By Kelly Heymans, former English and Maths teacher. She has been involved with special needs education internationally and currently runs Dyslexia Reading and Literacy Support to help children with dyslexia and reading difficulties in Johannesburg. 

What do Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Whoopi Goldberg, Einstein, and Agatha Christie, have in common? They all have / had dyslexia, a learning difficulty affecting fluent reading, spelling and writing.

Dyslexia: what is it?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language.

People with dyslexia have normal intelligence and usually have normal vision. Most children with dyslexia can succeed in school with tutoring or a specialised education program. Emotional support also plays an important role.

Statistics vary, but it is generally accepted that 1 in 5 people have dyslexia.


Recognising Dyslexia

In Preschool:

When children are still in preschool, issues that arise may look like dyslexia, but could just be age-appropriate developmental issues.  You can be concerned if you notice problems in any of these areas:

Is your child able to hear rhyming words?

Are they able to follow instructions accurately?

Did your child have delayed language development?

Do they mix up words like “hostipal” + “hospital”; “aminal” + “animal”?

Do they battle to name things easily and fluently e.g. colours, numbers, alphabet names and sounds?


In Foundation Phase:

When they start to read and write in Grade 1, look for the following signs:


Do they show an interest in books or do they avoid reading?

Do they misread or leave out small words, or guess their way through longer words?.

Do they struggle to recognize common words that should be familiar, like “here” and “said”?

Is reading a slow, laborious and unfluent ordeal?

Do they struggle to comprehend? Are they spending more effort on decoding words rather than understanding?

Writing & Spelling:

Is this also hard and laborious, often taking hours to complete?

Do they have difficulty keeping track of what must be written as they slowly sound out to write the words?

Can they differentiate between the vowel sounds?

Do they confuse sequences when spelling e.g. saw / was,?

Do they spell everything phonologically?

Do they use words that don’t reflect the significantly higher ability of his oral language?


Is Dyslexia Treatable?

Non dyslexic people use the left brain to read.  It is the rational side of the brain and more effective. Dyslexic people use the right brain, which is the side of creativity.

Young brains have incredible plasticity, and with the correct support, new neural pathways can be made that shift activity in the brain more to the left side where reading can become more effective.


Offering support

Acknowledge that no dyslexic child’s needs are the same. Use multi-sensory techniques.

Teach systematically and sequentially.  Only move forward when certain skills have been mastered.

Learning needs to be specific. The children are taught the rules of language

Most important of all though, grow the child’s self-esteem and confidence.


 The Good News Is…

Children with dyslexia have very special brains. While they may never read as fast as a non dyslexic person, their brains are wired in a way that makes them out-of-the-box, big picture thinkers who are as creative and capable – if not more so – than the next person.

Click here to find a list of support services for children with special needs including dyslexia, autism, ADHD and more.

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