What is dyslexia?

Just what is dyslexia? Here we give a brief overview of dyslexia as well as more academic definitions.

Dyslexia is a health condition, which affects an estimated 10% of the UK population. It is likely to be present at birth and to be life-long in its effects. Dyslexia is not affected or caused by intelligence and there is no cure but individuals can overcome it. Individuals with dyslexia will be affected differently but tend to have difficulties in some of the following areas:

Signs of Dyslexia

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Sequencing
  • Rapid naming
  • Working memory
  • Expressing thoughts
  • Differentiating left from right
  • Orientation
  • Short term memory
  • Time management
  • Organisation

It is important to remember that many children and adults with dyslexia have strengths and talents that can be used to compensate for these difficulties. The British Dyslexia Association lists possible strengths as including:

  • Innovative thinkers
  • Excellent trouble shooters
  • Intuitive problem solving
  • Creative in many ways
  • Lateral thinkers.

Our website, dyslexic.com features a wide range of technological solutions that use these strengths to help overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia. We offer a range of articles to help you find out more about the software and hardware tools that are available from introductory overviews to in-depth product reviews and comparisons.

Defining Dyslexia

In 2009 Sir Jim Rose’s Report on ‘Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties’ (PDF) gave the following description of dyslexia.

The description of dyslexia adopted in the report is as follows:

‘Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.

Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.

It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.

Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention.’

The British Dyslexia Association (B.D.A.) adds to the Rose Reports definition

In addition to these characteristics, the B.D.A. acknowledges the visual and auditory processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience, and points out that dyslexic readers can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process.  Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.

Understanding the definition

The definition states that dyslexia is not due to the individual’s ability to learn and develop these skills. It is to do with the way people process information and how that affects their ability to learn. This processing difficulty can be due to a number of reasons, but it is this which causes problems with acquiring literacy skills. Most dyslexic students have been identified to have one or more of the following deficiencies in the sub-skills that are required to acquire and use adequate literacy skills:

A marked inefficiency in the working or short-term memory system

This means that a dyslexic student may have problems with the amount of information that can be held and processed in the real-time, conscious memory.

Inadequate phonological processing abilities causing problems with connecting the letter patterns with the associated sounds

This is usually due to problems with the speed with which auditory information can be processed and with accessing the memory of audio sounds to relate them to the letter pattern.

Difficulties with automaticity

This can cause problems with getting things in the right order or sequencing and may also show itself as clumsiness caused by the brain sending the wrong signals to parts of the body in the wrong order.

A range of problems connected with visual processing to do with the speed with which visual information can be processed and with accessing the memory of visual patterns

Some people use the term “visual dyslexia” to mean what we call Visual Stress.

So, dyslexia can be summarised as having problems with processing visual or auditory information; withholding that information in working memory and with kinaesthetic awareness, co-ordination and automaticity. These can affect academic progress across a variety of subjects. Their impact can be mitigated by correct teaching, strategy development and the use of information technology.

Because of these difficulties with specifically defining dyslexia, the term Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) is frequently used in the education community. SpLD refers to a difficulty that is specific to a particular area, or that affects a particular process (as distinct from a general learning difficulty, which affects the learning of many different skills). SpLD includes other learning related disabilities such as:

Dysphasia, speech and language delay and/or deficit. Dyspraxia, motor and co-ordination difficulties. Dyscalculia, difficulty with mathematical concepts, calculations and interpreting mathematical symbols. Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Within the UK the term SpLD is also defined under the term SEND which doesn’t just encompass dyslexia this looks at all Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) within the education system.

Assessment and Screening

Diagnosis of dyslexia can be very difficult due to the complex nature of the condition and the co-occurring impacts of other conditions within dyslexia. We can look at different steps to identify through either screening or assessment to determine the condition. Screening or checklists are used as early identifiers of dyslexia. These cannot be used as a definitive identification but can be used to identify specific traits within the condition to help understand the ability of the individual and give indications of weakness. A full diagnostic assessment can only be carried out by a specialist dyslexia teacher which holds an AMBDA qualification (Associate Member of the British Dyslexia Association) and/or an APC (Assessment Practising Certificate) or an Educational Psychologist with HCPC registration who can use a battery of assessments to ascertain and diagnose dyslexia.

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17 thoughts on “What is dyslexia?”

  1. Thank you for this overview, but I suggest there are some clumsy descriptions such as “neurological education condition”. Neurological suggests a physical origin. Education does not. If you read through your article many of the indicators of dyslexia are not to do with learning or education at all, or may become evident in only certain learning environments.

    This is also a typical sentence used when people try to describe dyslexia: “It is to do with the way people process information and how that affects their ability to learn. ” Yes, in my experience, it is about the different ways people process information. However, the ability to learn is as affected by the way learning is delivered, that is, the context of learning, rather than the ability to learn. In some learning environments dyslexics can excel, where others who are catered for in traditional settings, find more challenging and difficulties in adapting.

    1. I particularly appreciate this words of yours and I quote “However, the ability to learn is as affected by the way learning is delivered, that is, the context of learning, rather than the ability to learn. ” Today through my son teacher, I realized my second son is dyslexia, he his intelligent in numerically, but find it difficult to read, write and remember what he was thought, he is a bit clumsy wearing his shoe, but very creative.
      How can I help him out of this condition?

  2. Pingback: Identifying Early Signs of Dyslexia in Children | Dyslexic.com

  3. Can an adult check if they have dyslexia. I have been told by colleagues to check please.. where do I go to check if I want to know that I have dyslexia or I am just very dumb parent.

  4. Want to know if dyskinesia I have please etc how I found out I had spicial needs at school,years ago I find hard Know at 54

    1. Catherine Smith

      Hi Julie,

      If you’re worried that you have dyskinesia, we would recommend that you visit your local GP to find out more information and support.

      I hope this helps.

    1. Catherine Smith


      Dyslexia is usually a condition that you have all of your life, but sometimes can manifest different symptoms at different times in a person’s life.

      If you think you may have the condition, we can offer a screener that will indicate the likeliness of dyslexia, however a diagnostic assessment would be required for a formal diagnosis.

      Let me know if you need anymore info.

  5. Hi my son has just been diagnosed with dyslexia he only 7yrs old will he have this for the rest of his life and will he not be able to get a job when he is older. Im.worried about this. Will he need to go to a special school. Can someone please put my mind to rest and give me some advice cause im going out of my mind with worry. He is very clever in other ways.

    1. Hi Emma,

      Thanks for reaching out. We understand that this is a worrying time for you, however you’ve done the best thing and that’s to get him diagnosed early. There are plenty of resources that can help your son throughout his education and having dyslexia isn’t a negative – some of the most successful people have dyslexia and credit their different thought processes as the main reason behind their achievements (take Richard Branson, for example).

      There is plenty of support out there for you and your child (your son’s school should be able to help), but also the British Dyslexia Association (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/), which is a great resource on the condition and offers plenty of information for parents.

      Your son will have this for the rest of his life, but he will learn different strategies that will aid him through school and work and he will be able to turn his dyslexia into a positive driving force. Individuals with dyslexia are usually much more creative and excellent problem solvers and communicators.

      If you live in the UK, there are government funded schemes that will help your son, such as the DSA and Access to Work, which often provide specialist equipment and teaching aid.

      If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  6. Hi Emma justed read your post on your son.I am 43.and I work as a fork lift truck engineer for a world wide company. Times are hard he will get there.

  7. My daughter is 19 and in Uni studying Drama. I need to eliminate dyslexia. I think she has low attention span; gets distracted when performing; issues with phonetics and concentrating when writing; Gets angry and argumentative. How can she discreetly find out. She’s concerned about stigma!

    1. Catherine Smith

      Hi Clement,

      Thanks for getting in touch. There is no cure for dyslexia, however there is plenty of support out there, such as assistive technology, which can help your daughter overcome her writing difficulties. If you believe she has dyslexia, I would suggest that she gets assessed — you may be able to find more information on this through her university.

      As to the stigma, dyslexia isn’t a negative – some of the most successful and creative people have dyslexia and credit their different thought processes toward their success (such as fellow actor, Whoopi Goldberg!). First we suggest to get a diagnosis and afterwards you can find the correct support and provisions that will help her overcome these difficulties.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions.

      Many thanks,

  8. I am a writer, performance poet and playwright and am dyslexic with associated traits of dyslexia
    I perform as Sam Rapp the dyslexic poet, around the UK , and have conducted various workshops on being dyslexic, as the dyslexic poet and I agree there is so much support now and it doesn’t have to be a stigma but it still is sometimes with employers, but us dyslexics are creative and amazing so that’s a good thing. This articule has been very helpful thanks you

  9. i am 15 with dyslexia i wouldn’t say its a bad thing you just think and use your brain in unieak ways to others and its not noticeable to your self because you have always been that was so know no difference. its not always a negative disorder i am happy with it

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