Each young person is different, of course.  Parents might occasionally wonder why their child (or one of their children) can’t be as well-mannered and well-behaved as others, but in essence most of us realise most of the time that each young person has their own attributes, personality, and characteristics.

Which is a good place to start – until one comes across an attribute or characteristic that isn’t visible, but which is dramatically holding the child back academically or seriously affecting the child’s inner peace and well-being.

But that is what it is like for young people who are dyslexic.

For them the written language, the rules of spelling, the excitement of reading… these are as alien to the dyslexic child in the UK as the sign language of the Inuit is as unintelligible to most people living in the UK today.

Worse, although dyslexia is often defined as an inability to learn the spelling rules of the English language, in reality dyslexia is much more complex than this.

A full explanation of what dyslexia is will take into account the fact that it is a difference not just in the ability to learn to read and write, but also in the way the individual learns.

But – and this is the key point – because reading and writing skills are so utterly central to our civilisation and the way we exchange information and ideas, dyslexia does not just affect reading and writing skills.

Dyslexia turns out to affect all information processing.

Now “information processing” is not an everyday phrase outside of educational establishments, but it is an issue of fundamental importance because “information processing” relates to how each of us as an individual learns and remembers.

And it doesn’t matter whether the learning comes from seeing or hearing; for learning to take place the memory has to be working in a particular way – and with dyslexic people the memory can work in very different ways from the way it works with most of us.

Dyslexic people see and hear, but having seen and heard they don’t utilise or store or process the memories in the same way most people do.  As a result their literacy skills do not develop, and they forget things which others might expect them to remember.

Out of this come a number of other problems – such as the way the dyslexic person organises (or fails to organise) everything in her or his daily life.  In short, the dyslexic person is different at many levels of everyday living.

Of course being different can on occasion be a benefit – although many children find being different a very difficult state of affairs to cope with in their early years.  It is true that dyslexic people are often noted to be very creative and inventive, which can be a real bonus in adult life, but is rarely admired by other children who can see difference as something to be laughed at.  It can be the source of a lot of bullying, also.

Indeed it is not unknown for dyslexic children only to perceive the benefits of the differences they have been born with many years later when they find themselves in settings where seeing different and alternative answers to problems can be a real bonus.

Thus dyslexic children need more than just an alternative way of being taught literacy skills. They also often need nurturing and supporting through a difficult period of their lives where they perceive the negatives of being dyslexic but have not yet discovered the positives.

This is why interventions with dyslexic children should go beyond literacy, and should, wherever possible, involve helping parents to understand that dyslexia is not just about extra literacy lessons.  It is also about helping the child to find and value her or his unique attributes which can be used for years to come.


This article is by Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M., head of the Dyslexia Centre.



How to estimate if any adults in your family are dyslexic  without administering a test

Of course the only way to know for sure if an individual is dyslexic is by administering a test for dyslexia.  A definitive answer can only be given by an educational psychologist specialising in the field, but it is also possible to get an indication of possible dyslexia through the test available on this site. There is information for teachers on our test for dyslexia here, while there is information for parents of children who might be dyslexic on our website here.

But since dyslexia is a genetic condition it is generally inherited, and this means that if you have a son or daughter whom you suspect may be dyslexic, or if you spot a child in your class who you think may suffer from the condition, you can get an element of confirmation that there is dyslexia in the family if you spot a close relative to the child who shows some of these attributes.

If you are a parent or grandparent of a child who you suspect might be dyslexic it can be worth considering these attributes.  If you are a teacher and you are unable to administer the test for dyslexia available on this site you might wish to alert the parents to these attributes so they can see if they recognise them in other members of the family. This is not going to be a clear indication of dyslexia obviously, but it might help persuade the family to investigate further.

In this regard you might see, or be told of, a person who

1: Is particularly intuitive, and can often jump to the answer without working things through.

2: Does not like, or avoids, planning, but instead goes straight into a situation with the aim of fixing it there and then.

3: If he/she sees a member of the family struggling at school, particularly in English, remembers at once how she or he struggled and is tempted to say, “Don’t worry I was never any good at English”.

4: Has a dislike of forms that need to be filled in.

5: Can be easily distracted.

6: Has particular visual-spatial abilities, and can see solutions to issues without working through something step by step.  A person who comes up with alternative solutions without seeming to work them through – but is nevertheless right.

7: Seriously dislikes administration and sees it as an unnecessary interruption to getting things done.

8: Very much a person who deals in actual experiences and events, rather than anything theoretical.

9: Often works on several tasks at once and may generate complaints about not completing each task before moving onto the next.

10: A person described as a lateral thinker – one who comes up with solutions that others never think of.

Of course this is just a general description and not all dyslexics will fit into some of these categories, but if you do spot such behavioural types within the family, this could be a good reason to consider the issue of possible dyslexia in the child, and take matters further.

There is an index to the many other short articles on dyslexia on this site, on our home page.

The government is investigating the idea of a new regulator of special educational needs

According to a report in CYP Now the government is considering launching a new regulatory unit for overseeing both special educational needs and mental health provision.  These proposals were initially given a trial run in Manchester, and there is the thought that they can be rolled out across England.

The initial proposal comes from Great Minds Together which was initially set up to teach children Life Skills as After School and Holiday Clubs across Manchester works with schools, families and local authorities.  The Education Select Committee is considering the proposals.

The founders of the organisation have been asked to brief the select committee of MPs on their work and develop a policy paper for the committee. 

It has been reported that within the trial over 150 families with children with special needs were engaged, and there was a total success rate in re-engagement of pupils with formal education as well as improvement in children’s engagement, learning and attainment.

The select committee has indicated that it wants a SEND watchdog to work independently of Ofsted and the Department for Education.

Ian Mearns, a member of the previous select committee, said that, “There is a crisis in the provision of SEND and SEMH across our fractured education system. The report in the last parliament from the education select committee raised a number of key conclusions and recommendations to address the current state of affairs; including the need for a focused, rigorous and regular inspection process for SEND and SEMH providers.

“I have met with Great Minds Together on a number of occasions and have read the ideas and proposals contained within their manifesto, including the framework for an inspection and resolution service.

"The manifesto is an excellent contribution to the policy development discourse, and I wholeheartedly support the principles which underpin their proposals. I have invited Great Minds to produce a policy paper for wider discussion, which will hopefully act as a catalyst for debate on this incredibly important issue.

Great Minds Together have proposed the ring-fencing of government funds for SEND and the abolition of council procurement processes for education and children’s services.

Under their plans, parents will be treated as experts and allowed to write their children’s education, health and care plans.

It is an interesting proposal for special needs which are genetically inherited, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia wherein some parents are indeed very fast to spot the sort of problem that they or their parents had with spelling or mathematics. 

Many schools and parents use the Dyslexia Centre’s online test as a preliminary guide as to whether a child or teenager might be suffering from dyslexia and if so where the specific problems are.   Details of the test when administered in school can be found here.  Details of the test when undertaken at home by the parent of a possibly dyslexic child can be found here.

Does it help to have children who may be dyslexic diagnosed as soon as possible?

The question is often asked, at what age can dyslexia be detected in children?  Unfortunately it is a very difficult question to answer – and it can be argued that for many children diagnosis as early as possible is not the best way forward.

The initial problem is that there can be many signs of dyslexia, but in the early years of life seeing these signs does not necessarily mean that the child is dyslexic.  There could be other causes of what one is seeing in terms of the slow or poor development of literacy skills.

For example it is often said that dyslexic children have delayed speech development compared with other children of the same age.  But there are many reasons why a child might have delayed speech development, so this alone is not a clear indicator.

Likewise a jumbling up of the sounds within words and always pronouncing a word or phrase wrongly might be an indicator of dyslexia or it might just be a habit that the child has picked up, or even might be because the child is finding it amusing or interesting to mix up sounds.  And it is not unknown for children deliberately to make mistakes if they see particular mistakes get a reaction from adults!

Thus a child who says bootful instead of “football” or indeed instead of “beautiful” may well be showing a sign of dyslexia, but also may also be playing around with sounds and showing an advanced understanding of how words are constructed.

Therefore if one is looking for general signs of dyslexia it is a good idea to collect of range of evidence of situations in which the child has problems in expressing him/herself properly and difficulties in copying spoken sounds.   Likewise the occasional sentence in which words get mixed up can occur just through inexperience at expressing complex ideas, or through excitement, or through nervousness.

Because of this, if we are trying to understand a child via her or his day to day behaviour we have to look for repeated errors of speech which are not being resolved over time.  For example, not fully appreciating how rhymes work is not of itself a sign of dyslexia, but when combined with other problems with using the spoken language it might be indicative.  If the child then also has problems learning the alphabet, we still don’t have proof of dyslexia but we have a further indication.

Fortunately, delays in dealing with the issue at this stage tend not to matter very much for it is hard to help children who are dyslexic make meaningful progress before the age of seven.  Indeed if one starts giving dyslexic children support much before this age there is every danger that little progress will be made, but by the time the child is ready for meaningful steps forward the child can have developed a resistance to being given extra help and support.

In short, even if there are multiple indicators of dyslexia early on one should be aware that there can be dangers in singling the child out before the age of seven, unless not doing so itself is causing distress.

If you note a child who has problems learning the names and sounds of letters, and who has difficulty with basic spelling, you might consider that dyslexia is the cause, but you should also consider exactly what support is available if you do have the child tested and a diagnosis of dyslexia is given.  One should ask if support and help is available, and ask if the child benefit from being singled out at this early stage.  Some children do get a lot of psychological benefit from being told there is an explanation for their difficulties with English, others really don’t appreciate being singled out early on – and for such children delay for a year or so can be beneficial.