Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


4-minute read

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a common learning disability that makes it challenging for people to process language. About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia.

People with dyslexia find it difficult to ‘decode’ letters and words. They may have average or above-average intelligence, and won't have any difficulty with understanding or with their vision, speaking and listening. But they experience problems making sense of individual words.

The main challenge for people with dyslexia is thinking about — and remembering — the sounds in words, and being able to put them in the correct order. This makes learning to read and write difficult.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

Symptoms of dyslexia range from the quite mild to the severe. Children with dyslexia may have:

  • below-grade level reading skills (even if the child is doing very well in other areas)
  • difficulty understanding what they are reading
  • difficulty pronouncing words
  • poor spelling
  • difficulty writing in an organised way
  • problems with grammar and punctuation
  • difficulty remembering a list of instructions
  • poor handwriting
  • difficulty with maths
  • difficulty using the muscles of the face to speak (dyspraxia)

They may also be at increased risk of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

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

One sign of dyslexia in young children is that they learn to talk later than other children, frequently reverse sounds in words, or have difficulty remembering colours, numbers, letters and nursery rhymes.

If a child can't grasp the basics of reading by Year 1 or is having a lot of trouble at school with language tasks, the first steps are to talk to your school and have your child's hearing and vision checked.

The Australian Dyslexia Association has a checklist to help you decide whether your child might have dyslexia.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia often runs in families, although we don't know which gene is responsible — a person is more likely to have dyslexia if a close family member has the condition or another learning difficulty.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

The first steps in obtaining a diagnosis of dyslexia are to talk to your school and have your child's hearing and vision checked. Eliminating problems with vision and hearing is an important step before considering further assessments.

The initial screening can be done at your child's school by a specialist teacher or through external services, such as those provided by the Australian Dyslexia Association. This will identify if an in-depth assessment of reading and spelling by an appropriately trained psychologist, speech pathologist or other healthcare professional with relevant qualifications is required.

You can also speak with your doctor about whether a referral to a specialist, such as a paediatrician, might help or whether your child would benefit from occupational therapy or speech therapy.

The sooner a child is diagnosed with dyslexia the better. If dyslexia is not identified, it can lead to the child experiencing low self-esteem, frustration, emotional issues and a loss of interest in school.

However, dyslexia can be hard to diagnose unless the problem is severe. Often cases of dyslexia are not picked up in the early years of school despite the importance of early identification and intervention.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Help for people with dyslexia

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, not a disease, so it doesn't require a cure. However, there are many ways to support people with dyslexia so they can reach their full potential in life.

Many schools offer support to children with dyslexia. The best way is for a team to work together, involving parents, teachers, a school counsellor, support teachers and other health professionals, such as an educational psychologist or speech pathologist. They can draw up a plan tailored to the child's needs. Children may also need tutoring outside of school.

Children can also improve their reading skills through teaching techniques that employ hearing, sight or touch to learn — for example, by listening to instructions rather than reading them, or by tracing the shape of letters with a finger.

Children who receive treatment early in their school life often go on to succeed at school. People with dyslexia may never find reading easy, but with support they will thrive.

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

Last reviewed: July 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dyslexia - Brain Foundation

Dyslexia Description Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects approximately 10 per cent of the population

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Dyslexia in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Dyslexia is a learning disability. Children with dyslexia have trouble with reading and spelling. Support helps children with dyslexia achieve and succeed.

Read more on website

Dyslexia in children -

Dyslexia is a common language-based learning disorder that makes it difficult for children to read, write and spell. It is not caused by a lack of intelligence or unwillingness to learn.

Read more on myDr website

Dyslexia (developmental reading disorder) | HealthEngine Blog

Dyslexia or developmental reading disorder is a common reading disability. Dyslexic children are unable to process and interpret symbols like letters.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Dyslexia - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Learning disabilities: FAQs | Raising Children Network

What are early signs of learning disabilities? What should I do if I’m worried my child has a learning disability? Get answers to these and more FAQs.

Read more on website

Learning disabilities: children & teens | Raising Children Network

Learning disabilities are problems with reading, spelling or maths. Read how to support children with learning disabilities so they can learn successfully.

Read more on website

Tourette syndrome - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Fad therapies for autistic children | Raising Children Network

Fad therapies for autistic children aren’t supported by science. If you can’t tell whether a therapy has been scientifically tested, it might be a fad.

Read more on website

Left-handedness - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.