Dyslexia is different for everyone. It is therefore not straightforward to diagnose. An individual will show dyslexia in an individual way. It can change over the years according to your environment and the demands being made on you.
The shifting focus of definitions of dyslexia continues to alert us to the fact that we are dealing with more than a reading, writing and spelling problem. Recent definitions pinpoint difficulties with organisation, memory, word retrieval and speed of processing. Sir Jim Rose’s definition stresses that the condition exists on a continuum ranging from mild to severe; thus we are unsurprised that all dyslexics are not identified in the early years. It is encouraging that most recent definitions emphasise the abilities and strengths of dyslexic profiles.
So, our picture of indicators of dyslexia may be different at different stages in the education of people with dyslexia. The lesson we learn from our increased understanding of dyslexia is that information about cerebellar difficulties prompts us to check out complications with timing, sequencing, naming speed and general levels of automaticity of skills over and above literacy difficulties. The environment will determine when and where these difficulties become apparent.
Moving from pre-primary to primary education, children may suffer information overload with copious amounts of listening. Listening and general receptive and expressive language skills need to be in place before children are ready to learn literacy skills. Many children fail to learn phonics because the underpinning knowledge of phonological skills is not in place. During the primary years children are expected to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
Other signs of possible dyslexia in the early years include:
At secondary level, earlier difficulties may persist as well as new problems in coping with the increased demands of the curriculum. They may show many of the following features:
Parents may look at these indicators and be unduly concerned when they spot some of these features in their children. It is worth remembering the quotation below:
“It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.” Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat
Tim Miles described dyslexia as a pattern of difficulties; observant parents might look out for the persistence of difficulties over a period of time but also consider other at risk factors such as a family history of similar difficulties as well as talents in mathematical, computer, design, musical, mechanical or creative fields.
It is also worth considering whether other barriers to learning may have caused or be causing difficulties; medical conditions, illness leading to absence from school, being young in the school year, lack of opportunities for developing literacy skills at home, such as being brought up in a bilingual family or having foreign carers. This is not an either/or situation but these other factors should be taken into account.
Because dyslexia can exist on a continuum from mild to severe, difficulties may not be noticed in the early years particularly with bright children who may unconsciously be compensating for difficulties. Sometimes, these children may draw attention to themselves not through their difficulties but through avoidance strategies such as a reluctance to attend school or unacceptable behaviour in the classroom. This is unsurprising as it is easier to ascribe failure to a lack of effort; children who are awarded A for effort and E for attainment will often consider themselves stupid. This can also happen through family dynamics where younger siblings find achievement much easier.
It is now generally recognised that people with dyslexia often have co-occurring difficulties such as dyspraxia and ADHD. Often the symptoms may look similar; for example the dyslexic pupil may look as if he has attention deficit when the explanation may well be that he is finding it difficult to attend because of the nature of the task he is dealing with.
There is still controversy over the visual processing problems that dyslexic pupils may have; in our experience, some dyslexics will manifest signs of difficulty which reduce their ability to deal with print easily. Probing visual processing is recommended in assessment; parents can experiment with coloured overlays or simply coloured plastic sheets available from stationers to explore whether this makes the reading process easier for their children.