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What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of learning difficulty estimated to affect around 4-8% of schoolchildren.

A person with dyslexia has difficulty with reading, spelling and decoding words.

Although dyslexia is a learning difficulty, it does not mean a child is less intelligent than children without dyslexia.

Dyslexia is also known as a spectrum disorder, meaning people with the condition can have mild to severe symptoms.

Dyslexia cannot be cured, but for many children, educational help and interventions can improve their reading and writing skills.

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia

Dyslexia affects phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.

Phonological awareness is an important skill in understanding the components that make up the sound of words, called phonemes.

Verbal memory is about sequences of information for short periods of time, such as being told a list of items or simple instructions.

Verbal processing speed is the time it takes to listen to and deal with letters, words and digits, including phone numbers.

Children with dyslexia may also have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Speech delay
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Impaired ability to learn basics such as the alphabet, colours and numbers
  • Problems with handwriting and other fine motor skills
  • Confusing letters such as "b" and "d" or the orders of letters within words
  • Trouble learning the connection between letters and their sounds

In older children or adults with dyslexia, these other signs may appear:

  • Trouble with reading and writing
  • Ongoing trouble with schoolwork
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Poor handwriting
  • Difficulty remembering numbers
  • Trouble following a sequence of directions and telling left from right

Diagnosing dyslexia

Because children learn at different rates, it can be difficult to diagnose dyslexia in young children.

The first step for parents with concerns is to speak to the child's teacher, or the special education needs co-ordinator, or SENCO, staff at the school.

The NHS cautions that getting an assessment and putting the right help in place can be time-consuming and frustrating.

Causes of dyslexia

Researchers have found that dyslexia is caused by a difference in the way the dyslexic brain processes information. Experts do not know precisely what causes dyslexia, but several studies now indicate that genetics plays a major role. If you or your partner has dyslexia, you are more likely to have children with dyslexia.

Brain scan studies suggest that people with dyslexia make more use of the right half of the brain associated with creative thought.

Complications of dyslexia

Children with dyslexia are at serious risk of developing emotional problems, not because of the condition itself, but because of the daily frustration and sense of failure they meet in the school environment. One study of children with dyslexia found that most of the children observed were well adjusted in preschool. But they began to develop emotional problems during their early years in school, when their reading issues began to surface.

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