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A Teachers' Guide to Dyslexia

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder, that is thought to affect up to 10% of children, young people and adults. If you are a teacher with 30 children in your class, that means that up to 3 of your pupils will likely meet criteria for a diagnosis of dyslexia. So, if you are a teacher or a parent of a child with dyslexia, this guide is for you!

child reading

What is Dyslexia?

There is no universally agreed definition or criteria to diagnosing dyslexia, but one commonly cited definition by Snowling (2000) is:

‘Dyslexia is a specific form of language impairment that affects the way in which the brain encodes phonological features of spoken words. The core deficit is in phonological processing and stems from poorly specified phonological processing. Dyslexia specifically affects the development of reading and spelling skills but its effects can be modified through development leading to a variety of behavioural manifestations.’

Reading the sentence above requires you to identify and recognise each individual letters, each whole word, and connect this with the sound (phonological representations) of each word. For people with dyslexia, this process is disrupted, as the phonological representation of words are often partially associated with each letter strings. That means that in children and young people you may see the below signs:

Nursery School

A child may have difficulty learning nursery rhymes or difficulty learning the alphabet. They may muddle up their words and have possible speech and language difficulties.

Primary School

A child may have slower reading with an unusual pronunciation or poor comprehension. They may also have poor written language, that may confuse similar letters like ‘b’ and ‘d’. They may begin to avoid lessons with lots of reading or writing or display lower self-esteem.

Secondary School

A young person may have a high discrepancy between their verbal ability and written ability, with poor handwriting, spelling and/or grammar. Capital letters may be confused and reading may be slow or difficult, with some comprehension difficulty. You may see avoidance of particular lessons or disruptive behaviour, or perhaps low self-esteem associated with learning.

Dyslexia can have an affect on many different areas of learning, not just reading, writing or spelling. It can affect peoples memory, co-ordination, attention, organisation or numeracy skills. Young people with dyslexia are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, which may present as disruptive behaviour, withdrawal or avoidance of certain lessons that rely more on reading/writing skills.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

As we have already learnt dyslexic readers will have their individual combination of strengths and difficulties that affect their learning. We know that dyslexia can often co-occur with other neurodevelopmental or learning difficulties like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyspraxia and so on.

A comprehensive assessment is important to not only identify dyslexia but also to ensure an individualised learning plan that draws on a young person's individual strengths, whilst supporting areas of difficulty. This includes looking at a young persons overall cognitive ability (IQ), which includes their verbal abilities, non-verbal abilities, working memory and processing speed. It should also include assessment of other aspects of cognition, such as attention, academic attainment as well as literacy skills (reading, accuracy, speed, fluency, comprehension, spelling and handwriting). It is important to consider specific tests of phonological skills and language. Depending on their individual needs, a child may require an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) to assist them in accessing the correct level of support in school. The school Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator can advise best on this, in keeping with the JCQ guidelines.

If you would like to discuss assessing for dyslexia, get in touch with us as The Lotus Psychology Practice. We often work alongside schools in supporting children in the education environment.

Create a Dyslexia Friendly Classroom

Each young person will have their own experience of dyslexia, therefore it is important to create a supportive and inclusive classroom environment for all ways of learning:

  • Use the senses: Present learning objectives in a variety of ways, using flashcards, videos, music, gestures, and physical movement. Be creative!

  • Verbal and Visual: Some young people may learn best with visual presentations like graphs and checklists, others may learn best with verbal instructions. Be sure to present both, and break up learning with games, peer teaching and quizzes.

  • Highlight key information: Present key lesson objectives in a variety of ways, you may use lists or drawings.

  • Breaking down instructions: present information in short sentences, using key words for each lesson.

  • Technical tools: consider whether a young person may benefit from audio recording devices, overlays or assistive technology such as tablets, electronic readers, spellers, audio books.

  • Review and Recap: give plenty of opportunities to summarise each young persons understanding when given a task.

  • The most important approach to a dyslexia friendly classroom is a deeper understanding of each child's individual strengths and challenges in learning. Alongside the young person, consider developing their individual learning profile.

Specific Interventions

Early intervention using phoneme identification is most effective. Structured teaching programmes should therefore emphasis phonological awareness training alongside word decoding training:

  • Phonological Awareness Training: This involves teaching young people to analyse speech sounds in different words. Think of fun ways to play, like 'I spy' or rhyming games.

  • Phonetic Decoding Training: This involves a systematic step-by-step approach to decoding when reading. Firstly, sounding out words to progress to learning grapheme phoneme correspondences and involves explicit teaching of how to split up words into syllables. It should include both spelling and reading.

  • Reading and writing can be more challenging for young people with dyslexia, which can lead to lower motivation in subjects requiring reading and writing (think essay writing or reading aloud in class!). Try to balance developing basic literacy skills, whilst using alternative learning methods. Literacy activities should occur in short bursts with plenty of rewards!

At Home

Reading and writing should be made an enjoyable part of everyday life, for example, reading magazines, menus and books on topics of interests. Look out for any opportunity to praise your child for engaging in reading, writing or things that they find difficult. Think lots of praise, rewards and high fives!


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