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The Rose definition of dyslexia is a widely accepted one that states: “Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.

Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities” (Rose, 2009, p. 10). This definition also acknowledges the co-occurring difficulties and strengths that dyslexic individuals may have in areas such as language, motor co-ordination, calculation, concentration, personal organisation, design, problem-solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills (British Dyslexia Association [BDA], 2010).

However, there are other definitions of dyslexia that emphasize different aspects of the condition. For example, some definitions focus on the neurological basis of dyslexia, such as “Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterised by slow and inaccurate word recognition” (Peterson & Pennington, 2015, p. 1). Others highlight the social and cultural factors that influence the identification and support of dyslexic learners, such as “Dyslexia is a socially constructed learning difference that results from a combination of individual cognitive characteristics and environmental factors” (Elliott & Grigorenko, 2014, p. 2). These definitions reflect the diversity and complexity of dyslexia as a phenomenon that involves multiple dimensions and perspectives.

Signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the skills involved in reading, spelling and writing. It can be detected in some cases before a child starts school, but it becomes more obvious when the child begins to learn how to read and write. Some of the signs of dyslexia in children and young adults include:

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  • Delayed speech development compared with other children of the same age
  • Speech problems, such as not being able to pronounce long words properly or jumbling up phrases
  • Problems expressing themselves using spoken language, such as being unable to remember the right word to use or putting sentences together incorrectly
  • Little understanding or appreciation of rhyming words or nursery rhymes
  • Problems learning the names and sounds of letters
  • Spelling that is unpredictable and inconsistent
  • confusion over letters that look similar and putting letters the wrong way round (such as writing “b” instead of “d”)
  • Confusing the order of letters in words
  • Reading slowly or making errors when reading aloud
  • Answering questions well orally, but having difficulty writing the answer down
  • Difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions
  • Struggling to learn sequences, such as days of the week or the alphabet
  • Slow writing speed and poor handwriting
  • Problems copying written language and taking longer than normal to complete written work
  • Poor phonological awareness and word attack skills

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made up of smaller units of sound (phonemes) and that changing and manipulating phonemes can create new words and meanings. Word attack skills are the ability to make sense of unfamiliar words by looking for smaller words or collections of letters that have been previously learned. A person with dyslexia may have trouble with these skills, which are essential for reading and spelling.

The exact cause of dyslexia is unknown, but it may be related to genetic factors, brain development, or environmental influences. Dyslexia can lead to complications such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or behavioural problems. However, people with dyslexia can also have strengths such as creativity, problem-solving, or oral communication. Dyslexia can be diagnosed by a specialist who will assess the person’s history, abilities, and difficulties. There is no specific treatment for dyslexia, but it can be managed with appropriate educational approaches and techniques, such as tutoring, phonics instruction, multisensory learning, or assistive technology.

Dyslexia and ADHD

Dyslexia and ADHD are both neurodevelopmental disorders that can affect learning and academic performance. However, they have different causes, symptoms, and treatments. Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the ability to read, spell, and process language. People with dyslexia have difficulties with phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed (Rose, 2009). Dyslexia does not affect intelligence or general cognitive abilities.

ADHD is a behavioural disorder that affects attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. People with ADHD have difficulties with focusing, organizing, planning, and following instructions. ADHD can also affect emotional regulation and social skills (Peterson & Pennington, 2015). ADHD can co-occur with other mental health or learning disorders.

The main difference between dyslexia and ADHD is that dyslexia is primarily a language-based disorder, while ADHD is primarily an executive function disorder. Executive functions are the mental processes that help us manage our thoughts, actions, and emotions. People with dyslexia may have some executive function impairments, such as working memory or processing speed, but they do not meet the criteria for ADHD. People with ADHD may have some language difficulties, such as reading comprehension or writing organisation, but they do not meet the criteria for dyslexia. However, some people may have both dyslexia and ADHD, which can make their challenges more complex and severe.

The treatment for dyslexia and ADHD depends on the individual’s needs and goals. Dyslexia can be treated with specialized instruction that focuses on phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Dyslexia can also be accommodated with assistive technology, such as text-to-speech or speech-to-text software. ADHD can be treated with medication, behavioural therapy, or a combination of both. Medication can help reduce the symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Behavioural therapy can help teach coping skills, organizational strategies, and self-regulation techniques. Both dyslexia and ADHD can benefit from support from parents, teachers, and peers.

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BDA. (2010). Definition of dyslexia.

British Dyslexia Association. (n.d.). Signs of dyslexia. Retrieved from

Elliott, J. G., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2014). The dyslexia debate. Cambridge University Press.

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Dyslexia – Symptoms and causes. Retrieved from

MSN. (n.d.). What is Dyslexia and its possible symptoms, causes, risk and prevention methods? Retrieved from

NHS. (2018). Dyslexia – Symptoms. Retrieved from

Peterson, R. L., & Pennington, B. F. (2015). Developmental dyslexia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 11(1), 283–307.

Rose, J. (2009). Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. Department for Children, Schools and Families.

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