What is Dyslexia? Part 2


In Part 1 of What is Dyslexia? I provided my description of this hidden disability, and then expanded with an exposition of the International Dyslexia Association definition. Finally, I connected that to the four subtypes of reading disorders; the first three of which all fall under the umbrella term, dyslexia. In this concluding blog, I discuss the signs and symptoms of dyslexia, introduce you to some resources that can help explain dyslexia to parents, and touch upon what children need to become successful learners.


What is Dyslexia? Part 2


Please note that a glossary of terms is included at the end.



Search for “signs and symptoms of dyslexia,” and Google provides nearly two million hits, but below is a list of the ones I have found most helpful. It is important to remember that there isn’t one profile for dyslexia, and it occurs on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. For some children with dyslexia eye-reading is simply slower than their peers; others have less difficulty decoding text but spelling and encoding are huge challenges; for still others the greatest challenge is reading fluently.


  • A family history of reading and learning difficulties
  • Difficulty correctly pronouncing certain words.
  • Difficulty rhyming words. Dyslexia is ultimately a phonological weakness.
  • Difficulty learning letter names and sounds, particularly letters with similar shapes (b and d, m and w) or with similar sounds, such as /f/ and /v/ and /ch/ and /sh./
  • Difficulty decoding words in isolation.
  • Inability to switch between recognizing familiar words and decoding less familiar ones.
  • Frequently reversing letters after second grade, which may include transposing letters in words like “on” and “no.”
  • Poor spelling, including transposing letters, spelling the same word in different ways, and spelling words the way they sound, such as “sed” or “duz.”


Signs That A Person Might Have Dyslexia

If you or someone you know is checking several items on the above list, or you just want more information, here are some useful resources for further research.



Resource Links:

These resources can also tell you what a child (or adult) with dyslexia needs in order to become a successful learner. It is not rocket science, but does require a sustained effort in the right learning environment.


In a nutshell, they need structured, multisensory, explicit[1] and systematic[2] teaching. They will not benefit from a jumbled approach, comprising multiple elements pulled from different programs, or that requires a lot of inference, experimentation, and potential for failure.


Contrary to popular opinion, English is a rules-based logical language and can be taught as such, provided its underlying history and structure are understood. Reading and spelling improve when a dyslexic student is taught using Multi-Sensory Structured Language (MSL) instruction, such as that pioneered by Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham.



The Orton-Gillingham approach is not owned by any one company or organization, and several pre-packaged programs have been developed from the original philosophy. Be aware that they may not work for every child, as they lack the flexibility that an in-depth understanding of the approach can provide a teacher or parent. Consequently, it is recommended that anyone working with a student should be sufficiently trained, and that this training should include a supervised practical element.

To be effective a reading program should also include fluency and comprehension, which are not the main focus of the Orton-Gillingham approach.


The Orton-Gillingham Online Academy (OGOA) offers effective training which is both affordable and easy to access. For further information about the Orton-Gillingham teaching philosophy and OGOA training please see this detailed description.


In this article, I’ve discussed the concepts with which a parent or teacher should to be familiar if their child/student is struggling with reading and spelling, and dyslexia is suspected. Another challenge, following a diagnosis of dyslexia or another learning difference, is how to explain that difference to a child. I plan to discuss this in my next blog.


1.) Phonology The study of speech sound.
2.) Phonological Awareness The ability to identify and manipulate units of spoken language such as words, syllables and phonemes. 
3.) Phoneme The smallest unit of sound in a word. Spoken English consists of about 44 individual phonemes.
4.) Sound/Symbol Association Relationship between the letters of our written language and the sounds that make up spoken language. 
5.) Syllable A syllable is a word, or a part of a word with one vowel sound.
6.) Morphology The study of word form, or how words are constructed.
7.) Semantics Meaning of a word, phrase, sentence or longer text.
8.) Dysphonetic Dyslexia The brains of people with dyslexia have difficulty distinguishing certain phonemes such as ‘sh’ and ‘ch’, or the short ‘i’ and ‘e’ phonemes.
9.) Surface Dyslexia Difficulty with the rapid and automatic recognition of printed words, which severely impacts reading fluency.
10.) Mixed Dyslexia Also known as a double deficit, this is the most severe form. These students have both dysphonetic and surface dyslexia.



[1] Explicit means each step is taught; the student isn’t expected to pick up concepts by osmosis.

[2] Concepts are taught from least to most complicated and each builds on the previous concepts.


Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.


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