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What is Dyslexia?

What is DyslexiaA list of some of the definitions of Dyslexia.

However, in fact there is no right or wrong answer as there is no accepted definition for dyslexia.

Dyslexia is mainly perceived to be a problem with literacy skills, i.e. reading, writing and spelling; although it is now widely accepted that dyslexia can affect a number of areas including memory, organisation and concentration.

“Dyslexia causes difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. Short-term memory, mathematics, concentration, personal organisation may also be affected. Dyslexia usually arises from a weakness in the processing of language-based information.

Biological in origin, it tends to run in families, but environmental factors also contribute. Dyslexia can occur at any level of intellectual ability. It is not the result of poor motivation, emotional disturbance, sensory impairment or lack of opportunities, but it may occur alongside any of these. The effects of dyslexia can be largely overcome by skilled specialist teaching and the use of compensatory strategies.”

(The Dyslexia Institute, 2002)

This definition states that dyslexia is not due to the individual’s ability to learn and develop these skills. It is to do with the way people process information and how that affects their ability to learn. This processing difficulty can be due to a number of reasons, but it is this which causes problems with acquiring literacy skills. Most dyslexic students have been identified to have one or more of the following deficiencies in the sub-skills that are required to acquire and use adequate literacy skills:

  • A marked inefficiency in the working or short-term memory system. This means that a dyslexic student may have problems with the amount of information that can be held and processed in the real-time, conscious memory.
  • Inadequate phonological processing abilities causing problems with connecting the letter patterns with the associated sounds. This is usually due to problems with the speed in which auditory information can be processed and with accessing the memory of audio sounds to relate them to the letter pattern.
  • Difficulties with automaticity. This can cause problems with getting things in the right order or sequencing and may also show itself as clumsiness caused by the brain sending the wrong signals to parts of the body in the wrong order.
  • A range of problems connected with visual processing to do with the speed in which visual information can be processed and with accessing the memory of visual patterns.

So, dyslexia can be summarised as having problems with processing visual or auditory information; with holding that information in working memory and with kinaesthetic awareness, co-ordination and automaticity. These can affect academic progress across a variety of subjects. Specifically:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Expressing thoughts
  • Sequencing
  • Differentiating left from right
  • Orientation
  • Short term memory
  • Time management
  • Organisation
  • UK Terminology
  • Because of these difficulties with specifically defining dyslexia the term Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) is frequently used in the education community. SpLD refers to a difficulty that is specific to a particular area, or that affects a particular process (as distinct from a general learning difficulty, which affects the learning of many different skills). SpLD includes other learning related disabilities such as:
  • Dysphasia, speech and language delay and/or deficit.
  • Dyspraxia, motor and co-ordination difficulties.
  • Dyscalculia, difficulty with mathematical concepts, calculations and interpreting mathematical symbols
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD).
  • Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome.

US Terminology
In the US the term Learning Disability (LD) is used. LD is defined as:

"a disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways: as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, write, or do math."

(National Institutes of Health, 1993)

The general view of dyslexia in the US is that it mainly affects reading, and the terms Reading Disability and Dyslexia are used interchangeablely. On this web site we take the UK view that dyslexia does not just affect reading and can a wider impact throughout life.

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