What is dyslexia? The dictionary definition is “word blindness”, but dyslexic children do see the word, it is just that they have a difficulty remembering what it looks like, or maybe what it sounds like, or maybe the order of the letters, or even the way round that those letters should be formed. So, in a simplistic form, please consider each of these.

Visual Memory. Some dyslexic children have poor visual memory. They cannot create a clear enough photographic image of a word in order to write it directly from their memory. Non dyslexic children often look sideways to recall a clear image of a word, so that they can write it by directly copying it from their visual memory bank. Dyslexic children, who have this condition because of poor visual memory, have difficulty doing this. The non dyslexic child will write a list of possible ways of spelling a word and will match one of the words on a list to the correct spelling of that word in his visual memory, saying, “That one looks right!” The dyslexic child with poor visual memory struggles to do this. The non dyslexic child will learn how to read a word and will store that word in his visual memory ready to recognise it when he next tries to see it. The dyslexic child with poor visual memory has difficulty doing this.

N.B. Confusion can occur when children who show these symptoms are diagnosed as dyslexic, but are actually light sensitive.


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Auditory Memory. Some dyslexic children have poor auditory memory and so remembering phonic sounds is difficult for them and then blending those sounds to make a word, or remembering digraphs are sometimes even more difficult. They need to over learn in order to be more proficient at decoding and encoding, (in breaking words down into component parts to read them, or building them up in component parts to spell them).




Sequential Memory. Some dyslexic children have difficulty remembering orders of things, days of the week, months of the year, the alphabet. They cannot work sequentially. Some can do complicated Mathematics and get the right answer, but cannot show the sequence of how they got to it. Some can complete academic qualifications, yet have a copy of the alphabet on their student room wall or close at hand, as they cannot remember the sequence of the alphabet.


In very general terms, dyslexic children have one of these main symptoms listed above or a combination of two or three of them.

Please note that a teacher’s staffroom early definition of a dyslexic child was, “a child whose father wears a pin striped suit and a spotty bow tie!” This was because dyslexia was considered not valid then and fathers dressed in such attire pushed to validate the condition. Dyslexia, of course, occurs across all socio-economic groups!


How to help a child who has dyslexia. A good teacher will have no difficulty in accommodating a dyslexic child in a normal classroom. Firstly, a teacher must accept that dyslexia does exist, and that compensatory measures can be taken to at least start to overcome it. Fortunately, such measures benefit all the other children too! 

To improve visual memory a classroom will have easy access to subject words, well written so that the child can regularly use them and start to acquire a clear visual memory of them, with characteristics of letter strings and order of letters pointed out as regular classroom routine. Here, teaching the child mnemonics and how to make up his own is fun and extremely useful for some children.

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 Also, providing and encouraging the use of a thumb indexed word book is essential for the dyslexic child who has poor visual memory.

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 Reading books should be carefully matched to the reading age and interest of the dyslexic child so that the child can read fluently and confidently, a practice appropriate for all the children in the class

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To improve auditory memory, the classroom routine should include regular and clear phonic instruction delivered in a well planned, systematic sequence with crisp teacher pronunciation of individual letter sounds, blends, ends, digraphs and other letter string formations, and with accurate sound copying by the children.Teachers should use soft breath sounds s that they blend, and not the hard phonic sounds of yesteryear that only lend clumsily! Such a programme is good quality teaching for all children and so they, as well as the dyslexic child, are bound to benefit.


To improve sequential memory, children benefit from their own reference lists. A little book with times tables in, a card in their pockets with their name and address on so that if they are asked how to spell it, and they can’t remember the order, then they simply show the card, an alphabet list nearby. Referring to such aids is not cheating, but is helping them to learn and helping them to compensate for their  sequential memory difficulty. It is their aid until they hopefully, no longer need it.


In very general terms, dyslexic children have disabilities which affect them and the development of their literacy skills in varying degrees. Like all teaching and learning, success depends on the attitude of the parents, the school, the teacher, and the atmosphere in the classroom. Dyslexic children in particular, need exposure to good practice teaching, and that, of course, benefits the learning efficiency of all children within the class, whatever their literacy skills and needs. 

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