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Dyslexia is much more than a reading problem

Author: admin

Category: Dyslexia Awareness

Dyslexia is often misunderstood as a mere reading problem, but in reality, it is a multifaceted challenge that extends far beyond the realm of reading.

This learning difference affects individuals in various aspects of their lives, shaping their experiences and influencing how they navigate the world and, most of all, education.

To truly comprehend dyslexia, we must look beyond the surface and explore the intricate layers that make it more than just a reading issue. This is when we will start understanding dyslexia and how it affects learning English.

Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that specifically impacts a person’s ability to read, write, and spell. However, the complexities of dyslexia go beyond these academic struggles.

Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a renowned expert in dyslexia, emphasizes this by stating, «Dyslexia is an island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strengths.»

Let’s have a look at what that island of weakness looks like before we also start looking at the sea around it.

Dyslexia weaknesses

Challenges in Reading

The most apparent manifestation of dyslexia is the difficulty in reading. Individuals with dyslexia may experience challenges in recognizing and decoding words, leading to slow and inaccurate reading. However, it is crucial to recognize that reading difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg.


Writing has a direct relationship with the reading ability of the student and, like reading, is dependent on the phonological awareness of the individual. Nevertheless, students with dyslexia might also find it difficult to organize their thoughts or find the right words when they do a writing activity. Misspelling certain words, mixing letters, and problems with punctuation might also appear with these students. Apart from the fact that writing is a physical activity that requires certain motor skills in which people with dyslexia might not excel.

Working Memory

Working memory is the brain’s ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information needed for cognitive tasks. It allows us to process, store, and retrieve information during mental activities.

Whereas any random person can store around 7 individual items in their working memory at the same time, a student with dyslexia typically finds it difficult to even store 2 or 3. This makes it particularly difficult for these students to remember numbers, names, or instructions.

Copying information from the whiteboard in English class is also a major issue as they cannot copy more than 2 or 3 words at the same time, whereas their peers can probably work with three times that number and, thus, finish the task tremendously faster.


Dyslexia can impact focus due to challenges in processing written information. Distractions may further hinder concentration.

While reading or being occupied with any individual task in your English class, your dyslexic student might lose focus after only a few minutes. Their mind will drift off to other thoughts, ideas, plans, solutions, or whatever they might be occupied with.


Sequencing refers to arranging information, events, or elements in a specific order. It is vital in understanding narratives, processes, or tasks. In cognitive terms, sequencing involves the ability to organize and recall information systematically, playing a crucial role in tasks that require a step-by-step approach.

Following a certain order of instructions or even remembering the sequence of the days of the week or the months of the year might be a major issue for your students with dyslexia.


Without the proper level of dyslexia awareness among teachers, either in the ELT world or in any other educational setting, it is very likely that all the aforementioned issues result in the teachers not understanding the needs and challenges of their students with dyslexia.

Students that are slow, lose focus, are forgetful, and don’t follow the most basic instructions in your English class are likely to be labeled as uninterested, lazy, or even stupid. But none of these labels are accurate. Students with dyslexia, just like any other student, are interested in learning, are very hard workers and in many cases have an above-average level of intelligence.

Therefore, not understanding dyslexia and not being able to recognize it in your students may lead to a completely crushed self-esteem, disengagement from education, and severe anxiety and mental health issues.

A sea of strengths

But, just as Dr. Sally Shaywitz explains, there are other sides to dyslexia that make it a strength for many people. And, although we should not forget about the weaker issues, and address them properly, as teachers we should most of all focus on these particular strengths and foster their further development.

Thinking outside the box

Dyslexia often fosters a unique thinking style, encouraging students to approach challenges with creativity and unconventional perspectives. The cognitive differences associated with dyslexia can lead to «out-of-the-box» thinking, enabling innovative problem-solving and creative expression.

Embracing and nurturing this cognitive diversity among your students with dyslexia not only empowers them but also enriches the broader spectrum of thoughts and ideas in your English classroom. It’s vital to understand that alternative ways of thinking can be a valuable asset to your teaching practice.

Big picture thinking

Students with dyslexia usually excel at big-picture thinking. They have a significant talent for grasping overarching concepts, patterns, and connections while, on the other hand, struggling with detailed tasks. This cognitive style can lead to innovative problem-solving and strategic vision.

This specific ability of the dyslexic brain also leads to pattern recognition. Where other students in your English class might need explicit instruction on grammar rules, the dyslexic student is likely to see the pattern in their own way and be able to apply it without knowing or understanding the grammar.

Finding creative solutions

The dyslexic brain has the astonishing ability to make connections that the average person is not capable of understanding. Where any other person might struggle for hours to find a solution to a specific problem, your dyslexic student may need no more than 5 minutes to see one, or several, possible solutions.

When setting tasks in your English class, you might find the students with dyslexia not fulfilling the specific task in the way that you had expected but, nevertheless, their creative thinking skills, combined with their coping strategies, can find solutions that go way beyond those expectations. It is not unsurprising that many of the most prolific inventors in history had a dyslexic brain.

Spatial awareness

Dyslexia can influence spatial awareness, impacting an individual’s perception of objects in relation to oneself and the surrounding space. Many students with dyslexia exhibit heightened spatial reasoning abilities, excelling in fields such as art, design, architecture, or engineering.

Creating ELT teacher’s dyslexia awareness

Without knowing about dyslexia, being able to recognize it in your students, let alone being able to adopt inclusive teaching strategies that benefit your dyslexic students as well as your other students, it is very likely that the 10-15% of students in your classes that have dyslexia will not benefit to the fullest from your instruction.

The vast majority of English teachers I know are extremely passionate about their job and about helping their students, regardless of their age or background, to communicate effectively in the English language.

It is, therefore, so disheartening to see so many teachers with no awareness at all of dyslexia and what it entails for the student.

That’s why we have created the Dyslexia Awareness Training, where ESL professionals as well as other language teachers, will learn from firsthand experience about the dyslexic brain, how it works, how it feels to be dyslexic, how to recognize it in your students and, most of all, how to adopt inclusive teaching practices that will also take these students to their highest level in learning English.

For more information about the Dyslexia Awareness Training:

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