Dyslexia is a common type of learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in the reading and spelling of words. In this video, Daniel tells his story and an expert gives their advice on symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

Support groups

As well as national dyslexia charities, such as Dyslexia Action and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), there are several local dyslexia associations (LDAs). These are independently registered charities that run workshops and help to provide local support and access to information.

You can find your local LDA on the BDA website.

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that mainly affects the way people read and spell words.

Signs and symptoms

Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. People with dyslexia have particular difficulty with:

  • phonological awareness
  • verbal memory
  • rapid serial naming
  • verbal processing speed

These terms are explained in more detail below.

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is thought to be a key skill in early reading and spelling development. It is the ability to identify how words are made up of smaller units of sound, known as phonemes. Changes in the sounds that make up words can lead to changes in their meaning.

For example, a child with a good level of phonological awareness would understand that if you change the letter "p" in the word "pat" to "s", the word becomes "sat".

Verbal memory

Verbal memory is the ability to remember a sequence of verbal information for a short period of time.

For example, the ability to remember a short list such as "red, blue, green", or a set of simple instructions, such as "Put on your gloves and your hat, find the lead for the dog and then go to the park."

Rapid serial naming

This is the ability to name a series of colours, objects or numbers as fast as possible.

Verbal processing speed

Verbal processing speed is the time it takes to process and recognise familiar verbal information, such as letters and digits.

For example, someone with a good verbal processing speed has the ability to quickly write down unfamiliar words when they are spelled out, or write down telephone numbers they are told.

Read more about the symptoms of dyslexia.

Dyslexia and intelligence

Dyslexia only affects some skills and abilities, and is not linked to a person's general level of intelligence.

Children of all intellectual abilities, from low to high intelligence, can be affected by dyslexia.

Similarly, the difficulty a child with dyslexia has with reading and spelling is not determined by their intelligence, but by how severe their dyslexia is. Children with average intelligence and mild dyslexia are likely to be more skilled at reading and writing than children with high intelligence and more severe dyslexia.

How common is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is thought to be one of the most common learning difficulties. It's estimated that up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has a certain degree of dyslexia.

Dyslexia affects people of all ethnic backgrounds, and has even been shown to affect languages based on symbols rather than letters, such as Cantonese.

However, a person’s native language can play an important role in the condition. For example, dyslexia is less problematic in languages with consistent rules around pronunciation, such as Italian and Spanish.

Languages such as English, where there is often no clear connection between the written form and sound (for example, words such as "cough"and "dough"), can be more challenging for a person with dyslexia.

What causes dyslexia?

The exact cause of dyslexia is unknown, but it's seen more commonly in families.

Six genes have been identified that may be responsible for the condition, four of which affect the way the brain is formed during early life. Specialist brain scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans) also show there is reduced function of one area towards the back of the brain, called the occipito-temporal cortex.

Read more about the causes of dyslexia.

Identifying dyslexia

It can be difficult to diagnose dyslexia in young children as the signs are not always obvious. If you think your child has dyslexia, the first step is to speak to their teacher or the school’s special needs coordinator.

Identifying your child’s strengths (such as picture puzzles or maths) as well as their difficulties can be helpful. Many schools identify children who are having difficulty learning in particular areas and offer additional support.

If your child does not make progress when offered this support, the school may request a more in-depth assessment from either a specialist teacher or educational psychologist. It is also possible to request private assessments, either directly from an educational psychologist or through voluntary organisations such as Dyslexia Action.

Adults who wish to be assessed for dyslexia can visit their local Dyslexia Action Centre.

Read more about how dyslexia is diagnosed.

Treating dyslexia

Although dyslexia is a lifelong problem, a range of educational programmes and interventions are often effective in improving reading and writing skills in many children with the condition. Research has shown that the earlier appropriate interventions are adopted, the better.

Most children respond well to educational interventions and go on to make progress with reading and writing, although some children continue to find reading and writing difficult and will require more intensive support and long-term assistance to help them learn strategies for managing their difficulties.

Children with dyslexia face challenges on a day-to-day basis, but even children who have severe dyslexia can go on to lead full and productive lives.

Read more about how dyslexia is treated.

Page last reviewed: 06/01/2014

Next review due: 06/01/2016


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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Toaster78 said on 21 March 2014

I have a positive outlook on my dyslexia.
I love the way it lets me see the world differently to those who are not dyslexic.
I have an excellent problem solving approach.
I have a great visual understanding and my creative skills give me the ability to make sense of the composition of colours, pictures and textures.
I struggle with language comprehension. I find reading things that are written in a way that enables a mind picture to be created are easy for me. If I can't create a visual picture when reading I find the words mean nothing as a whole. They are just words that stand alone.
Writing is a problem. I struggle to express myself clearly. I get round this by using speech to text software. The difference between my writing is quite significant.
I have found my difficulties with language have given me an empathic insight which I use productively to support others with language difficulties.
I like to write in bullets to start and then work from there to make a stronger written piece.
I get very frustrated with my poor memory. I'm still working on this. I use an electronic diary to help but sometimes I forget to input the dates to remember. This leaves me feel angry with myself and I feel concerned how this makes me look from those who experience my unreliability.

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matthew96 said on 31 May 2013

I had just fund out I had dyslexia I find read and spell hard and I also have dyspraxia should I get help in school ?

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CaraTee said on 11 January 2013

For the last 20 years I've had treatment for depression on the NHS, I'm 40, I've been depressed since I was 11. I can see that I have dyslexia, when I found out what dyslexia was there wasn't the internet, also all information seemed to be pointing that females didn't suffer from it.
I wonder if the NHS acknowledging it in adults might help future treatment.
Failing that, how do I get a real assessment and some real help without paying £300 ?

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Dobribble said on 26 July 2012

With regards to assessment:

The official Government line published in the Rose review (2009) is

'psychologists and specialist dyslexia teachers..... should be regarded as suitable to undertake assessments....but only if they hold a current Practising Certificate issued by their professional body (the British Psychological Society, PATOSS or Dyslexia Action) (Rose 2009, page 53)

It is important that people who want quality assessments ensure that they ask for proof of these qualifications.

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Jaxx 99 said on 06 December 2011

A valid point by Tostig. It is not uncommon that NHS choices articles contradict within a few sentences. It would be helpful to list other learning difficulties other than Dyslexia so that parents can hang a name of their childs particluar issues.

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Tostig said on 15 October 2010

This is a bit misleading: on the video it's stated that oyu 'have to' have other abilties in the normal range or above to be considered dyslexic. But in the text, you rightly say that it can affect people of all intellectual abilities. The key question is 'is there a big difference between literacy etc skills and other abilities?'

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