Dyslexia - the facts.
What is SpLD?
Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD). The term SpLD is an umbrella term used to cover a range of learning difficulties. These are known as:
- Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
- Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or AD(H)D)
Dyslexia Action (2017).
What is dyslexia?
The British Dyslexia Association (2018) gives the following definition:
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
Whereas Dyslexia Scotland (2017) defines dyslexia as:
a continuum of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities. These difficulties often do not reflect an individual's cognitive abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.
What are the facts?
According to the British Dyslexia Association, the number of individuals with dyslexia in the UK is around 10%, with 4% of population at the severe end of the dyslexia continuum. This equates to around 7.3 million people. However, arguably, this is not a true representation. According to Dyslexia Action (2017), the figure is more likely to be around 16% of the population, or 11.5 million people.
Globally, Dyslexia International (2017) suggests that between 5-10% of the population experience dyslexia, which equates to around 700 million people worldwide. But, again, this is also likely to be underestimated. Some evidence suggests (Sprenger-Charolles and Siegel, 2016) that the figure is expected to be around 17% of the world’s population.
What are the signs and symptoms?
According to Bishop and Snowling (2004), the common broader characteristics of dyslexia include:
- Memory difficulties
- Organisational difficulties
- Writing difficulties
- Reading difficulties
- Time management difficulties
In addition to these characteristics, Burden (2005) acknowledges the visual and auditory processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience; whereas Reading Rockets (2018) highlights challenges around phonological awareness, verbal memory and / or verbal processing speed that can be affected by dyslexia.
Further to this, co-occurring difficulties may be seen in language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and / or personal / work-based organisation – as discussed within the getting to grips with dyslexia guide by Dyslexia Action (2017). However, these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
More recent studies (ECaR, 2008) have also found that dyslexia can affect time-based memory, or prospective memory, which is remembering to do something that was planned for the future. Nonetheless, as with any disability, no two individuals experience the same combination of difficulties and some individuals may exhibit signs and symptoms from more than one characteristic.
Research suggests (The Dyslexic Library – see https://dyslexiclibrary.com/) that the aforementioned signs and symptoms most often appear in childhood - but can also occur in adults. Although most with dyslexia read at lower-than-average levels for their age (ECaR 2008), symptoms vary from one person to another.
The most common symptoms, according to Cunningham (2011), are:
- difficulties and / or delays in learning the alphabet
- learning to speak
- learning to read
- learning to spell
- recognizing the order of letters in a word
- copying words from another source and / or discerning the sound of one word from another.
Children with dyslexia may, according to Burden (2005), also have problems distinguishing left from right and eye-hand coordination.
Causes – who says what?
From reading around the research, I can see that dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. Some researchers (Dyslexia Action, 2017) recognise that dyslexia is a hereditary, life-long, neurodevelopmental condition - rather than psychological – which usually runs in families and occurs independently of intelligence.
In fact, genes that may be responsible for a predisposition to dyslexia have been identified. Imaging studies have found that the brains of children with dyslexia develop and work differently from the brains of children who do not have dyslexia. This is possibly due to alterations in the left hemisphere of the brain. The studies recognise that those with dyslexia have phonological deficits, making it difficult to distinguish the sounds of individual letters and / or letter patterns in similar words. For example, "bat" and "ban" and "bag" (ECaR, 2008).
Also, Bishop and Snowling (2004) suggest that it is possible for a previously literate adult to acquire dyslexia, as a result of a stroke, brain injury, and / or other physically traumatic event. Someone with acquired dyslexia, or alexia (as this is known), loses the ability to read. This is likely to be due to damage in the rear part of the left hemisphere of their brain. The individual will often have problems identifying individual letters and numbers.
Recently, some interesting research around socio-economic causes (Benson, 2018) – i.e. that social class impacts on dyslexia – has emerged, and certainly warrants further investigation. However, it is still early days – more investigation is needed to give this view credibility.
According to the research by Margert (2017), in an article on rethinking dyslexia – (see http://www.stmargaretsonline.net/rethinking-dyslexia/) - the causes of dyslexia vary with the type of dyslexia. For example, in primary dyslexia, much research focuses on the hereditary factors – i.e. specific genes have been identified as possibly contributing to the signs and symptoms of dyslexia; as well as damage to the left side of the brain (cerebral cortex). However, secondary or developmental dyslexia is caused by developmental damage during the initial stages of foetal development, suggests Margert (2017). Nonetheless, the research suggests that developmental dyslexia diminishes as the child matures but can sometimes exist into adulthood, and is also more common in boys.
Diagnosis – how do you test for dyslexia?
According to The Dyslexic Library (2017), dyslexia screening is the first stage in identifying whether a person may have the condition. This process would look for possible indicators, and then provide an estimation as to whether an individual is ‘at risk’ of having dyslexia. Often, screening provides useful insight into broader areas of difficulty and can include a recommendation as to whether a formal diagnostic assessment is required.
Similarly, screening for adults can take the form of an online (electronic) exercise or can be paper-based – according to personal preference. The screening report will highlight, in each individual case, whether there are indicators of dyslexia. This report can help the individual decide whether or not to proceed with a full dyslexia assessment (Reading Rockets, 2018).
With screening for children, the initial process in identifying whether or not a child may have dyslexia and / or dyscalculia, again involves looking for possible indicators. The screening then gives an estimation as to whether an individual is ‘at risk’ of having dyslexia and / or dyscalculia. The results provide useful insight into areas of difficulty; as well as a recommendation as to whether or not a more formal diagnostic assessment should follow the screening process. For more information on screening, visit the British Dyslexia Association website.
A definitive diagnosis of dyslexia, for any individual, requires a full diagnostic assessment to be carried out by a competent and suitably qualified professional, for example, an Educational Psychologist. The assessments explore a range of skills and cognitive processing capabilities. The completed report, known as an Educational Psychologist’s Report, will provide details on the nature and severity of any difficulties identified; as well as making recommendations as to how to best support the individual moving forward. For a useful discussion on Educational Psychologists’ Reports, see this article from the Disability and Dyslexia Team at the University of Brighton, https://staff.brighton.ac.uk/ss/Documents/Your%20educational%20psychologist%20report.pdf
What are the rights of a dyslexic person?
Under The Equality Act (2010), employers / educational establishments are under a legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for individuals experiencing a disability; dyslexia is recognised as a disability within the meaning of disability within this legislation. This is because individuals with the condition are considered to be at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ within the place of work / educational establishment when compared to those who do not experience dyslexia.
Support – what is available?
Below are some potential reasonable adjustments that could function as support:
- having all instructions written down / emailed
- using creamy or coloured paper
- using Access to Work provisions - for example, having someone to help the individual with proof-reading or organisation tasks
- using mind-mapping software, such as Inspiration software
- having background music or noise-cancelling headphones
- training for managers on how to work best with the dyslexic employees
- factoring in time extension
- having a quiet place to work with no interruptions
- using coloured overlays
- coloured filters for reading or for using with a computer screen can be extremely helpful. These are available from crossboweducation.com
In addition, individuals with dyslexia can find it helpful to use technological aids. This includes computer packages, digital recorders and / or smart phones, known as assistive technology (Forgrave, 2002).
I have worked with (and found very useful) speech recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This programme allows users to dictate or talk to a computer microphone where the words are converted to text. This is most useful when an individual has difficulty with spelling and / or writing emails, reports or other written communications. Also, this technology allows students to access the classroom material and many students reported, via a study by Meyer (2014), that the increased independence that the software gave them was valued.
There are some ways to ensure that speech recognition software works for your students. One such consideration would be to ensure that students find the right programme ‘voice’. According to Cunningham (2011), having a ‘voice’ that sounds similar to a human voice will improve reading comprehension; the less robotic, the better.
Similarly, logo for TextHELP is very good. This is a text-to-speech software which reads documents out loud, supporting individuals to understand the written material and / or to proof-read or check their own work.
I use ReadandWrite, which has a mind mapping software section. This is specifically designed to allow individuals with dyslexia to plan their work more effectively, through the use of colour-coding mind maps.
There is now scientific research which suggests that coloured filters (worn as spectacles) as well as coloured plastic sheets laid over text (known as overlays) can help individuals with dyslexia, to read.
Coloured overlays are sheets of translucent or transparent coloured plastic that can be placed over a page of a book / newspaper, colouring the text beneath without interfering with its clarity.
Much of the evidence suggests (The Dyslexic Library, 2017) that coloured overlays reduce the perceptual distortions of text that children sometimes describe. This reading tool can enable some children (and adults) to read text more fluently and with less discomfort and fewer headaches. However, it is important to assess the effects of a wide range of colours because individuals do not all benefit from the same colour. Nonetheless, in my experience, coloured overlays can be startlingly useful, a game-changer, stabilising text/words on paper and / or screen.
To conclude, writing this article around dyslexia, as well as reflecting on my own experiences as an adult with dyslexia, have shown me that dyslexia is a broad, diverse condition that varies, dramatically, from person to person.
Although statistics are available, the research suggests a much higher prevalence rate - than what is recorded.
Many different signs and symptoms are prevalent, which individuals often find their own ways of coping with, especially those who are not diagnosed in childhood.
Thankfully, many systems of support for dyslexic individuals are available. These systems help facilitate individual education / employment goals – as well as provide further life skills – but also help inform others (individuals and / or communities) about the condition.
Finally, the increased independence that this varied support provides can also deliver a substantial psychological boost which cannot be underestimated in its importance regarding learning; as well as interpersonal functioning - the move towards feeling like a fully functioning human being who happens to be dyslexic.
Bishop., D., V., M. & Snowling., M., J. (2004). Developmental Dyslexia and Specific Language Impairment: Same or Different? Psychological Bulletin, 130, 6, 858-886.
British Dyslexia Association (2018). Cited on - https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/, accessed 10th September 2018.
Burden., R. (2005). Dyslexia and Self-Concept: seeking a dyslexic identity. London: Whurr.
Cunningham., R., T. (2011). Understanding Synthetic Speech and Language Processing of Students With and Without a Reading Disability (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto, Toronto.
Dyslexia Action (2017) - Avoid Dyslexia Discrimination in the Workplace. Cited on - https://dyslexiaaction.org.uk/contact-us/ , accessed 13th September 2018.
Dyslexia International (2017) - Better Training, Better Teaching. Cited on, https://www.dyslexia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/DI-Duke-Report-final-4-29-14.pdf - accessed 3rd September 2018.
Dyslexia Scotland (2017). Cited on, https://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/ - accessed 1st September 2018.
ECaR (2008). Every Child a Reader: the results of the third year. London: Every Child a Reader – cited on: www.everychildareader.org/pubs/third_year.pdf, accessed 3rd September 2018.
Forgrave., K., E. (2002). Assistive technology: Empowering students with learning disabilities. The Clearing House, 75(3), 122-126.
Meyer., N., K. & Bouck., E., C. (2014). The impact of text-to-speech on expository reading for adolescents with LD. Journal of Special Education Technology, 29(1), 21-33.
Reading Rockets (2018) - Monthly Tips for Parents: Recognizing Reading Problem -cited on, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/recognizing-reading-problems - accessed 3rd September 2018.
Sprenger-Charolles., L., L., S. and Siegel., B. (2016) “Prevalence and Reliability of Phonological, Surface, and Mixed Profiles in Dyslexia: A Review of Studies Conducted in Languages Varying in Orthographic Depth,” Scientific Studies of Reading, 15(6): 498-521.