Is it reading difficulties or dyslexia?

Much like a spectrum, the boundary between dyslexia and “expected” reading abilities is not exactly clear-cut, which means that children who have reading problems may not be classified as dyslexic.

If you picture a scale or continuum with dyslexia and normal reading skills at either end, reading difficulties would represent anything in between.

Children reading at school

Understanding reading difficulties

Defining 'reading difficulties'

Reading difficulties, which are also referred to as ‘reading disabilities’, ‘reading deficit’ and ‘reading disorders’ are classified as a ‘specific learning disability’ or SpLD, and include any issues with phonological processing, reading comprehension, and reading fluency.

Reading difficulties refer to difficulties experienced by individuals in comprehending and decoding written text. These difficulties can be caused by a range of factors, including learning disabilities such as dyslexia, poor reading instruction, lack of exposure to books, and other underlying conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or visual impairments.

Reading difficulties can manifest in various ways, including slow or inaccurate reading, difficulties with reading comprehension, problems with decoding unfamiliar words, or low reading fluency.

What can cause reading difficulties?

Reading difficulties can be attributed to a number of factors, including:

  • Visual Processing: Difficulty with interpreting and processing visual information, which can impact reading fluency and comprehension.
  • Phonological Processing: Difficulty with processing the sounds of language, which can impact decoding skills and word recognition.
  • Auditory Processing: Difficulty with processing auditory information, which can impact listening comprehension and following oral instructions.
  • Educational opportunities: Access to opportunities that support early literacy, such as exposure to reading early on, vocabulary enrichment, or positive reinforcement around reading.

Individuals with reading difficulties may struggle in school, particularly in subjects that require significant reading, and may avoid reading as a result. It is therefore important to seek support from a specialist if a child or adult is experiencing reading difficulties.

Understanding dyslexia

How is dyslexia different from other reading difficulties?

Dyslexia has a more specialised definition. Dyslexia is defined as a neurodevelopmental condition that affects an individual’s ability to read accurately and fluently. It is primarily characterised by difficulties with phonological processing and reading fluency. It can therefore be understood as a type of reading difficulty, whereas not all reading difficulties can be classified as dyslexia.

In addition, Dyslexia is generally considered to be a Developmental Reading Disorder. That is a type of reading difficulty that is not due to other causes, such as a lack of educational opportunities or brain injury.

What do the reading difficulties associated with dyslexia look like?

Dyslexia is a complex condition that affects individuals in different ways. Studies identify 4 main types of dyslexia, which reflect the specific ways in which an individual’s ability to read is impacted.

For example, some individuals with dyslexia may struggle with phonemic awareness, making it difficult for them to decode new words. These individuals may be diagnosed with phonological dyslexia.

On the other hand, some individuals may struggle with recognizing familiar words, even though they can decode new words. These individuals may be diagnosed with surface dyslexia.

The four main types of dyslexia can be summarized as:

  • Phonological Dyslexia: Difficulty with decoding new words, often due to difficulty with phonemic awareness.
  • Surface Dyslexia: Difficulty recognizing familiar words or memorising new words, often due to difficulty with visual processing or poor short-term memory recall.
  • Rapid Naming Dyslexia: This is characterized by a difficulty in retrieving known information like naming colors, letters or numbers.
  • Double Deficit dyslexia is when children present difficulties in two different areas, such as phonological awareness and rapid naming for instance.

Differentiating between different types of dyslexia helps specialists to understand the specific difficulties an individual is facing, and to develop targeted interventions that can help the individual to succeed.

It is important to note that individuals may experience a combination of these difficulties and that early diagnosis and intervention are critical in addressing reading difficulties.

Dyslexic children can also experience ADHD, which exacerbates their reading difficulties. ADHD manifests as a difficulty with focusing, completing tasks, and following instructions, which can in turn impact reading and learning.

Dyslexia can be more formally diagnosed

Another difference is that dyslexia can be officially diagnosed, whereas most reading difficulties are not. This, however, does not mean that the issues and problems faced by people with reading difficulties do not exist. Online assessments cannot substitute for a professional diagnosis, but GoLexic offers a convenient online dyslexia test to help familiarize yourself with dyslexia and understand your child’s struggles.

Support and intervention for reading difficulties and dyslexia

Fortunately, both types of learning difficulties benefit from the same methods of remediation, therefore, we feel it is important to address both dyslexia and reading difficulties within the same conversation.

​Most reading difficulties, including dyslexia, can be overcome. If you notice that your child is not reading well, and that they are not performing well at school in comparison to their peers, it would be worth it to discuss it with your child’s teachers as soon as possible. You can start supporting your child at home as well with the GoLexic App – our mission is to help children who struggle with reading to find confidence in their reading and spelling skills. It’s never too late to start intervention.

How does the GoLexic App help struggling readers?

Discover how GoLexic trains phonological skills, letter recognition, decoding skills and orthographic knowledge.

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