You are here

Section 1: Introduction - definitions and characteristics of dyslexia

What is dyslexia?

The word dyslexia comes from the Greek ‘dys’ meaning difficulty with and ‘lexia’ meaning words or language.

This section provides links to information and recent policy publications that provide up-to-date information about the definitions and characteristics of dyslexia and accepted ways of responding to the needs of learners. 

A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia, (DfES, 2004), provides information on theories and approaches to dyslexia and dyscalculia. This document summarises one definition of dyslexia as:

An unexpected, or surprising difficulty in learning to read, write and spell."

A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia, (DfES, 2004)

The Framework points out that definitions of dyslexia are contested. For example, not everyone may agree with definitions based on deficit or discrepancy; that is defining dyslexia solely by what a learner finds difficult or simply by a mismatch between ability and achievement. A national definition of dyslexia, currently accepted as applying to children and young people, as well as referring to adults, is included in an independent report, produced in 2009, for the Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools:

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling."

Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties. An independent report from Sir Jim Rose to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, (June 2009).

See the British Dyslexia Association Management Board which has adopted the Rose definition with the addition of a supplementary paragraph.

A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia and the Dyslexia Support Pack provide further helpful information about features and characteristics of dyslexia. 

You can use more information about dyslexia to find out more about features and characteristics of dyslexia.

More information about dyslexia

  • Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that mainly affects reading and spelling but can also affect other skills such as writing, spoken language and numeracy.
  • A specific learning difficulty comprises a distinctive pattern of strengths and weaknesses in learning and information-processing skills. Learners might have normal or good skills in most areas of thinking, learning and problem-solving, but specific weaknesses in other areas.
  • Dyslexia is the most common of all specific learning difficulties, affecting 4 per cent of the population significantly, with a further 6 per cent affected to a lesser degree.
  • For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, dyslexia may be regarded as a disability.
  • Dyslexia affects information-processing (receiving, holding, retrieving and structuring information) and the speed of information-processing which affects all types of processing (visual, auditory and motor) and thus learning.
  • Dyslexia is not related to intelligence and can occur across the ability range; it is sometimes more difficult to detect in learners with additional learning difficulties.
  • Dyslexia is life-long.
  • Dyslexia can occur in severe, moderate or mild forms.
  • No two people with dyslexia have exactly the same pattern of difficulties and strengths.
  • The impact of dyslexia on each individual is different.
  • Some people with dyslexia can feel undervalued and unfulfilled if they can’t access the same opportunities as those who are not dyslexic.
  • Some researchers have thought that dyslexia affects more men than women.  Increasingly it is thought that roughly the same numbers of men and women are affected. Try the ‘Find out more’ link in Section 3: Research background for recent findings with regards to gender.

Lots more information about the characteristics of dyslexia as we currently understand them can be found in A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia (2004) and the Dyslexia Support Pack.