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Dyslexia – reading, writing and spelling difficulties


What is Dyslexia?

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

Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities
Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, which indicates that the learning difficulty is not the result of an intellectual impairment. However, evidence indicates that dyslexia can affect children across the range of intellectual abilities, and that IQ does not necessarily predict how individuals will respond to evidence based literacy intervention or their long-term outcomes.


Checkout my new site dedicated to dyslexia and reading difficulties – ireadit hub


Dyslexia is on a continuum
Dyslexia is best thought of as a continuum without cut-off points, from mild to severe. Many individuals will also have other co-occurring difficulties, such as language delay, motor co-ordination difficulties, working memory delay, listening and attention difficulties and personal organisation difficulties, but these are not by themselves, indicators of dyslexia.


Signs of Dyslexia

The signs of dyslexia are not always initially obvious and some children will cope relatively well in early schooling and then start to struggle during later years when reading and writing becomes more complex. However, for many children the signs are more obvious from an early age. The problem is often made worse because many poor readers do not enjoy reading and so it does not become a leisure activity, which in turn compounds on reading and spelling development. When there is an obvious discrepancy between the ability to express ideas orally, and a difficulty recording these ideas in writing, this can also be a sign of dyslexia. Some signs of dyslexia at different ages are listed below:



  • Delayed or problematic speech
  • Poor expressive language
  • Poor rhyming skills
  • Little interest or difficulty learning letters


Early school years

  • Poor letter-sound knowledge
  • Poor phoneme awareness
  • Poor word attack skills
  • Idiosyncratic spelling
  • Problems copying


Middle school years

  • Delayed reading, writing and spelling skills
  • Slow reading
  • Poor decoding skills when faced with new words
  • Phonetic or non-phonetic spelling


Adolescence and adulthood

  • Poor reading fluency
  • Slow speed of writing
  • Poor organisation and expression in work – difficulties putting ideas and thoughts into the written form


Characteristic features of dyslexia

Difficulties in the areas of phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed are often associated as markers of dyslexia.

Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds in words, and is a key skill for the development of early word-level reading and spelling development. An example of phonological awareness would be demonstrated by understanding that if the ‘m’ in the word ‘mat’ is changed to an ‘s’, the word becomes ‘sat’, or recognising that the difference between ‘pen’ and ‘pet’, is the final sound.

Verbal (phonological short-term) memory is the ability to remember a sequence of verbal material for a short period of time, for example, to recall a list of words or a telephone number, or to remember a list of instructions.

Verbal processing speed is the time taken to process visual or verbal information, such as letters and digits.


The severity of Dyslexia

One way to identify the severity of dyslexia is by looking at how the child responds to an evidence based literacy program. For example, if a teacher/parent uses certain proven techniques for improving literacy skills, and the child either does not improve or improves at a very slow rate, we may be able to assume that the dyslexia is more severe (or that the intervention is being pitched at the wrong level). Those children with mild literacy or dyslexic difficulties should make good progress in developing literacy skills with appropriate interventions, and good, regular teaching. Only a small proportion of children will need more intensive support over a longer period. Those children that respond well to intervention when they are young should continue to be monitored through schooling as the literacy demands change as they progress through the education system.


The Short and Long-term effects of dyslexia
There is a growing body of evidence about the serious short and long‑term effects of dyslexia from the start of education into adolescence and adulthood. Younger children with dyslexia tend to gain less pleasure from reading, and so read less. These children’s overall educational development is often delayed because of the need for reading and writing and spelling skills throughout schooling. Academic failure and a lack of qualifications often impacts on the occupational choices and opportunities in adulthood.

While some individuals develop coping strategies and/or overcome their difficulties, many become disaffected and disengage from education. Studies show a high level illiteracy among the prison population. A recent UK report estimates that dyslexia may significantly affect the literacy attainment of between 4% and 8% of children. There are a number of influences that predict better and poorer long term outcomes:


Things that influence better outcomes

Early intervention

High quality intervention

Strong oral language skills

Ability to maintain attention

Good family/carer support


Problems which may cause poorer outcomes

Severity of phonological problems

Slow speed of processing

Lack of compensatory resources

Co-occurring learning difficulties

Late recognition and intervention

Poor teaching


Effective Intervention

It is generally agreed that the earlier dyslexic difficulties are identified the better the outcomes for the individual. Effective interventions and effective teaching using well established evidence-base intervention programmes prioritising phonological skills are key to helping young people with dyslexia. Teaching that adheres to the following principles has been shown to be beneficial:

  • highly structured
  • systematic
  • ‘little and often’ 


Research shows that regular daily sessions can be particularly effective, although some children with dyslexia will respond very slowly even to the most effective of teaching approaches. These children will require skilled, intensive, one-to-one interventions. Success will depend on teachers who know what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.

All teachers of beginner readers should know what to look for in children at risk of dyslexia and know where to seek advice on what steps are needed to help them. It is essential for schools to engage parents, and for the school and parents to work together to help the child overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia. The child’s progress (no matter how slow) must be met with praise and encouragement from home as well as school to build confidence and self-esteem, and develop a culture where reading is an enjoyable activity.


Checkout my new site dedicated to dyslexia and reading difficulties – ireadit hub

In the coming weeks I will be adding information relating to assessment, treatment, and activities to help individuals with dyslexia at home and in the classroom.


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