What are the characteristics of dyslexia?

Characteristics of dyslexia

The Australian Dyslexic Association (ADA) cautions that "it is important to keep in mind that dyslexia occurs on a continuum from mild to severe and no two learners with dyslexia are the same".  

The list below has been adapted from the Australian Dyslexic Association and British Dyslexic Association , a person with dyslexia may display some or all of the indicators listed below. 

General Indicators

  • Thinks in pictures, not words
  • Solves problems in unusual ways
  • Has a vivid and active imagination
  • Difficulty maintaining order
  • Exhibits inconsistencies between potential and performance
  • Weak memory for lists, directions, or facts
  • Needs to see or hear concepts many times to learn them
  • Inconsistent school work

Indicators in written language

  • Difficulty acquiring and using written language
  • Difficulty learning to spell accurately
  • Difficulty learning and retaining multi-syllabic vocabulary

Indicators in reading

  • Limited reading comprehension due to weak decoding and/or word recognition and fluency skills
  • Difficulty in phonological awareness, including segmenting, blending and manipulating sounds in words
  • Difficulty mastering the alphabetical principle and basic decoding skills (sounds to letters)
  • Slow, inaccurate laboured reading (lacking fluency)
  • Difficulty acquiring age appropriate sight words recognition skills (visual coding)

Indicators in oral language

  • Difficulty acquiring and using oral  language
  • Difficulty naming colors, objects, and letters rapidly, in a sequence
  • Oral language skills are often stronger than written language skills

Indicators in student behaviour

  • Distracted by visual or auditory stimuli
  • Employs work avoidance tactics, such as sharpening pencils and looking for books
  • Seems to ‘dream’, does not seem to listen
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is the class clown or is disruptive or withdrawn (these are often cries for help)
  • Is excessively tired due to amount of concentration and effort required

Indicators in teacher behaviour

  • Teacher says, “If only they would try harder.”

For a more extensive list of characteristics in primary school children go to Primary Hints and Tips on the British Dyslexic Association (BDA) website. 
A list of positive traits displayed by people with dyslexia can be found on the Living with Dyslexia page of this website.

Common myths

There are some common myths concerning the characteristics of dyslexia, as identified by  SPELD QLD Inc and Common Misconceptions About Dyslexia | eHow.com.

Dyslexia is a general term for any learning difficulty

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability, affecting reading and written language.

Individuals with dyslexia do not try hard enough

This is a common misconception because students with dyslexia are clearly intelligent and yet their reading and writing skills do not match their ability level.

Dyslexia is a visual problem with mirror writing and letter reversals being key indicators

Research has demonstrated that dyslexia is an auditory processing problem with most individuals having difficulty with processing sounds in words. Dyslexic children have difficulties attaching the appropriate labels or names to letters and words, but there is no evidence that they actually see letters and words backward.  B
ackwards writing and reversals of letters and words are common in the early stages of writing development for all children.

Dyslexia is just a phase

Children can not grow out of dyslexia, they can learn to overcome their symptoms, but dyslexia is a lifelong condition.

Key points

The primary symptoms of dyslexia as identified by the Australian Dyslexic Association are:

  • Problems learning the letter sounds for reading and spelling
  • Difficulty in reading single words, such as on flash cards and in lists (decoding)
  • Lack of fluency
  • Reading slowly with many mistakes
  • Poor spelling
  • Poor visual coding (orthographic coding)

There are a number of myths about dyslexia which are unsubstantiated.  These are:

  • Dyslexia is a general term for any learning difficulty
  • Individuals with dyslexia do not try hard enough
  • Dyslexia is a visual problem with mirror writing and letter reversals being key indicators
  • Dyslexia is just a phase