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12 Oct 2009 9:50 PM - Dr Roger Morris

Dyslexia is a type of Specific Learning Difficulty (SLD) in which the person has difficulties with language and words. Dyslexia affects approximately 10 per cent of the population. Despite having average or above average intelligence, people with dyslexia have difficulty in reading, and in other language-based tasks such as writing or spelling. The term dyslexia, although still used by some, is generally felt to be too narrow and SLD is often used to describe these learning difficulties. This is because the learning difficulties are usually broader than just reading difficulties; most children with SLD also have difficulty with spelling. The most common characteristic is that people have difficulty reading and spelling for no apparent reason. The person may be intelligent, able to achieve well in other areas and exposed to the same education as others, but is unable to read at the expected level. Common problem areas include spelling, comprehension, reading and identification of words.

Despite intensive research, the exact causes remain unknown. While most people affected eventually learn to read, they may have severe spelling problems unless they get support and specialised education. Dyslexia isn’t a symptom of low intelligence. For example, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison - both highly intelligent and creative people - had dyslexia. Dyslexia is believed to be a neurological disorder with a hereditary component, although no gene has yet been identified as causing the disorder. Brain imaging techniques show that people with dyslexia process phonological information (i.e. sound-based information) in a different area of the brain than non-dyslexics.

Some of the symptoms of dyslexia or SLD in a preschooler could include:

  • Delayed speech.
  • Problems with pronunciation.
  • Problems with rhyming words and learning rhymes.
  • Difficulty with learning shapes, colours and how to write their own name.
  • Difficulty with retelling a story in the right order of events.

Some of the symptoms in a primary school age child could include:

  • Problems with reading a single word.
  • Regularly confuses certain letters when writing, such as ‘d’ and ‘b’ or ‘m’ and ‘w’.
  • Regularly writes words backwards, such as writing ‘pit’ when the word ‘tip’ was intended.
  • Problems with grammar, such as learning prefixes or suffixes.
  • Tries to avoid reading aloud in class.
  • Doesn’t like reading books.
  • Reads below their expected level.

Some of the symptoms in a high school student could include:

  • Poor reading.
  • Bad spelling, including different misspellings of the same word in one writing assignment.
  • Difficulties with writing summaries.
  • Problems with learning a foreign language.

Dyslexia or SLD can be hard to diagnose unless the problem is severe. Seek professional advice from a specialist educational psychologist, occupational therapist or speech pathologist if you think you or your child may have dyslexia. These can be accessed directly, or through a referral from your GP.

There are variations in the type and severity of the learning disability that people with dyslexia have, so treatment is directed at special education techniques tailored to their specific needs. This is best achieved through a multi-disciplinary team approach. There is no cure for dyslexia, but the person can benefit from specialised support, which could include:

  • One-to-one tutoring from a specialist educator.
  • A phonics-based reading program that teaches the link between spoken and written sounds.
  • A multi-sensory approach to learning, which means using as many different senses as possible such as seeing, listening, doing and speaking.
  • Arrangements with the child’s school - for example, for them to take oral instead of written tests.
  • Learning via audiotape or videotape.


1. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

2. http://www.brainaustralia.org.au/