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About dyslexia : 1. A definition

1. A definition

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the ability to learn to read and spell. It often runs in families and stems from a difficulty in processing the sounds in words. Some 10% of the UK population are affected. 

A formal definition of dyslexia was recommended by Sir Jim Rose in an independent report: Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties which was agreed by the Department for Education in 2009.  

The definition’s main points are:

  • It affects the ability to learn to read and spell.
  • It involves difficulties in dealing with the sounds of words, which makes it especially hard to learn to use phonics to read words.
  • It can affect short-term memory and speed of recalling names.
  • Other kinds of difficulties, for example with maths or with co-ordination, sometimes go alongside dyslexia, but they do not always.
  • Dyslexia is not the same for everyone: 
    • it can be mild or severe; 
    • it varies depending on other strengths, or difficulties;
    • it varies depending on the kind of support and encouragement that is given at school, at home and at work.

What are the other important things we know about dyslexia?

  • People with dyslexia often have strengths in reasoning, in visual and creative fields; dyslexia is not related to general intelligence; and is not the result of visual difficulties.
  • Dyslexia usually runs in families, but there is still much that can be done, especially if intervention is given early.
  • Many people learn strategies to manage the effects of dyslexia, but it does not go away and its effects may be felt in new situations or in times of stress.
  • People with dyslexia often, but do not always, show characteristics of other specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder or dyscalculia.


 Pennington B F, (1990) The Genetics of Dyslexia, The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry [Online] Volume 31, Issue 2, pages 193–201. Accessed from:

Did you know?

Dyslexia can make some things harder to learn. But, almost always, those barriers to learning can be overcome, especially with the right kind of help and support.