The word ‘dyslexia’ comes from Greek and means ‘difficulty with words’. It is now used as a name for a range of specific learning difficulties which may affect a person’s ability to read or write, and sometimes also to use number or other ‘codes’ such as musical notation.
Research is still going on to identify the causes of dyslexia. It is known to run in families, so there is a hereditary component, but the environment plays a part too. The way the brain develops before birth and in the early years is critical in determining the way learning will take place throughout life. Most dyslexic people have ‘developmental dyslexia’ – they are born with the anatomy that predisposes them to develop the traits associated with dyslexia – but dyslexia can also be ‘acquired’ – these same traits can appear in people who have had an injury or illness which has affected their learning.
For more information about dyslexia, visit the UK NHS site’s dyslexia pages.
The main indication that someone is dyslexic is that they have difficulty with reading or writing. However, some dyslexics are very good at reading, but find spelling the major problem. Most dyslexic children have difficulty with sorting out the relationships between the sounds in words and the way they are written, and with remembering the sequences of letters in words or words in sentences. In addition to the difficulties with words, many dyslexic people also have difficulty with working memory and with personal organization. Problems with sequencing and with matching signs and symbols may lead to problems in mathematics.
Dyslexics can be very good at some aspects of learning and can be extremely frustrated that working with words is so much harder for them than for others. Due to the strong emphasis on literacy skills in school, especially in the early years, dyslexic children are likely to experience a great deal of failure. This often results in making them feel stupid, or that they don’t fit in, which can lead to low self-esteem. It may also lead to bad behaviour or withdrawal. They also often get more tired than other children, as they have to make much more effort to achieve the same results in literacy work.
For more details about the symptoms of dyslexia, visit the UK NHS website.
Dyslexia can occur at all levels of ability and across all of society and all languages (although some languages are easier to write in than others). Dyslexia is quite common – estimates vary, but it is probable that about 4-10% of the population are affected sufficiently to cause them day to day difficulties.
Dyslexia can affect an individual to different degrees, varying from mild to very severe. Every dyslexic person’s experience is different, but there are proven ways to help. The effects of dyslexia can be alleviated by skilled specialist teaching. This uses multi-sensory, structured, cumulative methods of teaching and learning, and encourages the learner to develop ways of learning that work for him or her.
Because of the likelihood of dyslexic children experiencing failure in literacy tasks, it is important for them to have plenty of opportunities to do art, crafts, drama, and sports during their time at school, and possibly also as extra-curricular activities, as these may be the only areas in which they may excel and experience a feeling of satisfaction in learning. Teachers can help in the classroom by allowing dyslexic children to record learning in a variety of ways other than producing lengthy pieces of writing, as well as allowing use of the computer. Parents and teachers can also help by making sure that a dyslexic child is challenged at the appropriate level. Being dyslexic is not an excuse for not doing homework! Due to the associated difficulties with organization and working memory, dyslexic youngsters may also need support in study skills.
The UK NHS Website provides some information about ways in dyslexia can be managed.
Dyslexia is recognized as a disability in the Disability Discrimination Act, which defines disability as ‘A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities’. The severity of this disability varies from one individual to the next however. For some it requires long term support and strategies to enable them to carry out day to day tasks. For others, the symptoms are less severe.
Luckily, with the right support and intervention, many dyslexics are able to overcome many of their difficulties and achieve success in their chosen field. Many people do not regard their dyslexia as a disability because without the dyslexic difficulties they may not have the gifts and talents that enable them to succeed in other areas.