Understanding Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia

Developing An Understanding Of Dyslexia And Reading

Developing An Understanding Of Dyslexia And Reading

By Shani Brest, Educator at Bellavista School

Dyslexia has many aspects to it and is a complex multi-componential learning difficulty (Odegard, 2019). Understanding how reading is acquired is important to further recognise the challenges that learners with dyslexia experience. 

The Scarborough (2018) Reading Rope explains the important skills needed to achieve fluent reading comprehension. In order to become accurate and fluent readers, recognising words is vital. The learners need to have basic skills of phonological awareness, decoding and the ability to recall familiar words (Scarborough, 2018). Simultaneously, the skills of understanding language-comprehension are equally important, which involves knowing background knowledge of text, developing vocabulary, language structures, reasoning and knowledge of literacy (Scarborough, 2018). If a learner experiences difficulty in decoding the words as well as comprehending the language used, being able to derive meaning from the text will be a challenge. Gaining meaning from written language involves a higher level skill that needs to be explicitly taught and practiced often (Odegard, 2019). 

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has adopted their definition of dyslexia from Rose (2009). He describes dyslexia as a learning difficulty that predominantly affects the learners reading, writing and spelling skills (BDA, 2010). Learners with a range of intellectual abilities can be affected by dyslexia, often described as a continuum as there are no specific tick-box points to determine dyslexia, as it ranges from mild to severe cases (Rose, 2009). Some children may experience reading difficulties in comprehension while others in word recognition (Odegard, 2019). Dyslexia involves a range of difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal processing speed, and verbal memory as well as other co-occurring difficulties, such as concentration, motor coordination and organisational skills (Kelly & Phillips, 2016). These co-occurring difficulties cannot be viewed on their own as markers for dyslexia (BDA, 2010). It is important for a learner who is considered to be ‘at-risk’ for dyslexia to receive intervention for their indicated learning difficulties. This shows the importance for teachers, therapists and parents to truly understand dyslexia in order to provide intervention for the learner with dyslexia.

What to do if your child has been identified as ‘at risk’ for dyslexia? 

If you are a parent of a child who has recently been diagnosed or identified as ‘at risk’ for dyslexia, naturally you will want to do everything in your power to help them; however, you might feel overwhelmed and confused as to where to turn next.  

One of the best ways to get started is to find out as much as you can about dyslexia through reputable sources. Hopefully the above information has begun your journey in orientating yourself in the wealth of research that is available out there. Next, you will want to work closely with your child’s school and therapy team – school partnership is key to providing the correct support for your child. Outlined below are a few day to day ideas that you can do to support learning and build your child’s confidence (adapted from the International Dyslexia Association, 2020):

  • Read to your child as often as possible. 
  • Listen to audio books, if possible, have your child follow along. 
  • Re-read their favourite books. Even if it’s boring for you, the exposure to literacy will help them and children love the predictably that a favourite book brings. 
  • Talk about the stories you read together and try have discussions that involve predictions and interpretations. 
  • Play word games that involve changing sounds the initial, middle and end sound in words and words that sound similar. 
  • Learn nursery rhymes and play fun rhyming games.
  • Use a multisensory approach to learning such as writing words in flour, rice or with playdough. 
  • Remember to support your child’s emotional well-being by celebrating the small successes that they achieve. 
  • Allow them to still do activities they enjoy, so it doesn’t always feel so difficult. 
  • Play, play and play some more- focus on games your child enjoys and incorporate learning whilst playing.

For more information, visit www.bellavista.org.za 


British Dyslexia Association (BDA), (2010). Dyslexia.
[Online] Available at: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexia [Accessed 22 April 2022]. 

International Dyslexia Association (IDA), (2020). IDA Dyslexia Handbook: What Every Family Should Know.
[Online] Available at: https://dyslexiaida.org/ida-dyslexia-handbook/ 

Kelly, K. & Phillips, S. (2014). Teaching literacy to learners with dyslexia: a multisensory approach. London:SAGE.

Odegard, T. N. (2019). Dyslexia: Defined: Historical Trends and Current Reality. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, (45) 1, pp.11 -14.

Rose, J. (2009). Rose report: identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties.
Available: http://www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk.

Scarborough, H. 2018. Scarborough’s reading rope. A groundbreaking infographic. International Dyslexia Association Infographics. 7(2). Available: https://dyslexiaida.org/scarboroughs-reading-rope-a-groundbreaking-infographic/

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