Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that affects reading, writing and spelling and is usually diagnosed in childhood. Find out about the signs and what support is available.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a lifelong learning difficulty that limits reading, writing and spelling abilities and can also impact how you process and remember information. It is different to a learning disability, as it does not affect your intelligence.

Around 1 in 10 people are affected by dyslexia and it’s usually diagnosed in childhood.

What causes dyslexia?

It’s not exactly known what causes dyslexia, but there’s some evidence that it can be linked to certain genes inherited by your parents.

Dyslexia is usually diagnosed early on in childhood but the symptoms can change as you get older.

What are the main dyslexia symptoms?

Typical signs of dyslexia can vary according to age. Here are the most common symptoms for each age group:

Dyslexia symptoms for pre-school children

  • Slower speech development than what’s expected for your age

  • Pronunciation problems

  • Difficulties using language to express yourself

  • Problems learning the alphabet

Dyslexia symptoms for primary school children

  • Difficulty learning letters, putting letters in the wrong order or making anagrams of words

  • Confused by numbers and letters that appear similar (for example, b and d or 6 and 9)

  • Reading slowly and finding it hard to read aloud

  • Feeling like the words on a page are moving around or blurred

  • Difficulty completing written tasks, poor handwriting and writing slowly

  • Finding it hard to learn sequences, like months of the year

  • Struggling to follow instructions

  • Difficulties telling the time, bad timekeeping and problems remembering days of the week

  • Can be easily distracted and use avoidance techniques rather than working

Dyslexia symptoms for secondary school children and adults

Additional symptoms in this age group can include:

  • Appearing knowledgeable about a subject but not being able to express this through writing

  • Problems studying for exams, essays or reports

  • Avoiding reading and writing whenever possible

  • Struggling to meet deadlines

  • Difficulties remembering a list of instructions

  • Being disorganised and forgetful in daily life

How to get tested for dyslexia

Once any underlying health problems have been ruled out, you can talk to your child’s school about what specialist educational support they can offer. This is given through the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).

Dyslexia test

If your child continues to have difficulties, you can request that your child is referred for an in-depth dyslexia assessment. This will be carried out by an educational psychologist or a dyslexia specialist.

The dyslexia assessment might include:

  • A pre-assessment questionnaire sent to you and your child’s school

  • Observing your child at school

  • Talking to teachers

  • Tests to assess reading and writing skills, memory, vocabulary, language developments, processing skills and organisational skills

Dyslexia support and interventions

After the assessment, you’ll receive a report covering your child’s strengths and weaknesses, with suggestions of how to improve the areas they’re struggling with.

There’s a range of support and interventions available if your child is diagnosed with dyslexia, depending on how severe it is and what they need the most help with.

Many children receive all the support they need through SENCO services in their school. An individual action plan will be drawn up for your child, which may include one-to-one support and small group work.

Helping your child at home

Talk to your child’s school about the best ways that you can support this plan at home. Younger children can benefit from reading together, being read aloud to and getting lots of encouragement. It’s also important to set a good ‘reading example’ by reading in front of your child.

Older children and adults who are dyslexic can benefit from working on a computer rather than a book. Text-to-speak functions and speech recognition software can be helpful, and there are lots of apps and other software available to help make their learning more engaging.

Adult dyslexia

As an adult, many of the approaches that work for children still apply. In addition to exploring how technology can help you, think about how to approach complex tasks in a multisensory way. For example:

  • Use a dictaphone to record a lecture or a meeting at work rather than struggling to take notes

  • Find videos to learn about new topics before turning to text-heavy information

  • Draw mind maps to help you remember more complicated information or instructions

It’s a good idea to tell your employer about your dyslexia as there are lots of ways that they can support you. They are also required by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you.

This might include assistive technology, giving you extra time for difficult tasks and giving you the information in more accessible formats.

When to see a GP

If you still have concerns after speaking to your child's school, it's best to speak to a GP. They may want to rule out any underlying health problems that are affecting their ability to read or write.

For example:

  • vision problems, such as short-sightedness or a squint

  • hearing problems as the result of a condition like glue ear

  • other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Lead GP at Livi Dr Rhianna McClymont
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi