08 July 2020

Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia is common. It affects approximately 1:10 people. It always influences learning.

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Defining dyslexia

Dyslexia is defined as "a range of persistent difficulties with aspects of reading, writing and spelling" (Ministry of Education).

It is often accompanied by strengths in creativity and big-picture thinking and difficulties with organisation and short term memory.


Video hosted on Youtube

Dyslexia is:

  • a brain­-based issue that makes it hard to learn to read accurately and fluently
  • a lifelong condition you don't outgrow dyslexia but with the right support, key skills can improve
  • a common learning issue that many successful people have.

Dyslexia is not:

  • a problem of intelligence, learners with dyslexia are just as smart as their peers
  • a problem of vision - the core issue involves understanding how the sounds in words are represented by letters
  • a problem of laziness - learners with dyslexia are already trying hard and usually thrive with specific support in literacy and an inclusively designed learning environment.

Source: Understood

How dyslexia affects learning

Dyslexia can have an impact on many aspects of learning.

It's affects will vary from person to person and is also dependent on the age of the student, the situation, and the person's emotional state.

Dyslexia often has a significant impact on reading, spelling, writing, and sometimes speaking. However when the need to read, write or speak is removed (for example, by using a reader/writer or by working in other modes), students are often capable of achieving in the same way as other students.

Building on strengths in creativity and big-picture thinking can be very beneficial for student's learning and wellbeing.

Video hosted on Youtube

Students at Kapiti College share their experiences of dyslexia and their expectations of inclusive teaching environments.

Indications of dyslexia

Alongside difficulties with language, indications of dyslexia can be accompanied by a range of strengths, interests, difficulties, and challenges in other areas.

Examples of strengths and interests 

Examples of difficulties and challenges

Big picture thinking

Reading and writing, particularly related to phonological awareness

Thinking in 3-D

Remembering instructions


Avoiding tasks or acting up to conceal difficulties

Creative expression

Forgetting homework, equipment

Coming up with ideas

Spelling erratically

Bringing diverse ideas together 

Not completing work in the given time

Having a diverse or original perspective

Frustration, lack of motivation or confidence

The impact of a supportive teacher

Video hosted on Youtube

The inclusive design of teaching practices and the learning environment can have a significant impact the wellbeing and achievement of students with dyslexia.

Useful resources

Guidelines indicators of dyslexia

Guidelines/indicators of dyslexia

Publisher: Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand


A day in the life of a child with dyslexia

Publisher: Understood


7 common myths about dyslexia

Publisher: Understood

Next steps

Return to the guide “Dyslexia and learning”