Dyslexia Dyslexia Reading Difficulties SpLD SEN

Dyslexia? What is it?


Is it even a valid scientific term?

@deevybee (Professor Dorothy Bishop) gives a good summary:


Here, Professor Bishop discusses @JulianElliot11 (Professor Julian Elliot) who has recently written The Dyslexia Debate which questions whether the term dyslexia should exist.

Professor Elliot has a point – how do we differentiate between reading difficulties?  I’m not unsympathetic to this view – please note he is not denying reading difficulties exist or that these can affect students with varying abilities –  Professor Elliot has not gone all tabloidy on us even if some of his fans have.  Poor teaching, poor parenting, middle class disease and so on.

There are also many overlapping behaviours – in America now the terms neuro-diverse and neuro-typical have become popular which seems to be a good ‘catch all’ phrase.  Also in America however, sub-groups have identified themselves such as Aspies for those with Asperger’s Syndrome (now Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and Adders for those with ADHD.  Labels eh?

For this blog I am using Sir Jim Rose’s definition of dyslexia.

Rose (2009) Definition of Dyslexia.

  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speeds.
  • Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.
  • It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
  • Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
  • A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.

Rose, J. (2009). Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties: an independent report.

Dyslexia is a ‘specific learning difficulty’ (SpLD), meaning that in other areas a person may appear to be performing within the expected range for their ability. This can be called a spiky profile. Other SpLDs are ADHD, Dyspraxia, SLI and ASD.   See here for acronyms: http://julesdaulby.com/2014/06/01/sen-acronyms/.

The term dyslexia can be empowering for students as it explains why they seem to struggle with literacy when their friends don’t. Students I meet often think they are lazy or stupid despite the best intentions of parents and teachers to persuade them otherwise.

The term dyslexia has morphed over the years: previously it was common to use a ‘discrepancy model’ – so, if there was a gap between a high IQ and reading/spelling ability, this was enough to diagnose dyslexia. We now know that dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.

Using Rose’s definition, dyslexia is a phonological deficit not visual (think ear rather than eye). Of course we see many students who struggle with reading who have visual difficulties – reversing letters and numbers, using coloured overlays, tracking, placement on the line when writing, copying off the board, spelling errors which confuse similar letter patterns and reading errors which seem to be mixing up similar words. None of these in isolation however, without phonological deficits, are dyslexia under Rose’s definition.

According to Rose, the three main areas identifying dyslexia are:

  • Phonological Awareness

This is the capacity to reflect upon and manipulate the sound structure of words.

    • I see this as playing with language – recognising that if you change ‘s’ for ‘m’ in sat you get mat, hearing the ‘l’ in sling or the ‘r’ in string. Being able to rhyme, recognise alliteration and assonance, blending sh-ut to make shut etc.
  • Verbal memory

This is the ability to remember a sequence of verbal information for a short period of time. (Sometimes described as auditory sequential memory, short term memory, working memory – a whole other blog :-0)

    • It is often difficult for students listening to multiple instructions – they may only remember the last thing you’ve told them. Breaking down instructions into clear and concise chunks can help. This difficulty with short term memory can also affect spelling and reading acquisition.
  • Verbal processing speeds

This is the time it takes to process and recognise verbal information.

    • The pace of school can be incredibly wearing for students with speed of processing difficulties. They really do need extra time to cope. If asking a question, try counting to 10 before prompting them with more language. Or, ask the question but tell them you’ll come back to them.
    • Allow time for them to record their homework in diaries.
    • Be aware of scrolling up on the whiteboard – they may still be on the one you have just covered up. Could they have a copy with them? Or could they miss out some of the questions? Quality not quantity.

I have written some ideas to help students with reading here http://julesdaulby.com/2014/10/16/break-prohibition-welcome-to-my-speekeezee/ and I will write more about strategies in the next blog.  I was going to here but feared for your sanity.

In the meantime:

The ADSHE underlying principles of 1:1 teaching for students with dyslexia are:

  1. Metacognition
  2. Relevance
  3. Over learning
  4. Modelling
  5. Motivation
  6. Little and often
  7. Multi-sensory

Although designed for HE I think this is useful for all teachers to think about.

It comes from here: http://adshe.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/specialist_support.pdf

A quick warning for the Tom Bennetts among you – it does mention learning styles – run for your lives… 🙂

This is a nice diagram of reading too via @dylanwilliams – just because I’m a bit random.


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