For this year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week, our team put together a guide on this often-misunderstood learning difficulty. With this year’s awareness week theme being Invisible Dyslexia, we thought it was important to help bring some visibility to this issue. Here is a simple overview of what dyslexia is and how it can specifically impact children and young people in their education.

Invisible Dyslexia 2021 Graphic

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the way certain types of information are processed by the brain. This can then impact a person’s capacity to read, write, and spell, amongst other abilities.

It is classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means it’s a condition that can have a substantial and long-term negative affect on an individual’s ability to perform normal daily activities. However, the symptoms of dyslexia can be different from person to person, so the extent to which it will impact someone’s life varies.

One of the most widely accepted definitions of dyslexia is taken from a 2008 government report called The Rose Report. It states:

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.”

Here are a few of the most common symptoms experienced by children with dyslexia, aged 5 to 12 years old, according to the NHS:

  • difficulties with learning the sounds of letters

  • switching letters and figures around, e.g., writing an ‘6’ instead of a ‘9’

  • reading and writing slowly

  • being able to answer questions well verbally but struggling to answer when writing it down

  • poor handwriting

  • struggling to carry out a sequence of directions

  • getting the order of letters wrong when writing words

two young children in a classroom with a teacher

You can read more on the possible symptoms here.

For young people (and adults), some of the common symptoms listed by the NHS include:

  • difficulty meeting deadlines

  • avoiding reading and writing

  • struggling to plan and write homework and essays, etc.

  • lack of organisation and expression in written work

  • forgetting things like phone numbers and PINs.

teen boy in a classroom getting help from a teacher

Dyslexia is often referred to as a SpLD, which stands for ‘specific learning difficulty’. The term ‘specific’ is used because it impacts specific areas of an individual’s ability, as opposed to a general learning difficulty. Other common SpLDs include dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs

Beyond Books

Dyslexia doesn’t just affect a child or young person’s abilities in the English classroom. It can impact their experience throughout every school activity, especially as it is often concurrent with other conditions like ADD or with other literacies like numbers. Some people with dyslexia can also experience physical symptoms, such as difficulty with motor coordination. This can cause issues participating in physical education, playground play, and afterschool activities.

According to the British Dyslexia Association, young people with SpLDs such as dyslexia often report higher levels of mental health difficulties and are more prone to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

In a digital world, it’s important to be aware of the barriers dyslexia can create. Much of the lives of children and young people now take place online, from gaming for fun to interacting with friends and family on social media. Accessing these online places may be trickier for those with dyslexia, both from a readability perspective as well as communicating through writing. One study showed that, of these two struggles, writing is a bigger challenge for social media users with dyslexia.

A young person may be concerned that by interacting online through written word, the difficulties they face could be exposed and leave them vulnerable to judgment and possible bullying. Whereas they may have support in the classroom and their written work is only seen by a limited number of people, when things move online there may not be an adult or supportive person there to assist them with writing before it is seen by their peers.

Social media is already a pressurised environment for young people. For those with dyslexia, there are added challenges and they may not feel able to fully express themselves online. This could result in a young person feeling misunderstood or socially excluded if they do not have the necessary help or support.

An estimated 10% of the population have dyslexia – British Dyslexia Association

The Consequences of Covid-19

report by the British Dyslexia Association looked at how children with dyslexia were affected by home schooling during lockdowns. Of the parents surveyed, 80% said that lockdown “had made them realise how much their child struggles with learning.” 

The research outlines particular difficulties reported by parents, including: 

  • Problems with self-directed learning

  • A heavy reliance on reading and following detailed written instructions

  • A volume and pace of work that clashed with their learning pace

  • Time pressures to upload work on the same day

65% discovered how much support their child needs to access the curriculum.

Report: The Impact of Covid on the Dyslexic Community

The impacts of home learning could be long lasting, with most parents believing it would take their child a school year or more to make up for the lost learning during home education.

Safeguarding Concerns

  • Children and young people with dyslexia may be more at risk or more worried about being bullied, in school and online, where the writing and reading symptoms of dyslexia may be more visible. 

  • A lack of access to assistive technology that can help with online communicating could result in a young person feeling excluded from online socialising, such as on social media.  

  • If a young person isn’t supported properly in their education, this could lead to academic consequences. Not only will this affect their future in education and/or career, but it can also impact their daily school lives through feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, and exclusion 

  • Social isolation and low confidence can make a young person more vulnerable to turn to unhealthy habits and relationships for social and emotional fulfilment.  

A survey of parents of children with dyslexia reported 82% of children try to hide their difficulties relating to dyslexia and 85% reported their child feels embarrassed by their dyslexia.

Source: All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs

How to Support a Child or Young Person with Dyslexia

  • Talk to the young person in your care about dyslexia and how it impacts their life, both academically and socially.  

  • Teach them about trusted adults who they can talk to when they need support. Learn more in our blog on Trusted Adults.

  • Find out how you can best support your young person, such as creating helpful environments for learning by minimising distractions, etc. You can find further advice and support through the British Dyslexia Association.

  • Use our safeguarding resources to help the young person in your care stay safe online. You can access our Teach and Home Learning Hubs for more resources, as well as our blogs, such as Dealing with Cyberbullying.  

  • Visit our Safety Centre together and learn how to block users and report comments on a range of different apps, games and platforms. 

  • Subscribe to our Safeguarding Newsletter for the most up to date, credible and relevant safeguarding content direct to your inbox. 

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Pause, Think and Plan

Guidance on how to talk to the children in your care about online risks.
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