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Dyslexia - what is it?

dyslexia; learning; difficulties; study; school; student; exams;

Dyslexia literally means having trouble with reading, but the word is often used for other problems such as spelling problems or trouble with maths.

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What is dyslexia?

The brain collects all of the messages from all your senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting), then uses them like clues to work out what is happening all around you.

If someone has dyslexia, some of the seeing and hearing messages get muddled up, and the brain can’t work things out correctly.

  • This means that the person feels confused trying to work out what are the right messages.
  • Dyslexia literally means having trouble with reading and processing sounds, which can also lead to writing and spelling difficulties.
  • Students with dyslexia may also have trouble with written maths. Dyscalculia is when students have difficulties with maths problems.
  • People who have dyslexia are usually as smart as others in their class or may be smarter than others, so it is really frustrating for them to have problems in reading, spelling, listening and understanding.

You might like to look at the topic 'Dyslexia - coping with it'.

Also there is a topic on our Kid's Health section of or website for children and teenagers who have some difficulties with reading: Dyslexia

What does dyslexia look like?

There are many signs of dyslexia. People who are dyslexic (that means they have dyslexia) may have one or more of these signs:

  • not doing as well with study as expected - they seem brighter than they are able to show
  • swapping letters over when reading - like saying was instead of saw, mixing up b and d, p and q; writing letters and numbers the wrong way round
  • missing words out when reading, or reading words that are not there
  • losing their place when reading, finding it hard to keep their eyes on the right line
  • finding it really hard to write by hand - neat writing is very difficult!
  • finding it difficult to copy things accurately off the board
  • not remembering or understanding what they just read or heard
  • having difficulty writing down what they think
  • finding it hard to understand and follow instructions
  • mixing up left and right
  • getting letters mixed up when spelling out loud.

Here is a checklist you can use:
 http://www.speld-sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46&Itemid=90 

Of course there are times when all of us don't listen well, or make mistakes in writing, but we can usually know that we have not been on task or have made a mistake, and we can put it right. People with dyslexia have to learn to be very, very careful to check their work and their understanding all the time.

Do you have dyslexia?

If you are trying really hard to learn but are finding it really hard to understand, or if you have problems in reading, writing and spelling, even when you spend a lot of time trying your hardest, then you need to talk:

  • Talk to your mum, dad or caregiver.
  • Talk to your teacher.
  • Talk to your doctor.

Your parents may talk to your teacher, and take you to your doctor and a psychologist.

Your doctor

  • may want to check your vision and hearing. The doctor may refer you to a specialist in checking vision (an optometrist or ophthalmologist), who can see how well your eyes work. Your ability to clearly see close things (near vision) and things that are far away (distance vision) may be checked, as well as how well your eyes work together (convergence).
  • The doctor will also ask about whether you have other health problems, because some illnesses and some medicines can make it harder to learn, or cause people to miss so much school that they have difficulty with schoolwork.

A psychologist will be able to check how quick you are at learning things, and whether you have trouble with certain types of memory (like remembering something that you have just heard).

  • Some people are slower than others with learning. This is not dyslexia.
  • Others are able to learn many things quickly, but have trouble with just a couple of types of learning, like reading - and this may be dyslexia.
  • A psychologist may also ask about your family life and school life, as problems in each place can affect learning.

Your teacher may give you some special help.

  • If the tests show that you have dyslexia, there are special programs that you can do at home and at school to help you learn and cope.
  • If you are having trouble copying things off the board, your teacher may provide the instructions on a piece of paper.
  • You may be able to do some of your work on a computer in class or at home.
  • You may be able to get an electronic copy of the work or book that can be read aloud by a text-to-speech program.
  • Your teacher is likely to have many other ideas about how to assist your learning.

Other things that can cause learning problems

There are some other things that can cause learning problems, and these have to be thought about before deciding that the 'problem' is dyslexia.

  • People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD) have difficulty concentrating and staying on task.
  • Problems at home can make it difficult to concentrate at school.
  • Problems at school, such as being bullied, can make it difficult to stay focused on study.
  • Being depressed, sad, lonely and worried all make learning hard.
  • It can be hard to understand when English is not your first language.
  • Not wanting to be at school and not wanting to study is also a problem!

You might like to have a look at other topics on this site if you think you may have one of these problems.

Bec says:

"If you have a learning difficulty nowadays you can get help. Doctors and teachers know much more about how kids learn than they used to. They can help you in many ways, but you also have to be prepared to work hard to get the same results that other kids achieve easily. Still, you know what ‘they’ say -  you have to put in to get out!"

Resources

South Australia

  • SPELD (Specific Learning Difficulties Association of South Australia)
    298 Portrush Road, Kensington, South Australia 5068
    Monday–Thursday, 9 am - 4 pm, telephone (08) 8431 1655
    Membership - $60 per year for individuals and families
    http://www.speld-sa.org.au/
    • includes newsletters, library, information about courses, parent and child support network, free resources, educational and software consultations
    • assessments are available and there is a charge for the assessment. Health Care Card holders may be able to get a cheaper rate.

Further reading

Better Health Channel
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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