Is Dyslexia not just an excuse for bad spelling?

I was told by someone that “Dyslexia is just an excuse to be lazy and spell badly”. And while this is a potentially hurtful comment I see it as ignorance on the part of the speaker and very little to do with the facts.

This type of misperception, sadly, means that people can be reluctant to admit they have dyslexia, or do not want their child to be labeled, for fear of the stigma attached. The more people who speak out and say, “this affects me”, the more we might be able to tear down the misconceptions and build bridges of understanding. When people understand why we struggle they might have more tolerance and also know to look out for the incredible gift that we have because we see the world in a different way.

While today is about identifying if you or someone you know might be struggling with this, there is a huge silver lining. Some amazing people are dyslexic, they are amazing not despite being dyslexic but BECAUSE of it. We see and process information differently and have a unique perspective on the world. Once you understand that, you can help find your gift or unlock that of your child.

It is very hard to feel like you have a gift or are special in any way, if all your interactions to date, with learning are difficult. Feeling stupid is easy. I like people to know they or their child are dyslexic not to burden them with a label, but rather to help them find the tools to work with their brain to overcome the difficulties, so that we can get to the wonderful unique person inside. You can’t let your light shine if you are covered with the thought that you are stupid and lazy.

I hope to show you what we struggle with and then sing the praises loudly of what makes us wonderfully special in my next post.

Like I mentioned in my first post Dyslexic, not stupid this condition is on a continuum and can look quite different in different people. Some people will display a lot of the symptoms and others less so. But one of that hardest things for people to grasp is that it is not consistent.

I hear many parents say things like:
“But you could spell that word yesterday, you are just being lazy”
Or “you just read that word on the page before, how can you not know what it is now?”

While someone might be able to read/spell/do the thing one day they may not the next day or even an hour later. We are consistently inconsistent!

A lot of people think that dyslexia is just swapping b’s and d’s around and misspelling words but it is quite a lot more than that. It involves how the brain, stores, processes and retrieves written information and language.

Most dyslexics will exhibit some but not usually all of these traits, and as I said it can change from day to day. Even non dyslexic people many have a couple of these but it is when you have 10 or more that it starts to point to a dyslexic type condition.

Indicators of Dyslexic type conditions*

  • Dyslexia often runs in families, there is a strong genetic link
  • They are often highly intelligent and have very good verbal and language skills but perform read, writing and spelling tasks way below what is expected for their age and intellectual ability. ( without spell check and a computer I would come across illiterate)
  • Low self-esteem, does not feel intelligent or clever, may feel dumber  than other people in their class or of the same age.
  • They often learn ingenious ways to cover up their struggles like ‘reading’ from memory or telling what a word might be from a picture rather than actually being able to read it.
  • Talented in using their hands; art, drama, crafts, woodwork, cooking, sport, mechanics, story telling, seeing things in a 3 dimensional way, engineering, building
  • Daydreamers, think in pictures and have a vivid imagination
  • Clumsy and often has poor ball skills or team sport skills.
  • Learns best by hand on experience using all the senses.
  •  Struggle to learn the name and sounds of letters
  • Inconsistent and unpredictable spelling, often spelling phonetically.
  • Swapping the order of letters of numbers
  • Writing numbers or figures that wrong way around
  • Using “b” and “d” or “p” and “g” interchangeably
  •  Reading slowly and having a lot more trouble reading aloud that when they are able to read to themselves.
  • Visual disturbances when reading. Feeling like the words are moving on the page
  • Slow writing speed and poor hand writing
  • Struggling to remember the sequences like the days of the week and months of the year
  • Struggle to tell left from right
  •  Difficulty breaking words up into sound groups – phonemes.

As a dyslexic person gets older they may or may not have learnt to compensate for some of these problems above, or may still struggle. The use of technology, word processors and spell checkers can mean that as adults some can function quite well with their condition. But there are still traits that teens and adults will have, that are a clue to this condition if not diagnosed as a child.

  • Struggling to express and organise written information even if they are very knowledgable on the topic.
  • Difficulty planning and writing reports, essays or letters.
  • Avoid reading, especially reading out loud. While many dyslexic people give up on reading for pleasure because of negative associations from childhood, many learn to enjoy reading but most will avoid reading out loud, if at all possible. (karaoke would be my worst nightmare, and not just because I can’t hold a tune or sing.)
  • Difficulty revising for exams and picking out important information to study
  • Difficulty copying or taking notes
  • Poor spelling
  • Struggling to remember a PIN number to telephone number
  • Often being unable to find the right word to use when speaking, they know what they want to say but in the moment they can not recall the right word. (I use a of “thingy” “whatsit” “thingamajig” “you know what I mean”)
  • poor time management
  • Messy and disorganised work and desk space
  • Strong sense of justice and emotional sensitivity
  • Thinks in pictures and with feelings, not facts and words
  • Motion sickness

For all dyslexic people making mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically when they are confused, under time pressure or emotional stress.

While people believe that those showing these difficulties just need to try hard and they will improve this is not the case. Knowing and understanding why they struggle means that we can help decode the written world in a way that they can understand and succeed.


* disclaimer: this blog does not mean to take the place of proper medical or educational diagnosis. It is just a list of problems that a lot a dyslexic people struggle with. Please see professional advice as needed.

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