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For Dyslexia Awareness Week 2022, we’ve put together a guide on this often-misunderstood learning difficulty.

With this year’s theme being ‘Breaking Through Barriers’, we thought it was important to help bring some visibility to the barriers people with dyslexia face in education. Here is a simple overview of what dyslexia is, how it can impact children and young people, and some suggestions on actions we can take to we can help remove and reduce digital barriers.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the way certain types of information are processed by the brain. This can then impact a person’s capacity to read, write, and spell, amongst other abilities.

It is classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means it’s a condition that can have a substantial and long-term negative affect on an individual’s ability to perform normal daily activities. However, the symptoms of dyslexia can be different from person to person, so the extent to which it will impact someone’s life varies.

One of the most widely accepted definitions of dyslexia is taken from a 2008 government report called The Rose Report. It states:

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

Here are a few of the most common symptoms experienced by children with dyslexia, aged 5 to 12 years old, according to the NHS:

  • difficulties with learning the sounds of letters
  • switching letters and figures around (e.g. writing a ‘6’ instead of a ‘9’)

  • reading and writing slowly
  • being able to answer questions well verbally, but struggling to answer when writing it down
  • poor handwriting
  • struggling to carry out a sequence of directions
  • getting the order of letters wrong when writing words
boy and girl using ipad and smiling with adult

You can read more on the possible symptoms here.

For young people (and adults), some of the common symptoms listed by the NHS include:

  • difficulty meeting deadlines
  • avoiding reading and writing
  • struggling to plan and write homework and essays, etc.
  • lack of organisation and expression in written work
  • forgetting things like phone numbers and PINs.
boy talking to his teacher in school uniform with laptop in front of him

Dyslexia is often referred to as a SpLD, which stands for ‘specific learning difficulty’. The term ‘specific’ is used because it impacts specific areas of an individual’s ability, as opposed to a general learning difficulty. Other common SpLDs include dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs

Beyond Books

Dyslexia doesn’t just affect a child or young person’s abilities in the English classroom. It can impact their experience throughout every activity, especially as it is often concurrent with other conditions like ADD or with other literacies like numbers. Some people with dyslexia can also experience physical symptoms, such as difficulty with motor coordination. This can cause issues participating in physical education, playground play, and afterschool activities.

According to the British Dyslexia Association, young people with SpLDs such as dyslexia often report higher levels of mental health difficulties and are more prone to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

In a digital world, it’s important to be aware of the barriers that dyslexia can create. Much of the lives of children and young people now take place online, from gaming for fun to interacting with friends and family on social media. Accessing these online places may be trickier for those with dyslexia, both from a readability perspective as well as communicating through writing. For example, remembering and getting passwords correct might be difficult.

A young person may be concerned that by interacting through written word online, the difficulties they face could be exposed and leave them vulnerable to judgement and possible bullying. They may have support in the classroom when their written work is only seen by a limited number of people, but when things move online there may not be a trusted adult or supportive person there to assist them with writing before it is seen by their peers.

Social media is already a pressurised environment for young people. For those with dyslexia, there are added challenges and they may not feel able to fully express themselves online. This could result in a young person feeling misunderstood or socially excluded if they do not have the necessary help or support.

An estimated 10% of the population have dyslexia

Overcoming Barriers in Learning

When working alongside those with dyslexia, it is important to make sure their educational resources are accessible. Every child and young person should have equal and fair access to education and that should ideally include every resource used, from handouts to homework.

The British Dyslexia Association highlights some of the following advice through their Dyslexia friendly style guide.

  • Using Sans Serif fonts such as Arial or Comic Sans – these letters appear less crowded.
  • Font size of at least 12 point.
  • Avoiding underlining and italics as this causes ‘crowding’.
  • Use a single colour background with sufficient contrast levels between the background and the text.
  • Consider alternatives to white backgrounds for visual aids and paper resources, such as cream or pastel paper.

You can also consider using one of the typefaces especially designed for people with dyslexia, such as OpenDyslexia, and familiarising yourself with the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines.

What are the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines?

Also known as WACG, the guidelines are internationally recognised recommendations on how to improve accessibility on websites, apps, and digital services. They include recommendations such as providing captions for videos, making sure content can be read by a screen reader, and using text colours that show up clearly against the background colour.

Assistive Technology

Technology doesn’t always enhance the difficulties that children with dyslexia may face. Digital devices and clever software can help break down barriers to literacy, reading, and communication, improving a child’s self-confidence in the process.

  • Text-to-speech software. This allows individuals to understand written material they are given and to proof-read or check their own work before presenting it.
  • Mind mapping software. This is specifically designed to allow children with dyslexia to plan their work more effectively and combat any confusion or stress.
  • Scanning software and hand reading pens. These allow the user to store and listen to the text in their school books and other documents.
  • Spell checkers specifically designed with dyslexia in mind. They will automatically make corrections to written communications to take away the stress of edits.
  • Tablets, smartphones, and applications. There are a wide range of hardware platforms and software applications that can help students manage their time more effectively or work in conjunction with other hardware devices such as smartpens.
  • Computer based learning programs. These are specifically written for children with dyslexia and can help to sharpen their skills in reading, writing, touch-typing, and numeracy.
illustration of a phone with voice assist on it

In addition to the above suggestions, The Child Mind Institute put forward the following accommodations for people with dyslexia which should be made in educational settings including extra time on tests, a quiet space to work, the option to record class, elimination of oral reading in class, and exemptions from foreign language learning.

Barriers could be overcome through emotional support. Discussing specific challenges and acknowledging hard work and strengths can be important in building resilience in order to manage their dyslexia.

Safeguarding Concerns

  • Children and young people with dyslexia may be more at risk or more worried about being bullied, in school and online, where the writing and reading symptoms of dyslexia may be more visible.
  • A lack of access to assistive technology that can help with online communicating could result in a young person feeling excluded from online socialising, such as on social media.
  • If a young person isn’t supported properly in their education, this could lead to academic consequences. Not only will this affect their future in education and/or career, but it can also impact their daily school lives through feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, and exclusion.
  • Social isolation and low confidence can make a young person more vulnerable to unhealthy habits and relationships for social and emotional fulfilment.
A survey of parents of children with dyslexia reported 82% of children try to hide their difficulties relating to dyslexia and 85% reported their child feels embarrassed by their dyslexia.

How to Support a Child or Young Person with Dyslexia

  • Talk to the young person in your care about dyslexia and how it impacts their life, both academically and socially.  Ask them what barriers they face and together think and research about possible ways you can remove those barriers.
  • Show your young person examples of successful people who have dyslexia – seeing other people who have achieved great success can be a confidence booster. Alongside celebrities like Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise, include other career paths, like space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock and even people you might personally know! Success isn’t always measured by fame, fortune or having a well-paid job.
  • Find out how you can best support your young person, such as creating helpful environments for learning by minimising distractions, etc. You can find further advice and support through the British Dyslexia Association.
  • Follow the advice given above for creating accessible resources. Remember – no two people are the same and that applies for people with dyslexia also! Have a conversation about what works best for them and how you can adapt resources for them personally.
  • Use our safeguarding resources to help the young person in your care stay safe online. You can access our Teach and Home Learning Hubs for more resources, as well as our blogs, such as Dealing with Cyberbullying.
  • Teach them about trusted adults who they can talk to when they need support. Learn more in our blog on Trusted Adults.
  • Visit our Safety Centre together and learn how to block users and report comments on a range of different apps, games, and platforms.
  • Subscribe to our Safeguarding Newsletter for the most up to date, credible, and relevant safeguarding content direct to your inbox.

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