What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading, writing and spelling. It is occurring worldwide, and its prevalence in Malaysia mirrors the global trend. According to estimates, approximately 314,000 students in Malaysia reported some degree of dyslexia (Ramli et al., 2020).

Although dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it’s important to note that dyslexia is not caused by a lack of intelligence, vision problems, or inadequate educational opportunities. It is a result of differences in how the brain processes information related to language and reading. In other words, a dyslexic person has unexpected difficulty in reading, even with high intelligence.

Dyslexia is also known as a spectrum disorder, meaning that individuals with dyslexia can experience a range of difficulties, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Nevertheless, it is a lifelong condition that occurs in an individual. Therefore, early identification and appropriate intervention are significantly required in order to improve reading and writing skills and help those with the problem be successful at school and work.


What are the early signs and symptoms of dyslexia?

Dyslexia is often characterised by difficulties in phonological processing, which involves recognizing and manipulating the sounds of spoken language.

Key features:

  1. Phonological Processing: Inability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language. It can affect their ability to understand the relationship between letters and sounds.
  2. Word Recognition: Inability to recognise words. It can lead to slow and laborious reading.
  3. Spelling: Difficulties in mapping sounds to letters and vice versa.
  4. Reading Fluency: It is harder for individuals to read at a normal pace with accuracy and expression.
  5. Working Memory: Challenges in working memory. It can affect the ability to remember and process information in short term.

It usually becomes apparent when a child starts school and begins to focus more on learning how to read and write.


What are the difficulties or challenges?

  1. Very slow in performing reading and writing tasks.
  2. Confuse the order of letters in words.
  3. Confuse by letters that look similar and write letters the wrong way round (i.e., “b” and “d”).
  4. Poor or inconsistent spelling.
  5. Difficulty with information written down but understanding information was be verbally told.
  6. Hard to carry out a sequence of directions.
  7. Struggle with planning and organisation.
  8. Low self-confidence due to struggles in academic settings.
  9. Low motivation in learning due to their struggles.
  10. Behavioural problems because of the stresses in the study, poor communication skills, and poor self-image.
  11. Anti-social due to the challenges faced.  
  12. Poor self-image as many of them are perceived as lazy, especially teachers.

However, dyslexic people often have good skills in other areas, such as creative thinking and problem-solving.


Common myths and facts in dyslexia

Myth 1: Reading and writing letters backwards is the main sign of dyslexia.

Fact 1: Some kids with dyslexia write letters backwards, and some don’t. So, letter reversal isn’t necessarily a sign that your child has dyslexia. In fact, young children commonly reverse letters. It’s not unusual to see them confuse b and d or write p instead of q. If your child is still doing so by the end of first grade, however, it may signal the need for an evaluation.


Myth 2: Dyslexia doesn’t show up until elementary school.

Fact 2: In fact, it can show up in preschool, or even earlier. This is because dyslexia can affect language skills, which are essential skills for reading. Some signs that a preschooler may be at risk for dyslexia include difficulty rhyming and being a “late talker.”


Myth 3: Kids with dyslexia just need to try harder to read.

Fact 3: Research indicates that the brains of children with dyslexia function differently, and reading can bring about positive changes over time. However, the key factor isn't effort; it's the type of instruction received. Effective programs, often employing a multisensory approach using sight, sound, and touch, have been shown to make a lasting impact on the reading abilities of kids with dyslexia. Success is more about the quality of instruction than the effort exerted by the child.


Myth 4: Dyslexia goes away once kids learn to read.

Fact 4: Interventions greatly help kids with dyslexia learn to read, but it's important to know that being able to read doesn't mean they are "cured." Dyslexia is a lifelong learning difficulty that goes beyond basic reading skills. In addition to making reading challenging, dyslexia can affect fluent reading, comprehension, spelling, and writing skills, even after they've learned to read.


Myth 5: Dyslexia is a vision problem.

Fact 5: It is not caused by vision problems. Children with dyslexia are just as likely to have normal vision as other kids. While some may face challenges with visual perception or processing details in images, these issues are separate from dyslexia. They can, however, make reading harder for some kids.


Myth 6:  Dyslexia only happens in the English language.

Fact 6: Dyslexia is found worldwide and in all languages. However, it can take more time to identify reading issues in multilingual kids. This delay might happen because teachers and parents could think the struggle is due to learning a new language. If kids face difficulties in reading both their first and second languages, it's a sign they should be evaluated for dyslexia.


Myth 7: Dyslexia is caused by not reading enough at home.

Fact 7: But dyslexia doesn’t happen because of a lack of exposure. It’s a neurological condition. People who don’t know your family may wrongly assume you’re not doing enough reading with your child. You may need to explain that dyslexia are caused by differences in how the brain functions.


How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing dyslexia typically involves a comprehensive assessment conducted by qualified professionals (clinical psychologist, child psychologist and psychiatrist).

  1. Initial screening – To identify specific learning difficulty (SpLD) using screening tools but not yet provide a diagnosis. 

  2. Intake interview – To gather history information from the family background, medical history, etc. As mentioned earlier, dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder, and it is basically caused by disrupted brain development. Therefore, developmental background information is helpful in identifying the child’s conditions.

  3. Diagnostic Assessment – To confirm whether an individual has dyslexia or not. It provides a confirmed diagnosis of dyslexia and a clearer picture of the person’s strengths and weaknesses and their cognitive profile. For example, Dyslexia Screening Test – Junior (DST-J).

  4. Feedback & Recommendation – Provide interpretation and feedback based on the information gathered. Recommendations for support and intervention are outlined based on the specific needs identified during the assessment.

In essence, parents are key partners in the journey of understanding and addressing dyslexia. Their active involvement ensures a comprehensive approach to support the child both at home and in educational settings. Collaborative efforts between parents, educators, and professionals contribute to the success of interventions and the overall well-being of the child with dyslexia.


What to do after diagnosis? 

Based on the recommendations reported in the assessment reports, the parents are recommended to:

  1. Speech-Language Therapy: Targeting language and speech difficulties that may co-occur with dyslexia, especially in younger children.

  2. Collaboration with Educators: Collaborating with teachers is vital. Parents can communicate with teachers about their concerns and work together to monitor the child's progress in school. Teachers can provide additional insights into the child's performance in the classroom.

  3. Implementing Recommendations: After the diagnosis, parents are instrumental in implementing recommended interventions and strategies at home. They can work closely with educators to create a supportive learning environment tailored to the child's needs.

  4. Emotional Support: A dyslexia diagnosis can be emotional for both the child and the family. Parents play a critical role in providing emotional support, helping their child understand their strengths, and fostering a positive attitude toward learning.

In conclusion, dyslexia, as a neurological difference, carries considerable educational implications. It is not a transient challenge but rather a lifelong condition, often with a genetic component that runs in families. Understanding the nature of dyslexia is crucial for educators, parents, and individuals themselves. By recognising and addressing dyslexia through early identification and tailored interventions, we can create a more inclusive educational environment that fosters the success and well-being of those with dyslexia. Embracing a holistic approach that combines educational support, awareness, and research is essential in empowering individuals with dyslexia to navigate and excel in the academic landscape.