Dyslexia definition – What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a difficulty in understanding and remembering reading, writing and numbers. People with dyslexia have difficulties with visual, auditory and linguistic processing. This leads to difficulties with reading, writing, numeracy and verbal reasoning.
Dyslexia is not caused by mental retardation and people with this problem have normal or high intelligence. However, there is a disruption in the way the brain works in these areas and this causes learning difficulties.
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What causes dyslexia?
The exact causes of dyslexia are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, neurological and environmental factors may play a role in its development. Some possible causes include:
- Genetic factors: Dyslexia tends to run in families and research has shown that there is a genetic component to the condition. It is thought that several genes may be involved, and certain genetic mutations or variations may increase the risk of developing dyslexia.
- Neurological factors: Studies using neuroimaging techniques have shown that people with dyslexia may have differences in the structure and function of their brains compared to people without dyslexia. These differences may affect the way the brain processes language, particularly in the areas responsible for phonological processing, which is the ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds of language.
- Environmental factors: Some environmental factors, such as exposure to certain toxins during pregnancy, low birth weight or prenatal and perinatal complications, have been suggested as potential risk factors for for this. .
- Differences in cognitive and language processing: Some researchers believe that dyslexia may be linked to differences in cognitive and language processing skills. For example, difficulties with phonological processing – the ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds of language – have been found in people with dyslexia. Other cognitive skills such as auditory processing, working memory and attention may also be involved.
What are the symptoms of dyslexia?
Symptoms of dyslexia can vary from person to person and manifest in different ways, but commonly observed symptoms may include
- Slowness in reading skills, difficulty in reading accurately and fluently. Reading words slowly, incorrectly or with difficulty.
- Difficulty remembering names, numbers, sequences (such as the order of days) and the order of operations.
- Short-term memory problems, difficulty following multi-step instructions.
- Problems learning the sounds and patterns of letters, words and speech.
- Writing difficulties, difficulties with clear and organised writing and putting thoughts into words.
- Limited vocabulary growth for their age.
- Frequent errors in following complex instructions and remembering facts.
- Frequent errors in mathematics (calculations, verbal problems).
- Below average scores in reading comprehension or cognitive ability.
- History of educational difficulties, grade repetition, frequent tutoring or learning support.
How many types of dyslexia are known to exist?
Dyslexia is generally divided into 3 main groups:
1. Verbal dyslexia: Covers difficulties with language skills. These include:
- Vocabulary development: Failure to achieve an age related number of words.
- Spelling: Difficulties in applying correct spelling rules.
- Verbal fluency: Difficulty expressing thoughts quickly and fluently.
- Verbal instructions: Difficulty following complex spoken instructions.
2. Visual spatial dyslexia: Covers difficulties with reading and visual spatial functions. These include:
- Letter and word recognition: Difficulties in correctly recognising letters, parts of words and whole words.
- Reading speed and accuracy: slow, disjointed and inaccurate reading.
- Perception of page layout: Difficulty in correctly identifying lines, paragraphs and page layout.
- Comprehension: Difficulty understanding text completely and correctly.
3. Mixed dyslexia: A combination of interdependent difficulties involving both verbal and visual spatial features. For example, there may be difficulties with both word recall and letter recognition.
These three subgroups may also show complex interactions between each other. Each subgroup has its own level of severity and support needs. Accurate diagnosis allows access to the necessary resources and adaptations.
Can people with dyslexia learn to read?
Yes, people with dyslexia can learn to read, but it can be very difficult. Although the process of learning to read becomes difficult with a diagnosis of dyslexia, it can be successful with early and ongoing support and the use of appropriate methods Motivation should be kept high, the reading experience should be enriched and the individual’s strengths should be utilised. With lifelong support, dyslexia can become an awareness rather than a disability.
With effective support, people with dyslexia can also become successful readers and writers. They can use digital resources effectively rather than being restricted to print. Despite dyslexia, they can access higher education, progress in their careers and continue to enjoy learning throughout their lives.
What should parents do?
To improve the characteristics of the child with dyslexia, parents should do the following
- Accept the diagnosis and educate themselves: Family members should learn more about dyslexia and understand the implications of the diagnosis.
- Have a positive attitude towards the child: Encourage and support the child by explaining the possibility of dyslexia.
- Work with the school: Establish good communication and help to ensure appropriate arrangements and support.
- Optimise working methods: The work area should be tidy, quiet and with few interruptions. Use mnemonics and memory aids.
- Making adjustments in daily life: Develop ideas to make everyday tasks easier (e.g. using lists).
- Building self-confidence: Build confidence by celebrating successes. But avoid excessive praise.
- Increase social and emotional support: Encourage friendships and participation in activities.
- Seek professional help if needed: Use speech therapy, psychotherapy or counselling services.
- Consider medication carefully: Medication should only be used for co-occurring disorders with careful medical advice.
- Explore resources: Find out about books, associations, websites and conferences on dyslexia.
Successful intervention requires good communication between family and school. Family support is crucial to children’s success. Families have a responsibility to empower their children and prepare them for a lifetime of success.
Academic achievement and well-being can be positively influenced by early intervention and appropriate support for risk factors. Effective prevention programmes can significantly reduce the negative impact of a diagnosis of dyslexia. However, support after diagnosis is always important.
How is Dyslexia Treatment?
Recommended treatments and interventions following a diagnosis of dyslexia include
- Targeted support in reading, writing and arithmetic: Additional support provided by the teacher, either individually or in small groups. This is focused on the subjects in which the student has difficulty.
- Simplification of verbal instructions: Complex verbal instructions are simplified and broken down into steps.
- Additional time: Extra time is given for exams and homework. This compensates for slow reading speeds and long processing times.
- Organisation: The organisation and presentation of school materials is changed (e.g. use of Braille, enlarged print, audio recording).
- Working memory enhancers: Techniques such as logical problem solving, mind mapping and following commands are used.
- Increasing motivation and confidence: Motivation and confidence are improved through positive reinforcement, celebration of success and encouragement.
- Technology tools: Technology such as digital book readers, audio text software, calculators and dictation software can be used.
- Visual-spatial support: Visual aids such as maps, diagrams, mind maps and graphic organisers are used to help visualise concepts.
- Psychotherapy: Individual, family or group therapy can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
- Medication: This is rarely used but may be used for comorbid conditions (e.g. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
The treatment plan is individualised and depends on the severity of the symptoms and the age and potential of the student. Dyslexia educational support and arrangements should be used at school, at home and in the community and the aim of treatment is to help students gain independence and confidence in reading, writing and maths.
- Fragel-Madeir, L., De Castro, J. B. P., Delou, C. M. C., Melo, W. V., Alves, G. R., Teixeira, P. O., & Castro, H. C. (2015). Dyslexia: A Review about a Disorder That Still Needs New Approaches and a Creative Education. Creative Education, 06(11), 1178–1192.
- Martinelli, K., & Cruger, M., PhD. (2022). Understanding Dyslexia. Child Mind Institute.
- Osa-Afiana, D. D. (2022, November 7). Symptom identification, assessment and management of dyslexia in children.
- Sanfilippo, J. S., Ness, M., Petscher, Y., Rappaport, L., Zuckerman, B., & Gaab, N. (2020). Reintroducing Dyslexia: Early Identification and Implications for Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics, 146(1).