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What Is Dyslexia?

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Photo by Amey Evans

Dyslexia is ill-defined and not yet really fully understood. It does not help that there are many definitions and many labels such as “reading disability” and “Specific Learning Difficulty”.

Read Definitions commonly used in the UK.

We are in the infancy of neuroscience and there is much more to do and learn before we understand how the brain works differently in some learners and from learner to learner.

There is the notion that labelling can stigmatise and indeed some labels can, such as “stupid”, “slow”, or “thick”, however:

'In the case of dyslexia, the efforts of at least 50 years of scientific research have removed any stigma which is attached, and rather than being an obstacle to progress, the label can offer hope to the child or adult who is affected, coupled with increased (rather than declining) motivation.'

Snowling, M.J. (2015) The Dyslexia Debate: Reasons to Label.  A response to Elliott, in The Psychology of Education Review., 39, 20-21.

At Helen Arkell we consider that labelling is a useful step to self–understanding while acknowledging that the same label can apply to many different types of learner. So simply saying that you have dyslexia is not the full story.

Dyslexia may range from mild to severe; the difficulties may only come to light through challenges in the environment such as:

  • Starting school and being confronted with literacy tasks
  • School becoming more difficult as the reading load increases and the assumption is made that you can read to learn when you have not really mastered learning to read. Reading is effortful rather than fluent and automatic
  • Transition to secondary education with a plethora of teachers and subjects may highlight difficulties with organisation, memory of verbal information and increased written output demands
  • Transition to tertiary education where the support of family and school is removed may expose challenges in independent learning
  • The workplace can be difficult or become more difficult with promotion increasing admin duties or a change of management style imposing new systems or requirements of qualifications which do not offer reasonable adjustments for those who may process information more slowly than their peers.

Read more about indications of dyslexia in childhood

Read more about indications of dyslexia in adults

We know that dyslexia can overlap with other specific learning difficulties making people with dyslexia present different ways of processing.  Most typically there may be overlaps with dyspraxia and attention problems.

No two people with dyslexia are identical. In addition to different ways of thinking, they are individuals. They can determine how positive they are when confronted with difficulties; they can be creative in compensating for these difficulties and coming up with solutions. We can help with that at Helen Arkell.

At Helen Arkell we have generations of experience of helping people understand their learning profiles in ways whereby they can discover their strengths and talents and indeed what their brains are best designed for. We can help individuals. Whatever their level of difficulties they can share our vision of  

Believe, Achieve, Succeed

Dyslexia can be defined in the following way:

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty (or difference) that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

• Dyslexia occurs across a range of intellectual ability

• Additional difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation

• Dyslexia is on a continuum

• A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds to well informed intervention”

(Sir Jim Rose Identifying and teaching children with dyslexia and literacy difficulties 2009).

The BDA Management Board adopted Sir Jim Rose’s definition with the addition of a further paragraph:

“In addition to these characteristics, the BDA acknowledges the visual processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience, and points out that dyslexic readers can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process.  Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.”

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects auditory memory and processing speed which impacts on literacy development, mathematics, memory, organisation and sequencing skills to varying degrees. Dyslexia can occur at any level of intellectual development. It is neurological in origin and is seen to run in families. It affects up to 10% of the UK population at some level and can affect anyone of any age and background.  (Dyslexia SpLD-Trust March 2015)

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