Introduction to Dyslexia

The word dyslexia means 'reading difficulties'. There are many different opinions about what causes those difficulties, ranging from people who think it's a lifelong neurological condition to those who think dyslexia is an excuse for not teaching children to read properly.

For schools reading is a basic skill, but as far as the brain is concerned it's a complex task. It's also not something that brains do naturally - writing was invented relatively recently in human history, so reading is a skill that has to be actively learned, although some people learn it much more easily than others. To read, a child needs to be able to:

If any of these processes doesn't work efficiently, learning to read can be a problem. In other words, there are lots of possible causes for reading difficulties, not all reading difficulties are the same, and not all reading difficulties are caused by the same thing. Dyslexia isn't a medical condition that your child either has or doesn't have.

There are tests for dyslexia, which give the impression it's a medical condition you either have or don't have, but basically what tests decide is whether or not someone has significantly greater difficulty with reading than most people of their age - usually the reason the test has been taken in the first place. Where a test can be useful is in confirming that there is a significant problem with the processing skills required for reading. Tests can also give some indication of where the reading difficulty might lie - whether it's with detecting speech sounds, detecting letter differences or remembering that information. A test can help a child get support or show what kind of support might help.

So where does that leave a parent educating a child at home?

  1. Reading is useful for learning, but it isn't necessary for learning. Children can learn a great deal verbally or visually. The reason reading is important in schools is because schools can't teach children individually so have to rely on the printed word. But illustrated books, comics, websites, tv and radio, dvds, models, museums, art galleries, demonstrations, hands-on experience and conversations all provide ways of learning often quite complex ideas without any need for reading.
  2. Children learn to read at different ages. Home educating parents report children learning to read at all ages between 2 and 16. The age at which a child learns to read often doesn't affect their reading ability once they learn. The first book a 14 year-old reads for themselves might be Lord of the Rings.
  3. If your child wants to learn to read but is struggling, how can you help? The most common reason for reading difficulties is with problems processing speech sounds - accurately enough or fast enough. That's why synthetic phonics is now the recommended method of teaching children to read in schools. (It's called synthetic phonics because the phonics - speech sounds - are synthesised or blended to form words.) It gives children intensive training in detecting the differences between speech sounds before they start reading. That doesn't mean synthetic phonics will help all children read.
  4. Children learn to read in different ways. Some children learn best by systematically learning speech sounds and blending them to make words. Others figure out how reading and spelling works using analytic phonics - breaking down the patterns within words. Others learn best by whole-word recognition. Most people actually read using a mixture of all these methods. The most important thing is to be consistent in the way you help your child to read.
  5. Read to your child. This is probably the one most important way for children to get the hang of the reading process, understand that books contain useful information and captivating stories and to spend time sharing an experience with you. Even if children can already read, reading to them can give them access to books they would find hard to read because of difficult language or because they are long or have a complicated plot.


Many children who have difficulty learning to read have auditory processing difficulties too.

Lots of free resources and useful links.

Information about dyslexia from the British Dyslexia Association.

A wealth of information about dyslexia, reading, phonics and a supportive page on home education.

Sue Gerrard - 2012

Please note that HE-special doesn't endorse all the material on these websites.