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6-minute read

Key facts

  • About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia.
  • The brains of people with dyslexia work differently to people without dyslexia.
  • Dyslexia symptoms can vary from quite mild to quite bad.
  • People with dyslexia can be taught to read using a specific teaching strategy called systematic synthetic phonics.
  • Coloured glasses and eye exercises don’t help people with dyslexia.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia (specific learning disorder in reading) is a common learning disability. Dyslexia makes it challenging for people to recognise words. About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia.

People with dyslexia often also have problems with spelling, writing and understanding what they’ve read.

Dyslexia isn’t due to low intelligence. People with dyslexia have different intelligence levels, just like everyone else.

Dyslexia also isn’t caused by problems with your eyesight. It is a lifelong condition that can’t be fixed.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

Symptoms of dyslexia can vary from quite mild to quite bad.

Pre-school aged children with dyslexia may have problems with:

  • delayed speech
  • difficulty pronouncing some words
  • learning the alphabet
  • writing their name

Primary school aged children may:

  • have lots of errors when reading
  • read slowly and without expression
  • avoid reading — especially aloud
  • struggle to understand what they’ve read
  • have school anxiety
  • show signs of low-self esteem

High school aged children may have:

  • many of the same problems as primary aged children
  • a reduced vocabulary

Many people with dyslexia are very creative, or gifted in areas such as the arts, computing or sports.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia often runs in families. A person with dyslexia often has a family member with dyslexia or other reading or spelling problems. We don't yet know which genes cause dyslexia.

Studies show that the brains of people with dyslexia work differently to people without dyslexia.

When should I see my doctor?

Before seeing your doctor, you should talk with your child’s teacher. They will help identify any areas of concern with your child’s learning.

You should also arrange to have your child's hearing and vision checked. This is to rule out problems with their hearing or eyesight. Your doctor or an audiologist can do a hearing check. An optometrist can check your child’s eyes.

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How is dyslexia diagnosed?

An educational psychologist usually diagnoses dyslexia. The psychologist will:

  • take a history, covering medical, developmental, education and family aspects
  • investigate your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses
  • consider what the teacher says, as well as test scores supplied by your child’s school
  • see how your child has responded to academic intervention

Your child must get at least 6 months of special teaching to improve their reading skills before dyslexia is diagnosed.

Identifying dyslexia early allows for early intervention. This helps to make sure your child doesn’t fall behind in their reading skills. Despite this, dyslexia is often not picked up in the early years of school.

How is dyslexia treated?

People with dyslexia can improve their reading and spelling skills.

Your child with dyslexia will benefit from being taught explicit and structured phonemic awareness and phonics (systematic, synthetic phonics).

Your child with dyslexia needs to practise their reading and spelling. This might be by:

  • completing a systematic synthetic phonics intervention program
  • working with learning support teachers
  • working with an experienced tutor
  • working with a speech pathologist

Synthetic phonics is a way of teaching children to read. It teaches children how to link letters to speech sounds. They then learn how to blend these sounds together to read words.

‘Synthetic’ refers to the practice of blending sounds together. ‘Phonics’ is the practice of linking speech sounds (phonemes) to their written symbols (graphemes).

Structured synthetic phonics programs are evidence-based. This is because there is lots of independent research that shows that these programs can produce improvements in literacy.

Decodable readers also help children with dyslexia learn to read. These books introduce letter-sound knowledge.

You should make sure that any intervention program you consider for your child is evidence-based. Check that independent reviews support its effectiveness — not reviews provided by the program manufacturer.

With the right intervention, most people with dyslexia will improve. However, this will take a lot of time and work targeting their specific area of weakness.

Appropriate adjustments

People with dyslexia can benefit from appropriate adjustments made at school or work.

An adjustment is an action that allows you to take part in the same way as other people. At school this might look like:

  • using an audio book
  • not reading aloud
  • having extra time to finish tasks
  • not copying from the board
  • use of assistive technology

Adjustments are specific to the person and will change over time.

What doesn’t help treat dyslexia?

Coloured glasses and eye exercises don’t treat dyslexia.

Can dyslexia be prevented?

You cannot prevent dyslexia.

Complications of dyslexia

People with dyslexia often have other specific learning disorders, such as dyscalculia (mathematics) or dysgraphia (writing). About 4 in 10 people with dyslexia have dyscalculia. And about 7 in 10 people with dyslexia have dysgraphia.

Between 2 and 4 people out of 10 with dyslexia also have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Children with dyslexia are more likely to have executive functioning challenges. These are processes that manage thoughts and actions.

Many children with dyslexia also have a weakness with their working memory. Working memory is the skill of holding information in your mind while you work with it. It’s important for:

  • remembering multi-step instructions
  • recalling details from a spoken story
  • doing sums in your head

There is evidence that children with dyslexia have more chance of developing low self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem for a long period of time are more likely to develop anxiety and depression. Speak with your doctor or school psychologist if you think your child requires extra wellbeing support.

Resources and support

Auspeld supports children and adults with specific learning disorders in Australia. They provide useful resources that include:

There are a number of state-based SPELD organisations:

The Australian Dyslexia Association supports the wellbeing, identification and treatment of people with dyslexia.


Auspeld (Understanding Learning Disabilities), SPELD NSW (Dyslexia), SPELD NSW (Dyslexia Infosheet), SAGE Journals (The Neurobiology of Dyslexia), Frontiers (Recognizing Psychiatric Comorbidity With Reading Disorders), Taylor & Francis Online (A meta-analysis of executive functioning in dyslexia with consideration of the impact of comorbid ADHD)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2022

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