About dyslexia

Dyslexia is a difficulty with recognising and understanding letters and words. This difficulty makes it very hard for people to read.

Dyslexia is a type of learning disability – that is, a serious difficulty in a particular area of learning. Dyslexia is also sometimes called specific learning disability.

Dyslexia is a neurobiological condition. This means that the brains of people with dyslexia work differently from other people’s brains. It doesn’t mean that their brains don’t work or don’t work as well as other people’s brains.

Dyslexia is not a problem with intelligence, and people with dyslexia are just as smart as other people.

Causes of dyslexia

We don’t know what causes dyslexia. But we do know that dyslexia tends to run in families – it might be a condition that one or both parents pass on to their children through their genes. The genes that parents pass on seem to affect the part of the brain involved in language.

Dyslexia isn’t caused by intellectual disability. Neither is it caused by visual or hearing problems, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), lack of opportunity or emotional difficulties.

Signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia symptoms are often picked up in the first two years of school, usually when children start learning to read.

Before children start school, it’s a bit harder to tell whether they have dyslexia. But there are some signs and symptoms. Your preschool child might have dyslexia if she:

  • is late to start talking
  • can’t string similar-sounding words together – for example, ‘cat, bat, hat’
  • can’t repeat at least parts of nursery rhymes.

Once your child starts school, he might have dyslexia if he:

  • has difficulty reading a single word
  • has difficulty spelling
  • struggles to see the similarities and differences in letters and words
  • reads below the expected level for his age
  • has trouble remembering the sequence of things
  • can’t understand quick instructions.

Your teenage child might have dyslexia if she:

  • struggles to read and spell
  • avoids reading books and reading aloud
  • finds it hard to summarise a story
  • finds it hard to memorise things
  • struggles to manage her time.

But if your child has some of these difficulties, it doesn’t automatically mean that he has dyslexia.

If you think your child might have a learning difficulty, it’s important to have it checked out early. Children often become quite good at covering up problems with learning as they get older. If you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to start by talking with your child’s teacher.

Diagnosing dyslexia

If you have a family history of reading difficulties or if you’re concerned that your child is having trouble at school, especially with recognising and understanding words, there are a couple of steps you can take towards getting a diagnosis.

Talk with your child’s teacher
The first step is talking with your child’s teacher. You can ask questions about how your child is going with reading and spelling. It might also be worth talking with the teacher about how your child is going at school more generally and how your child feels about school.

The teacher can assess your child and go through school reports with you. This can help you and the teacher see whether there’s a pattern of problems.

Ask for an assessment
If you’re still concerned after talking with your child’s teacher, ask the school whether it can organise a formal assessment.

A speech pathologist and/or psychologist could be involved at this point. They’ll help to check all the possible causes of your child’s difficulties with learning. If there’s a long delay with the assessment, or the assessment doesn’t seem to be available through your school, you can arrange to see a speech pathologist and/or psychologist privately. In this case, you’ll probably have to pay for the consultation and assessment.

For more information about assessment, you can try contacting your nearest Australian Federation of SPELD Associations (AUSPELD) branch.

Specialised support for your child with dyslexia

Dyslexia can’t be ‘cured’. But with time and specialised support, many people with dyslexia learn to improve their language and reading skills.

Your child might benefit from support like:

  • one-on-one tutoring
  • extra time to complete tests
  • specialist computer software – for example, word prediction, spell-checking and changing speech to text.

It’s a good idea to speak with a health professional about the best options for your child.

The earlier a child with dyslexia gets expert help, the better the child’s chance of making good progress.

There is no ‘wonder cure’ for dyslexia, despite what some advertisements might say. But there are many simple, supportive and productive ways to help children with learning disabilities. It’s a good idea to talk with a professional to get some reliable advice about worthwhile options. For example, you could talk with your GP, a paediatrician, your child’s teacher or a psychologist.

Helping your child with dyslexia: things you can do

There are lots of things you can do to support your child:

  • Help your child build resilience and be positive about her ability and disability. For example, reward and praise your child’s effort and successes, whether it’s in the classroom or in other areas like sport, drama or music.
  • Work with your child to challenge negative thoughts and avoid setbacks. For example, ‘Don’t let what happened today get you down. Think about how much you’ve improved this year. You just might need a bit more time and practice to get this right’.
  • Keep in close touch with your child’s teacher to work out what you can do at home to support your child’s schoolwork and other successes.
  • Try to make time to read together. The bonus is that it’s special one-on-one time for you both.
Dyslexia is an accepted disability under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act. Your child has the right to the same educational opportunities as other students. You can read more in our articles on disability law in Australiaanti-discrimination law in Australia and educational rights for children with disabilities.