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 disorder – that is, a specific, serious and ongoing problem in a particular area of learning. It’s also sometimes called a 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.
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition.
Signs of dyslexia
Dyslexia symptoms are often picked up in the first 2 years of school, usually when children start learning to read.
Before children start school, it can be hard to tell whether they have dyslexia. But there are some early warning signs in preschoolers. Preschoolers might have dyslexia if they:
- are slow to develop spoken language
- mispronounce words more than other children
- can’t play with sounds in words – for example, they have difficulty rhyming words like ‘cat’, ‘bat’ and ‘sat’
- have more trouble than peers repeating long words and sentences
- aren’t sure of the difference between letters and numbers
- are slow to connect letters and their sounds.
Once children start school, they might have dyslexia if they:
- have difficulty identifying individual sounds in words – for example, they have trouble identifying the first sound in the word ‘sit’ or the middle sound in ‘foot’
- 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’
- try to 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.
Most children with dyslexia are diagnosed in childhood, but some children aren’t diagnosed until adolescence. Teenagers might have dyslexia if they:
- have difficulty identifying individual sounds within words – for example, they find it hard to take the ‘r’ sound out of ‘frog’ to make ‘fog’
- get a lot of words wrong when reading aloud – they might sometimes struggle with short, common words and have particular trouble with longer words
- avoid reading or don’t want to read
- read without speed, fluency, rhythm or intonation
- prefer to listen to others reading aloud
- have poor spelling skills, which some might disguise with messy handwriting
- have poor vocabulary.
If your child has some of these difficulties, it doesn’t automatically mean they have 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.
Early diagnosis of dyslexia is very important. When children are diagnosed early, they can get support for reading, spelling and learning.
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 about how your child is going with reading and spelling. 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.
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.
2. Ask for a formal 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. Early support for learning can also boost children’s confidence and self-esteem.
There are many simple and effective ways to support children with learning disabilities like dyslexia. It’s a good idea to talk with your GP, a paediatrician, your child’s teacher or a psychologist about worthwhile options.
Helping children with dyslexia: things you can do
There are many things you can do to support your child:
- Explain to your child that having a learning disorder doesn’t mean they’re not as smart as other children. Your child’s psychologist or speech therapist can suggest how to talk with your child about their learning disorder.
- 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 with and 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 difficult 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.
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.