What is dyslexia?

What is dyslexia?

8 Dec 2022
Stefano Mirabello Medical Reviewer
Pharmacist / B.Pharm

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects reading and writing. It is the most common learning difficulty in the UK, affecting around 1 in every 10 people. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with dyslexia, you may have many questions. What is dyslexia? How did I get it? What does it mean for my child or me? In this blog post we’ll answer all of those questions and more. Keep reading to learn to find out more.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that primarily affects accurate and fluent reading skills and spelling. Dyslexia is categorised as a learning difficulty or a specific learning difficulty as opposed to a learning disability. Unlike a learning disability, intelligence isn’t affected.

People with dyslexia often have difficulty with some of the following:

  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words)
  • Phonology (the sound structure of language)
  • Fluency (the ability to read quickly and accurately)
  • Vocabulary (the words we know and use)
  • Comprehension (the ability to understand what we read)

Some people with dyslexia also have difficulty with writing and spelling.

Dyslexia explained

While the exact cause of dyslexia is unknown, it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Researchers are still trying to identify all of the possible causes of dyslexia, but some risk factors have been identified.


  • Heredity/Genetics. Dyslexia tends to run in families, so it is believed that genetics may play a role in its development. If you have a family member with dyslexia, you may be at an increased risk of developing the condition yourself
  • Environmental Factors. There is evidence that suggests that certain environmental factors may contribute to the development of dyslexia. These include prenatal exposure to toxins (such as alcohol), premature birth or low birth weight, problems during delivery (such as oxygen deprivation), infections during pregnancy (such as rubella or toxoplasmosis) and exposure to lead after birth

Risk Factors for Dyslexia

In addition to heredity and environmental factors, certain risk factors may make you more likely to develop dyslexia. These include:

  • Being male (males are four times more likely than females to develop dyslexia)
  • Having a family history of dyslexia
  • Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, dyspraxia or another behavioural disorder

These are just some of the possible causes of dyslexia. Research is ongoing and scientists are working hard to identify all of the potential causes of this condition.

What are the different types of dyslexia?

There are two main types of dyslexia: primary dyslexia and acquired dyslexia. Primary dyslexia is the most common type and occurs when there is a problem with the part of the brain that processes language. Acquired dyslexia occurs when there is damage to the brain from illness or injury.

What are the most common signs and symptoms of dyslexia?

Dyslexia can be difficult to identify because it manifests differently in different people. It is often diagnosed in school-aged children, but it can also affect adults. Some common signs of dyslexia include difficulty or impairment with:

  • Phonemic awareness (ability to recognise the sounds in words)
  • Word decoding (the ability to match letters to sounds)
  • Word recognition
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet
  • Recognising rhyming words
  • Sounding out words
  • Reading fluency or trouble reading
  • Reading comprehension
  • Reading aloud
  • Poor spelling
  • Understanding jokes or puns
  • Writing skills
  • Short-term memory
  • Being on time for appointments
  • Distinguishing between left and right
  • Following multistep directions
  • Remembering the sequence of steps in a task

Dyslexia affects both adolescents and adults. There are several typical signs of dyslexia that can be identified at different ages:

  • In young children, these may include delayed speech, difficulty learning new words and singing nursery rhymes, enjoy listening to stories, but showing no interest in letters or words
  • In older children and adolescents, signs of dyslexia may include difficulty with reading comprehension, slow or choppy reading, incorrect spellings, poor handwriting, poorly formed letters, messy written work and being immature
  • In adults, dyslexia can manifest as problems with reading, writing, and organisation such as reading/writing slowly, needing to re-read paragraphs to understand them and feeling overwhelmed

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

The process of dyslexia diagnosis typically begins with a referral from a teacher, parent or doctor. However, before a diagnosis can be made, it is important to rule out other potential causes of reading difficulties, such as a hearing problem or a learning disability.

Once other potential causes have been ruled out, the next step is to assess phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge. This assessment will help to identify any underlying weaknesses in auditory processing or phonological skills. Finally, a reading test will be administered to evaluate reading fluency and comprehension. Based on the results of these tests, a diagnosis of dyslexia can be made. This evaluation may be conducted by a psychologist, speech-language therapist or other qualified professional.

It is important to remember that dyslexia is a neurological disorder that cannot be cured, but with the right support in place, most people with dyslexia can learn to read and write.

What is the emotional impact of dyslexia?

Dyslexia can have a profound impact on a person’s emotional well-being. Individuals with dyslexia often struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. This can lead to mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. In some cases, dyslexia can also cause problems in social situations, such as difficulty making friends or interacting with peers.

It is important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with the emotional effects of dyslexia. There are many resources available to provide support and assistance. The British Dyslexia Association and International Dyslexia Association are great sources of information. With the right help, people with dyslexia can lead happy and successful lives.

What help is available from schools and workplaces?

In the UK, dyslexia is recognised as a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) by the Department for Education. This means that individuals with dyslexia are entitled to certain types of support and assistance in both school and work settings to make life and tasks easier.

At school, children who are dyslexic may be eligible for extra time in exams, as well as access to specialist teaching and support staff. Other accommodations include modifying the layout of text and using larger fonts. In some cases, they may also be able to receive financial assistance to help cover the cost of school materials and exam fees.

Adults with dyslexia may also be entitled to workplace adjustments, such as extended deadlines or extra training. One way is to use assistive technology. This can include text-to-speech software, which reads text aloud and speech-to-text software, which allows people to dictate their thoughts instead of writing them down. They may also be able to access funding to help with the cost of workplace equipment, such as specialist software.

There are a number of organisations that provide advice and support for individuals with dyslexia, as well as their families and carers. These organisations can provide information on what adjustments and support might be available, as well as offer advice on managing dyslexia in everyday life. By making simple adjustments, people with dyslexia can participate more fully in school, work and other activities.

Early identification and treatment is the key to helping individuals with dyslexia achieve in school and in life. If you suspect that you or your child may have dyslexia, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Early intervention is key to managing the condition and ensuring that individuals with dyslexia have the resources they need to succeed. With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with dyslexia can learn to read effectively.

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