Dyslexia refers to a learning disability that can affect an individual in different ways. The most commonly affected skills are reading and writing, where spelling and phonetics are often particularly impacted. Organisational skills and the ability to process and retain information may also be affected. However, dyslexia does not affect intelligence. In fact, dyslexic people are often found to possess sharper creativity and problem-solving skills.
A few famous names, past and present, from varying fields who are known to be dyslexic and have had a positive or revolutionary impact on the world include Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, John Lennon, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley and Jamie Oliver.
Symptoms of dyslexia may vary depending on the age group to which the individual belongs.
For pre-school children (5 years and below), these may include:
- delayed speech development
- difficulty learning the alphabet
- difficulty understanding rhyming words
- speech problems, such as jumbling up phonetics (e.g. saying “comtuper” instead of “computer”)
- difficulty putting sentences together or finding the right word(s) to express themselves
In the case of children aged 5-12 years, symptoms may include:
- slow writing speed and taking longer than ideal to complete written tasks
- slow reading speed and difficulty in reading out loud
- feeling of letters moving or blurring when reading
- difficulty with spelling and deciphering letter order in words
- difficulty with names and phonetics of letters, and with word attack skills
- mixing up letters and figures (e.g. “b” and “d”, “6” and “9”)
- poor handwriting
- difficulty in answering questions in writing, while being able to answer well orally
- difficulty in learning sequences (e.g. days of the week, months of the year)
- difficulty in following a sequence of directions
In teenagers and adults, symptoms may include:
- poor spelling
- difficulty in meeting deadlines
- difficulty in remembering sequences such as telephone numbers and PINs
- difficulty in planning, organising and expressively writing letters, reports, essays, etc. (despite knowing what they want to say)
- difficulty in taking notes
- difficulty in exam revision or preparation
- an overall avoidance of reading and writing whenever possible
If not detected and diagnosed by parents, caretakers or teachers at an early stage, dyslexic children may find it challenging and frustrating to not be able to keep up with their peers in assigned tasks. This may lead to an overall feeling of anger, distaste towards education, and damaged self-confidence. In undetected cases, children may face reprimand from parents or teachers for being ‘lazy’ or not putting in enough effort, for a condition that they cannot help. Such children may also be bullied or ridiculed by their peers, or may act out in anger as they themselves are unable to understand why they cannot keep up with the others.
It is also important that adults with dyslexia are aware and accepting of their difficulties, and are able to recognise other strengths and abilities that they possess. Awareness among their family, friends and co-workers is equally important.
Other medical complications that could arise in association with dyslexia include:
- poor short-term memory
- poor organisational skills and time management
- dyscalculia (similar difficulties with numbers)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other issues related to poor concentration and attention span
- developmental co-ordination disorder (CDC)
While the exact cause of dyslexia is unclear, it is believed to run in families. Genes related to dyslexia inherited from parents may impact neurological development in the brain and give rise to challenges in literacy. Again, it is important to understand that it is not intelligence but literacy that is affected in dyslexia.
If a child is showing difficulty in reading or writing, and you have already ruled out the possibility of visual or auditory impairment, it may be best to seek assistance from a specialist dyslexia teacher or an educational psychologist. They would then conduct a series of assessments on the child’s reading, writing, vocabulary, memory, logical reasoning, information processing and organisational skills. This would enable a clear diagnosis as well as give a better a picture of which areas the child finds most difficult to focus on.
There is no means of preventing dyslexia as it is believed to be an inherited disorder. However, it is important that parents and teachers are vigilant about a child’s learning and development of literacy skills as early detection and diagnosis would enable the child to get help promptly. This would help the child greatly in how they pursue education, as well as enable their parents and teachers to assess the child and guide them accordingly.
It is natural that the mental health of both parents and children could be affected by the incidence of such a condition. Therefore, it is imperative that children are paid utmost attention in the early development years in order for such conditions to be addressed early and in the best way possible.
Dyslexia is a life-long condition. There is no treatment that can alleviate symptoms or improve the condition. Early diagnosis is key to enable better management of the condition.
It is important that dyslexic children are recognised and guided accordingly. They should ideally be tutored separately by a special needs educator or system. The specific curricula used for children with dyslexia help them to learn things at a pace that is comfortable and sensible for them. As such, frustration in children, parents and teachers can be avoided, thereby also avoiding potential mental health issues. The child should also be made to understand their differences as they grow up and be allowed to discover their strengths and weaknesses.
As an adult with dyslexia, it is important to realise where your strengths lie and focus your energy on those. Most dyslexic people are extremely sharp and talented in other areas, and as mentioned at the top of the article, have been known to make huge contributions and impacts to society and the world as we know it today.
Cover illustration from iStock.