Dyslexia is a serious difficulty with reading and spelling words. Children with dyslexia have trouble reading and spelling even when they’ve had opportunities to learn and have tried very hard to learn.
Dyslexia is a type of learning disability – that is, a serious difficulty in a particular area of learning. It’s also sometimes called specific learning disorder.
Dyslexia is not a problem with intelligence. People with dyslexia are just as smart as other people, but their brains process language differently.
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 parts of the brain involved in speech and language.
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 early warning signs in preschoolers. Preschoolers might have dyslexia if they:
- mispronounce more words than other children
- can’t play with sounds in words – for example, they have difficulty rhyming words like ‘cat’, ‘bat’ and ‘sat’, or saying words that start with the same sound like ‘some silly sandwiches’
- have more trouble than peers repeating long words and sentences
- are slow to connect letters and their sounds.
Once children start school, they might have dyslexia if they:
- have difficulty sounding out words – for example, they can’t sound out the word ‘cat’ as the sounds c-a-t
- have difficulty putting sounds together to make words – for example, they can’t put together the sounds b-a-t to sound the word ‘bat’
- guess and memorise words instead of sounding out words when reading
- struggle to remember words even when they’ve read and/or written the words many times
- have more trouble reading and spelling than other children the same age.
Teenagers might have dyslexia if they:
- struggle to manipulate sounds in spoken words – for example, they find it hard to take the ‘r’ sound out of ‘frog’ to make ‘fog’
- get lots of words wrong when reading aloud, including short, common words
- dislike and avoid reading
- prefer to listen to others reading aloud
- make a lot of spelling mistakes and disguise them with messy handwriting.
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 have a family history of reading difficulties or if you’re concerned that your child is having trouble at school, especially with reading and spelling words, there are a couple of steps you can take towards getting a diagnosis.
1. 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 go through your child’s school assessments with you. This can help you and the teacher see whether there’s a pattern of problems.
2. 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 the possible causes of your child’s difficulties with learning. If there’s a long delay with getting an 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.
Your GP can help you with a referral to a speech pathologist or psychologist. You don’t need a GP referral, but if you have one, you might be eligible to get some money back from Medicare. If you have private health insurance, you might be able to get some money back that way too.
For more information about assessment, you can try contacting your nearest Australian Federation of SPELD Associations (AUSPELD) branch.
Specialised support for children with dyslexia
Getting support and starting intervention can help many children with dyslexia improve their reading and spelling skills.
Your child might benefit from support like:
- extra work in small groups at school
- one-on-one tutoring
- extra time to complete tests
- specialist computer software – for example, spell-checkers, screen readers, word prediction or voice recognition.
It’s a good idea to speak with a health professional about the best options for your child.
The earlier that children with dyslexia get expert help, the better their chances of making good progress.
There is no ‘wonder cure’ for dyslexia. 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 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. 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.
- Help your child 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.
- Read to your child until your child has learned enough skills to read independently.
- Offer books that suit your child’s reading ability. Choose books with spelling patterns that your child has learned and avoid books with too many hard words.
- Try to teach your child to spell out sounds to make words instead of memorising the way that words look.
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 Australia, anti-discrimination law in Australia and educational rights for children with disabilities.