In simple terms, Dyslexia is a trouble with words. It is a type of learning difficulty that affects a person's ability to read, write and speak. First indicators of Dyslexia can become evident in preschool years, and include problems with verbal language which then lead to difficulties in learning.

In more complex terms, Dyslexia is characterised by poor phonological awareness (the ability to recognise and manipulate sounds in words), weak auditory short-term memory (the ability to retain and recall sequence of verbalised information), impaired working memory (the ability to retain and manipulate information internally), and slow processing speeds (the time taken to process and decode verbal, visual and/or auditory material.)

Many children with Dyslexia, though not all, have a limited vocabulary and poor word finding abilities. Poor comprehension skills (understanding of word and sentence meanings) are also often associated with Dyslexia, though for many phonological processing is the only language difficulty and comprehension remains normal.

Common signs and symptoms of Dyslexia in children of various ages include:


  • Late speaking
  • Unclear speech
  • Prolonged use of unintelligible or 'own' speech
  • Inverting sounds in multi-syllable words ie hostipal for hospital
  • Poor expressive language
  • Poor rhyming skills
  • Difficulty with syllables
  • Little interest in and difficulty learning letters
  • Poor word retrieval skills

Early School Years

  • Poor letter to sound association
  • Poor sound manipulation skills
  • Poor word attack skills
  • Idiosyncratic spelling
  • Problems scanning and copying
  • Difficulty remembering frequently used sight words
  • Left to right confusion
  • Trouble remembering instructions and sequences
  • Inability to recognise the same word on different pages

Middle School Years

  • Continuation of above difficulties
  • Slow pace of reading
  • Poor decoding skills, particularly when faced with new words
  • Phonetic or non-phonetic spelling
  • Ongoing confusion of 'b's and 'd's / 'p's and 'q's
  • Difficulty understanding what has been read
  • May guess words from the first sound or shape


  • Slow reading and writing speed
  • Poor reading fluency
  • Poor organisation and expression in written work
  • Difficulty putting ideas to paper, despite appearing bright

Difficulties with language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and organisation can all co-occur with Dyslexia. However, these are not independently indicators of Dyslexia. Many children also exhibit behavioural problems. These can take many forms, including the child trying to conceal their learning difficulties by "playing up", or they may be frustrated and not understand why work is so hard for them and not their friends, or be reacting to being called 'dumb' or 'stupid' by peers. It is not uncommon that once the child learns to manage and overcome their literacy issues academic frustration is eased, and behavioural problems can be more easily addressed.

Sometimes Dyslexia is categorised as 'mild', 'moderate', and 'severe'. However, it is better to consider severity in terms of a continuum. For each child or persons affected, Dyslexia will present differently; symptoms and behavioural signs will vary as will individual strengths and weaknesses.

It is important to note that Dyslexia has NO relation to intelligence or IQ; Dyslexia can affect persons of all levels of intellect. Research has shown that Dyslexia and related learning difficulties originate biologically. Genetics plays a significant factor in the development of Dyslexia.

Though a life-long issue, the presentation of Dyslexia can change considerably over time. Early intervention and support are key factors in overcoming the challenges of Dyslexia. Ultimately, Dyslexia can be effectively managed to minimise, even eliminate its impediment in education and career pathways.

Dyslexia can present differently in each person. Based on such differentiations, researchers have categorised Dyslexia into sub-groups dependent on the nature and specificity of difficulties involved. It is unusual for a person to have only a single subtype of Dyslexia; most have characteristics associated with multiple types of Dyslexia.

Phonological Dyslexia

Phonological _Dyslexia is demonstrated in children who have difficulties reading unfamiliar words or nonsense (made-up) words. They also typically make incorrect letter-to-sound-associations, such as the sound uh for the letter 'a'. This then produces an incorrect word in reading, as cat would be spoken as cut. Phonological Dyslexics also commonly misread nonsense words as a visually similar word, such as reading flim as film. Children affected with this sub-type will perform poorly in phonological awareness tasks, such as rhyming, phoneme deletion (e.g. say hat without the h sound), blending (e.g. m-u-m becomes mum), and sound categorisation(e.g. run, rat, and dog. Which word begins with a different sound to the others?). However, children with pure phonological Dyslexia without characteristics of other sub-types, are typically able to read sight-words at an average to above average level.

Surface Dyslexia

Children with Surface Dyslexia have difficulty reading irregular words; words that follow regular letter-to-sound rules. Unlike those with phonological Dyslexia, children with surface Dyslexia can sound out nonsense words and regular words at a competent level. Essentially, they attempt to sound out all words according to regular rules, regardless of irregular pronunciations. It is thought that children with surface Dyslexia have a diminished capacity to form and maintain visual repetitions of written words in their memories, and thus rely solely on a regulated sounding-out approach to reading.

Dyslexia with Poor Comprehension

Dyslexia with Poor Comprehension often show normal reading accuracy and fluency, but have difficulty understanding what they have read. In most cases, such children have not so much a reading problem, as poor oral language skills that hamper their comprehension of written texts. When asked a question about the content of what they have just read, even if read with relative accuracy, poor comprehenders are unable to respond or do so incorrectly. Other characteristics of this sub-type include difficulty making inferences, poor vocabulary, and trouble understanding and following spoken instructions.

Children who have poor comprehension are sometimes difficult to identify within the classroom as they can perform competently in terms of reading accuracy and fluency, though trouble understanding spoken instructions could be a warning sign. Comprehension difficulties are more likely to become evident in later-primary school years, when children are required to gather information from or respond to a written text.


Hyperlexia is demonstrated as an obsession with written text from a very young age, prior to the development of expressive language. Children with hyperlexia read with accuracy beyond that expected of their age and cognitive level, but have little to no understanding of what they have read. Similarly to those with poor comprehension, children of the hyperlexia sub-type typically struggle with spoken and written comprehension. However, they may also display a range of cognitive impairments, such as low nonverbal intelligence or other cognitive difficulties such as autism spectrum disorders.

Letter-Position Dyslexia

Children with Letter-Position Dyslexia have difficulty differentiating words that contain transposed letters, leading to reading errors such as could for cloud and board for broad and three for there. Typically, the less familiar word will be read as the more commonly used word. Letter-positioning difficulties can occur in children whose letter-to-sounds associations and other reading skills are considered normal; they can identify letters and verbalise corresponding sounds correctly, yet the letter position has not been encoded.

Attentional Dyslexia

Attentional Dyslexia sub-type describes children who are unable to narrow their attention to an individual word from a wider text. Such children will find reading single letters easier than words, and reading single words easier than sentences. The inability to focus on the individual elements leads to letter omissions (such as reading sport as sort) and letter intrusions (such as reading feet as fleet.) This letter intrusion indicates the deficit in letter-word binding associated with attentional Dyslexia.

As previously stated, it is highly unlikely a child will have only a single sub-type of Dyslexia. These categorisations assist in assessing a child's specific difficulties and provide a framework of intervention tactics to target those problem areas.

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