Understanding dyslexia


Dyslexia is a language-based reading disorder. People with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read accurately and fluently, and to spell. They have unexpected difficulties with the sound structure (phonology) of language. Dyslexia is relatively common and affects 5–10% of people1.

Infographic – Dyslexia

Dyslexia in the classroom

Students with dyslexia have many strengths but may experience a range of difficulties in the classroom.

Students with dyslexia may:

  • have difficulty learning letter-sound relationships
  • read more slowly than their peers
  • find that reading takes a lot of effort and energy
  • make more mistakes when spelling
  • avoid reading and writing tasks
  • guess words instead of using their sound awareness skills to read them.

Co-occurring conditions

Dyslexia can often co-occur with other conditions. On average, about 40% of children with a reading disorder will have another disorder as well2. People with dyslexia may also experience:

  • executive functioning difficulties such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or working memory weaknesses
  • oral language difficulties including developmental language disorder (DLD)
  • speech sound disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • mental health challenges.

Identifying reading and spelling difficulties and disorders


At the beginning of formal schooling, students begin to learn to read and spell. For some students, reading doesn’t come easily. For these students, the educational team works together to gather information about each student’s strengths and challenges in order to plan, deliver and monitor support.

A formal diagnosis of dyslexia or specific learning disorder – impairment in reading is not required in state schools. Schools will support students with reading and spelling difficulties and disorders regardless of diagnosis.


The importance of early identification

Early identification of risk factors associated with reading and writing difficulties, including dyslexia, can improve outcomes. For example, early intervention can reduce the severity of reading problems and associated negative consequences (National Reading Panel 2000).

Without intervention, children who have reading and spelling difficulties early in their schooling will likely continue to have difficulty into adolescence and beyond.

When challenges are identified early, school teams are also able to adjust learning to make sure students experience reading success, which maintains their motivation to read and supports engagement and wellbeing.

Learning to read and spell for students with dyslexia


Most students with dyslexia have an underlying difficulty with the sound structure of language (phonological component of language) that affects their ability to learn to read and spell words. They may have more difficulty learning phonological awareness skills and may need extra teaching and practice to learn to read and spell. Children with reading disorders such as dyslexia benefit from word-reading instruction as well as support to develop underlying skills, such as phonological skills and sound-spelling relationships.

Systematic synthetic phonics

As for all students, systematic synthetic phonics is an important part of reading instruction for students with dyslexia. The difference may be that these students require more time and repetition to learn the skills needed for reading and spelling.

  • Systematic: Letters and sounds are taught in a planned order.
  • Synthetic: Words are segmented into sounds. Sounds are blended into words.
  • Phonics: Letters and letter combinations represent sounds.

Some students with reading and spelling difficulties will respond very quickly to targeted support. For other students, it may take longer. It is important that additional teaching and intervention provided to students with dyslexia is designed to meet their area of need.

Supporting language development

Early language is learned through speaking and listening. Once students have learned to read, students develop more sophisticated language skills through reading. Students with dyslexia often read more slowly and spend less time reading than their peers. This places their language development at risk.


Supporting students with reading difficulties and disorders in upper primary and high school


Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. As they progress through schooling, students with dyslexia may continue to present with difficulties reading and spelling words.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments help to reduce the barriers to learning. For students who are experiencing difficulties learning to read, reasonable adjustments allow students to participate in the curriculum alongside their peers, while they continue to build their reading and writing skills. The types of reasonable adjustments required are different for each student and may change over time.

Further information about reasonable adjustments is available.

Reading intervention

Students with dyslexia can continue to improve their reading and spelling skills as they progress through their schooling. Reading and spelling intervention, including access to decodable text where appropriate, continues to be important even in upper primary and secondary school.

Student wellbeing


Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students with reading and spelling difficulties is very important. People with dyslexia are more likely to experience mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.

There are several protective factors that can lower the risk of mental health challenges in students experiencing reading difficulties, including supporting engagement and motivation to read, and ensuring that students feel empowered to have a voice in their education.

1 Peterson, R and Pennington, B (2015) ‘Developmental dyslexia’, Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, vol. 11, pp. 283–307.

2 Moll K, Snowling, M J and Hulme, C (2020) ‘Introduction to the special issue “comorbidities between reading disorders and other developmental disorders”’ Scientific Studies Of Reading, 24(1), 1–6.

Last updated 05 March 2024