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Kids News explainer: What is dyslexia?

Donna Coutts, October 26, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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Dyslexia is about language processing — particularly reading — and does not affect an individual’s unique capabilities or talents. media_cameraDyslexia is about language processing — particularly reading — and does not affect an individual’s unique capabilities or talents.

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Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties, estimated to affect 10 per cent of the Australian population, but possibly up to 20 per cent.

That’s a lot of people having difficulty. But the good news is dyslexia is not a disease. And you can have dyslexia and be really good at things just like anyone else!

Kids News talked to Jodi Clements, the president of the Australian Dyslexia Association, about what dyslexia is and how having dyslexia does not mean someone is not able to learn.

WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
The word dyslexia means difficulty with words.

It is neurobiological, which means it is brain based.

It affects acquiring* and using written language.

People with dyslexia process speech sounds differently in their brain. They use a less proficient* part of their brain, which makes it more difficult to decode* written words, or make sense of them. Dyslexia affects reading accuracy and fluency*.

Experts describe dyslexia as being on a continuum*. This means dyslexia can range from mild, moderate or severe and no two cases are exactly the same. One in five people experience some degree of dyslexia.

School sucks! media_cameraExperts once believed that dyslexia was more common in boys but today it’s known that dyslexia equally affects as many girls as boys. Picture: iStock

WHO HAS DYSLEXIA?
People are born with dyslexia and it is highly hereditary — meaning it can be passed through genes — however, it can skip a family generation.

Experts once believed that dyslexia was more common in boys but today it’s known that dyslexia equally affects as many girls as boys.

One of the reasons why it once seemed there were more boys with dyslexia was that more boys were assessed for dyslexia as a result of looking into the possible causes of behavioural issues.

IS SOMEONE’S BRAIN DIFFERENT IF THEY ARE DYSLEXIC?
Yes. Studies in neuroscience* reveal that the brains of people with dyslexia process language/speech sounds in a different part of the brain to non-dyslexics. They also activate different regions of the brain when attempting to decode words compared to the brain regions non-dyslexic individuals activate. The brain regions an individual with dyslexia attempts to use (not by choice) are less efficient for reading

Teacher Reading Story To Elementary School Pupils media_cameraA person with dyslexia may be really good at learning and understanding information through listening, such as having a story read to them rather than reading it themselves.

CAN YOU BE REALLY SMART OR GOOD AT OTHER THINGS IF YOU ARE DYSLEXIC?
Yes! Dyslexia is about language processing — particularly reading — and does not affect an individual’s unique capabilities or talents.

However, dyslexia can have a downside if it is not identified and managed.

Lowered self-esteem* is common in people with dyslexia. Also, sadly, many people have awful school experiences, either because other students don’t understand dyslexia or a teacher doesn’t have the right training to help the student in the right way.

A young person with dyslexia may be made to feel dumb or think they are dumb because they compare or have been compared to others who are reading better than them.

This is unfair to the person with dyslexia because scientists know that reading and intelligence are unrelated, so you can be very capable but have great challenges with reading.

A person with dyslexia may be really good at learning and understanding information through listening. For example, a student may really enjoy and understand stories being read to them but if they had to read the same book themselves they would have trouble.

Young Aboriginal boy doing homework with the help of his father. media_cameraIt really helps someone overcome difficulties related to dyslexia if it is identified when they are young and they get the right support at school and home.

IS THERE A CURE FOR DYSLEXIA?
There is no cure and you do not grow out of dyslexia. However, it really helps someone overcome difficulties related to dyslexia if it is identified when they are young and they get the right support at school and home. It’s important to know that it is never too late to get help.

Many people with dyslexia find ways to work around difficulties — for instance, setting aside extra time to read or using audiobooks and other technology.

Rather than thinking about dyslexia as something to fix or cure, scientists are now interested in studying the unique brain networks of people with dyslexia and understanding how their brains adapt to or work around difficulties. Human brains are incredible!

Teenager girl using pad computer media_cameraPeople with dyslexia are capable and go on to do amazing things when understood and supported.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER
Reading, spelling and writing can be tricky when you have dyslexia. Being told what is written down or hearing a recording really helps.

Reading and intelligence are not related. So having dyslexia does not mean someone is not capable of learning. It only means they may need help accessing the meaning of printed information.

People with dyslexia are capable. They go on to do amazing things when understood and supported.

For more information visit dyslexiaassociation.org.au

GLOSSARY

  • acquiring: buying or getting for yourself
  • proficient: skilled, able to do a task
  • decode: make sense of
  • fluency: ability to do something easily and accurately
  • continuing: without a break
  • neuroscience: science of the nervous system, including the brain
  • self-esteem: confidence in your own ability; self-respect

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is dyslexia?
  2. What does it mean to say dyslexia is neurobiological?
  3. Is dyslexia more common in boys or girls?
  4. Is there a cure for dyslexia?
  5. Are reading and intelligence related?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Helping out a Friend
Work with a partner and write a list of what you could say or do that would be helpful if someone in your class is dyslexic.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
Why do you think many people with dyslexia have had an awful school experience? How could schools and students change this culture moving forward?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social

VCOP ACTIVITY
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What ideas do you have for improving the learning experience in your school?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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