What is Dyslexia image

A Straightforward Explanation of Dyslexia for Mums and Dads

When it became obvious my eldest son was not progressing like the other boys and girls in his class, the word ‘dyslexia’ reared its head. I wanted to understand what this word, and its rather mighty ramifications meant.

And so the search began, but rather than developing an understanding, I soon felt confused about what dyslexia was. Most websites were really dry, full of jargon and over-complicated descriptions. The information was gloomy and depressing, making me even more anxious about the journey ahead of us.

So here is an explanation, using normal, everyday, non-jargon words that us mums and dads can understand!

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a very broad term but in essence a child who is dyslexic will find learning to read, spell and write really tiring and hard. It can impact on learning maths too.

It has nothing to do with intelligence, dyslexics simply have a different style of thinking and processing information. Dyslexics often have amazing skills.

School values speedy reading, good spelling, and clear articulation or expression of knowledge – these are skills that take dyslexics a long time to master and so their natural ability may not be apparent.

About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, it is genetic (not because of poor parenting), and you often find it runs in the family.

Depending on the school, it may only be picked up as the demand for reading and writing becomes greater. Some people discover they are dyslexic when they are much older, for example during GCSEs, A levels or at university – Steven Spielberg was 60!

Why Does Dyslexia Happen?

There are six common (cognitive) abilities that are typically weak in dyslexics. It’s these abilities that impact how we learn to read, write and spell (although bear in mind, each dyslexic will have their own unique profile). Understanding these six areas will help you understand how to support your children at home.

The six common abilities are:

1. Short-term Memory: how your brain takes on new information

To learn any information, it has to go through your short-term memory first. Dyslexics can have short-term memory difficulties, which means they find it hard to remember symbols, pictures, words or sounds.

1. Short-term Memory: how your brain takes on new information

A weak short-term memory makes it harder to:

  • Decode letters when reading
  • Follow instructions
  • Follow the lesson
  • Copy from a board
  • Remember all the sounds in a word
  • Remember the sequence of letters in a word
  • Write words and sentences

2. Working Memory: how your brain processes new and old information together

Your working memory is like a mental sticky note – it has the job of keeping information in your mind for a short time so you are able to process things. Working memory is vitally important for developing knowledge and learning new skills, and therefore, progress at school.

2. Working Memory: how your brain processes new and old information together

A weak working memory makes it harder to:

  • Understand the lesson content
  • Understand and follow instructions
  • Combine letters and sounds to read a word
  • Combine letters and sounds to write a word
  • Write a sentence
  • Complete tasks
  • Write a whole story
  • Do mental problem solving e.g. maths

3. Phonological Awareness: how your brain identifies sounds and words

Dyslexics may have good hearing but struggle to identify and process the sounds that are attached to letter combinations and words. They may also find it difficult to generate or manipulate sounds.

3. Phonological Awareness: how your brain identifies sounds and words

Weak phonological awareness makes it harder to:

  • Learn the alphabet
  • Decode when reading
  • Learn to read long words
  • Find the right sounds in a word when spelling
  • Process verbal information or instructions
  • Listen to and remember verbal information
  • Develop vocabulary

4. Rapid Naming: your brain’s ability to visually process and name items quickly

Rapid naming is when your brain automatically processes and recognises items from long term memory. This includes seeing a letter or word and attaching the correct sound or name to it. Slow rapid naming skills means learning to read, spell, and write will take a bit longer.

4. Rapid Naming: your brain’s ability to visually process and name items quickly

Slow rapid naming makes it harder to:

  • Learn phonics
  • Join letters together to decode a word (reading)
  • Join letters together to encode a word (spelling)
  • Learn to read words
  • Read quickly
  • Learn all the maths symbols
  • Proof read your work
  • Generate words and ideas when speaking or writing

5. Visual Processing: your brain’s ability to interpret and give meaning to what it sees

Visual processing determines how well you can evaluate and interpret visual information. Slow visual processing speeds mean that it takes much longer to scan a letter, number, or picture and work out what it is. Sometimes this difficulty can cause words to move around on the page or you can lose track of the line.

5. Visual Processing: your brain’s ability to interpret and give meaning to what it sees

A difficulty with visual processing makes it harder to:

  • Process any information that is visual
  • Learn letters and numbers
  • See the difference between similar looking letters or words (e.g. b/d or was/saw)
  • Read
  • Spell
  • Look at maths sums and work out what is needed

6. Visual-Motor Coordination: how well your eyes and your hands coordinate

Dyslexics may find it difficult to convert what they see into written form.

6. Visual-Motor Coordination: how well your eyes and your hands coordinate

This makes it harder to:

  • Learn to write numbers and the alphabet
  • Learn to write words
  • Learn spellings
  • Copy from a board or book
  • Learn maths

Not everyone with dyslexia will struggle with all six characteristics. However, I found understanding these areas could help me see the real reason why some things were taking my sons and daughter a bit longer to grasp. We could then approach learning differently, using their strengths, to develop strategies to overcome the hurdles together.

For more dyslexia insights, and helpful resources to support your child with learning at home, check out my TIPS page here.

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