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Is my learner dyslexic?

This is a tricky question, particularly if you don't have access to full assessments or screening tools.  This article gives you guidance on simple, practical steps you can take to give you more information.


We always need to bear in mind that diagnosing dyslexia is a fairly fraught area.  There are many diagnostic criteria which are necessary for a formal diagnosis.  Also, a formal diagnosis can only be made by an appropriately qualified specialist assessor.

However, it's important for teachers to be able to differentiate between a developmentally delayed learner with more general learning difficulties, as opposed to a dyslexic-type learner.   Although core literacy-teaching approaches should be applicable in both cases, the emphasis needs to change and outcomes are likely to be very different.

In addition, teachers need to be able to identify those learners who may need a formal diagnosis as they come towards the age when they may need Special Access Conditions for formal examinations.

Options for teachers or parents

Bear in mind that the following advice is a generalised approach, which is designed for practical, everyday use in schools.  However, general principles are very useful, if used appropriately!

Teachers often ask how they can tell whether a learner is (or is likely to be) dyslexic.  To address this question, we need to look at the core dyslexic profile.  To do this, have a look at our illustration of 'The Big Five' below.  This is a pattern of typical difficulties for a dyslexic learner.

The dyslexic profile - the Big Five

The five key processing areas illustrated here are a typical pattern of difficulties for a dyslexic learner.  This is what we will be looking for:

 * Learner with a pattern of perceptual and processing difficulties which is likely to include phonological weaknesses.

 * Learner with an average or above average intellectual level. 

In other words, this learner is not able to perform at his or her potential because of specific difficulties.  Hence the name Specific Learning Disabilities (as opposed to general ones).

What do I look for?

You will already be aware that this learner is struggling with academic aspects, probably literacy and quite possibly other areas.  You can get more information about specific aspects of literacy by using the screening tests we've provided under the Assessment Section of this Support Site.

However, to identify whether this is a dyslexic pattern learner, you need to establish that there are no difficulties with oral comprehension.  These are the ways you can do this:

 * Observation!  It will usually be apparent in class that this learner is asking intelligent questions or interacting at a good level orally.  A discrepancy between this and their written ability is one of the main indicators.

* Doing a listening comprehension.  This should establish that there is no problem with comprehending language.  It's just the reading aspect which causes difficulties. 

However, there are some potential pitfalls here, so read on!


Dyslexics and listening comprehension

The standard advice in this field is this:

*  Do a reading comprehension and a listening comprehension.  A discrepancy between the two (ie listening comprehension significantly higher) indicates a dyslexic-type profile.

However, this is not entirely foolproof!

One problem which many dyslexics have is difficulties with working memory and quite often with auditory sequential memory as well.  If you do a listening comprehension in a standard way, you may well find that you're really testing auditory memory, rather than actual comprehension.

* A learner with dyslexic-pattern difficulties is likely to have understood the overall passage, but forgotten the detail.  

* A learner with more general learning difficulties may remember details, but not have properly comprehended the passage.

For this reason, we recommend doing a listening comprehension, but in the same way as a reader-writer would work.  You'll find a step-by-step guide to doing this in the next Support Site article.

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