this reason, psychologists tend to not formally diagnose dyslexia until a child is seven years of age or older.

Nevertheless, much can be done for children 7 years and under to prevent later difficulties. A good starting point is a comprehensive assessment by an educational psychologist who will identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations to help address identified difficulties. A psychologist will also suggest other specialists if appropriate (e.g., speech pathologist, occupational therapist, tutor, etc.)

Do all students with reading difficulties have dyslexia? top

No. Other causes of reading difficulties include:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Hearing or vision problems
  • Lack of appropriate teaching
  • Language disorder
  • Emotional problems

What do we know about dyslexia? top

  • It affects 3% to 10% of the population
  • It has a neurobiological basis (i.e., the brain functions differently)
    • People are born with it
    • It runs in families
    • Lifelong condition
  • People with dyslexia have
    • Average or above IQ
    • Normal vision and hearing
    • Adequate education

What are the core difficulties? top

  • Processing the sounds in words (phonological deficit)
  • Auditory short-term memory
  • Retrieving words from vocabulary (naming speed)
  • Recognising and remembering the ‘look’ of words (orthographic processing)
  • Attaining automaticity in underlying and component skills needed for reading and written language
  • Multi-tasking

How do these core difficulties affect the dyslexic person? top

Phonological deficit →

  • Difficulty working with the sounds in words eg, identifying beginning and end sounds in a word, producing a word that rhymes
  • Problems learning phonic (letter/sound association) skills

Poor auditory short-term memory leads to difficulty with:

  • Blending sounds together
  • Taking in verbal information
  • Remembering instructions
  • Learning lists of facts

Slower naming speed →

  • Difficulty recalling names and words
  • Less fluent oral reading
  • Trouble with basic sight words

Orthographic processing difficulties →

  • Reading and spelling problems

Attaining automaticity in underlying and component skills needed for reading and written language. They may be able to perform the required skills but the process is slow, effortful and mechanic →

  • Can only do one thing at a time (eg, can’t focus on spelling and ideas when writing, can’t decode words and take in the meaning of the text) → difficulty with
    • Reading/comprehension
    • Written language
    • Listening/note-taking

Difficulty multi-tasking →

  • Problems with organisation
  • Problems with time management

What is the dyslexic student’s point of view? top

  • Not lazy, not dumb, not their fault
  • Good and bad days for no reason: one day they can do something, the next day they can’t
  • Get tired from working harder
  • Take longer to complete work
  • Try really hard but results disappoint self, parents and teachers
  • Get anxious under pressure
  • Forgetful and lose things despite best efforts
  • Lose motivation from repeated failure
  • Problems copying from the board, editing, organisation, learning multiplication tables

My child seems to be having difficulty with their learning and is not making as much progress as their peers. Where do I get help and how do I work out exactly what the problem is and what will help my child? top

Step 1: Talk to your child’s teacher. Ask to see examples of the range of work in the classroom and where your child's levels fit.

Step 2: Organise for a vision check with an optometrist

Step 3: Consider organizing an assessment by an educational/developmental psychologist. This will provide information about your child's learning abilities and their particular strengths and weaknesses as well as current literacy/numeracy levels, and identify whether or not the child might have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

Step 4: If there are also speech and/or language concerns (a) organise for a speech and language assessment by a speech pathologist, (b) organise for a hearing assessment by an audiologist

Step 5: Further concerns e.g. sleep problems or behavioural issues may benefit from an appointment with a paediatrician. This will require a referral from your child's GP.

Step 6: Occupational therapy assessment and intervention can assist children who have coordination difficulties, attention difficulties and sensory issues.

Step 7: Contact SPELD to organise for a tutor to work with your child. This step can be 'activated' at any time. It is not necessary to organise for all the above assessments! However, most tutors find it helpful if they have the results of school assessments and information from a psychological assessment.

A comprehensive psycho-educational assessment can establish the cause of the difficulty.

Where do I go for a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment? top

Ask your child's teacher and/or the school principal for their advice about where to get an assessment. They may be able to organise one for your child through the school.

Contact details for private psychologists in all states are provided on the Australian Psychological Society website www.psychology.org.au

When making an appointment, check that the psychologist specialises in learning difficulties.

Will my child grow out of their learning problems? top

Children who do not grasp basic reading and writing skills in their first year of school are at risk of ongoing learning difficulties. At the end of reception, most children can give the sound and write each of the letters of the alphabet when presented in jumbled order.

Do all dyslexics see print upside down or reverse letters and words? top

No. This is a myth. While some dyslexics do reverse some letters and words, many do not. Current research indicates that the underlying difficulties for most dyslexics relate to subtle difficulties with language and sounds.

Are coloured lenses a cure for dyslexia? top

No. Coloured lenses may improve reading comfort and accuracy for people who experience print distortion as a result of a problem with glare. People with this dysfunction, which Irlen (1983) called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, report print and background distortions when they read or write which may include blurring or movement of print, restricted span of recognition, and problems with sustaining focus (Whiting, 1985).

My child has been diagnosed with dyslexia. Should I tell them? top

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. For many children and adults, having a name for their problem can lead to a sense of relief. It can be reassuring to learn from a professional that you are not ‘dumb’ and there is a reason why you find reading and writing hard.

Is there a cure for dyslexia? top

Alas, no! When you see a program or therapy advertised through the media, find out whether it addresses your child’s particular learning difficulties before you try it. For example, if your child has a reading problem, ask the following questions:

  • Does the program improve reading? If so, how?
  • How is progress measured?
  • How much progress can you expect?
  • What evidence is available to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program for your child’s particular difficulties?

Note. Current research indicates that the only intervention to improve reading, that has lasting benefits, is a structured, sequential, phonics – based program of literacy instruction. Only explicit teaching and repetition of phonic-based material can create new connections within the brain that will make reading a more successful and effort free process.

Will my child ever learn to read and spell? top

With appropriate intervention, a dyslexic student can expect to read with the same degree of accuracy as their age peers by the time they leave school. However, they tend to read more slowly. On average, the level of spelling accuracy achieved by people with dyslexia is just below the average range.

Will my child be able to get a good education, go to university, get a job? top

The answer to all these questions is YES.

To achieve at school, a dyslexic needs

  • High quality intensive literacy instruction, preferably one-to-one, particularly in the junior primary years
    from year 5 onwards, accommodations e.g., books on tape, printed notes, use of a computer, printed handouts of notes on board, additional time in tests, use of multiplication tables chart or calculator
    • use of a laptop/computer
    • modifications eg giving a powerpoint presentation instead of writing an essay
    • setting up personal routines to aid organization
    • making reminder lists
    • looking at the range of computer software available such as text-to-speech and speech-to-text programs
      exploring MS Word (see …) to locate spell-checker, screen background colour, read aloud, auto-summarize
    • using a dictaphone, spell-checker etc

What are the characteristics of dyslexics who have been successful in their chosen careers? top

  • an understanding of how dyslexia affects reading and written language and hence why they find literacy tasks difficult
  • appreciating that despite having good reasoning skills and areas of strength, they have difficulty with some aspects of learning
  • a strong desire to succeed
  • willingness to work hard
  • persistence
  • confidence
  • make use of appropriate aids and find ways around their problems
  • find an area that suits their particular skills and abilities
  • have support and understanding at home and at school/university/work

Who are some famous people with dyslexia? top

There are many talented and well-known people (past and present) with dyslexia. They include:

  • Richard Branson (entrepreneur millionaire)
  • Kerry Packer (media millionaire)
  • Whoopi Goldberg (actor)
  • Albert Einstein (physicist)
  • Agatha Christie (author)
  • Jamie Oliver (chef)

Can a person be intellectually gifted and have dyslexia? top

Yes. Intellectually gifted-dyslexic students may be performing within the average range for their age but be significantly underachieving when their intelligence is taken into consideration. Indicators include a marked discrepancy between their verbal/intellectual abilities and their formal schoolwork. A comprehensive psycho-educational assessment will identify a student’s strengths and areas of difficulty.

Why do so many students with one disorder have other disorders as well? top

Dyslexia and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder frequently occur together, although the link between the two conditions is not, as yet, fully understood. Approximately 30% of dyslexic students have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Learning difficulties can also lead to anxiety, depression and behaviour problems.

Some students may have more than one type of learning disorder. Other learning disorders include:

Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is a specific learning difficulty that affects writing skills. It is characterized by difficulties with spelling, handwriting and transferring thoughts to paper.

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia refers to ‘a wide range of life long learning disabilities involving math. There is no single form of math disability, and difficulties vary from person to person and affect people differently in school and throughout life.’ The National Centre for Learning Disabilities (USA)

People with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

There is considerable overlap between dyslexia and dyscalculia and somewhere between 20% and 60% of students who have one of the two conditions also have the other.

Can Computers Help Me/ My Child with Dyslexia top

By Jan Polkinghorne Software Advisor

The short answer is yes. However each person’s difficulties and capabilities vary, therefore before spending money on software or hardware it would be advisable to have an individual consultation if possible with one of the SPELD Software Advisory team who will advise and let you try the software before you spend money.

There are two main areas in which computers may be able to assist people with dyslexia.

Assistive Technology

1. There are programs which can actually read aloud text from the screen: - these range from free to high end programs which are very customisable to the users needs. We generally advise that you try some of the free options first before spending money on the expensive options. Just because it is more expensive does not necessarily mean it will be more help to you. If the text is already available as editable text on a computer screen this is easy. If the text is only available as paper copy in book or document format then you will need to learn how to scan the document as editable text or try to obtain a copy from publishers. There are also many other options such as audio books for both younger and older users.

2. Many types of software are available which provide talking spell checkers, word prediction and also a number of tricks which can be utilised to make programs such as MS Word much more dyslexia friendly.

3. It is important that students from a very early age, even if they cannot write very well, can have some way of recording their ideas so that they realise it is the ideas which are valued not the method of recording. There are many ways of doing this including free (Audacity) and low cost software (2Simple Story & Text Ease). For the older user Dragon Naturally Speaking is now a very viable option for many people which converts talking into text. Although we do not advise use of Dragon below about 10 years of age there are many skills which younger users can be developing which make the introduction of Dragon much easier when the time is right. Presentation of knowledge via video, talking Power Points and many other options mean that students should be encouraged to demonstrate what they know by an alternative means if writing is not something they find easy.

Subject Software

For both younger and older users there are many programs which will both teach phonics, reading and maths and also give the repetitive practise needed to reinforce these skills. There are a few sites available free on the web and an abundance of software for all ages ranging from cheap to ridiculously expensive and a higher price tag frequently does not equate with good value. Some of these are able to be used without assistance and others will need a helper sitting alongside.

Where can I find out more about dyslexia? top

My current favourite books are:

For more questions and answers about dyslexia and links to the latest research, see our site links

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