Information for Parents

What is meant by “learning difficulties”?

Children can have difficulties with academic tasks and literacy skills for a variety of reasons. For example:  delayed maturation, social and cultural factors, emotional or behavioural problems, chronic health problems, low intelligence, poor or interrupted teaching. They are said to have Learning Difficulties

What is dyslexia?

The term dyslexia originates from “dys” meaning “difficulties with” and “lexia” meaning “words”. 

Dyslexia is a difficulty with reading, writing and spelling (and sometimes numeracy) in spite of the individual having reasonable learning attributes, good teaching and normal socio-cultural experiences.”

The term dyslexia is widely used, understood and accepted overseas. The primary cause of dyslexia is a difficulty with phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognise, remember and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that phonemes are blended in spoken words and can be broken apart (segmented). A person with dyslexia will therefore have trouble processing and learning to use written language. 

Age appropriate indicators of dyslexia  (Click on to jump to section on page)

Early developmental indicators (5-8 years)

Early developmental non language indicators (5-8 years)

Primary School Age indicators (8-12 years)

Primary School Age non language indicators (8-12 years)

Indicators for older children (12 and over)

Non language indicators for older children (12 and over)

Why might my child have theses symptoms?

What to do if you think your child is dyslexic


If your child has the ability to hear and see proficiently, does not have a cognitive delay (IQ) and shows some of the following symptoms, it is possible they may have dyslexia.

There are often persistent factors which can appear from an early age. These include:

  • Obvious “good” and “bad” days that are not consistent
  • Confusion between directional words such as: left / right and in / out
  • Difficulty with sequencing for example months of the year, seasons which also transposes to letter sequences
  • A family history of dyslexia / reading difficulties.

Early developmental indicators (5-8 years)

  • Inability to recall the names of common items such as “chair” or “table”
  • Difficulty recalling most applicable language e.g. “lamppost” instead of “lampshade”
  • Problems learning nursery rhymes and rhyming words e.g. “cat” and “mat”
  • Later than average speech development
  • Lack of early childhood movement and developmental spatial awareness.

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Early developmental non-language indicators (5-8 years)

  • May not have followed appropriate develop of gross motor skills e.g. may have walked but did not learn to crawl. May have been a bottom shuffler
  • Ongoing difficulty with spatial awareness, signalled by regular tripping or bumping into things
  • Difficulty completing fine motor skill tasks like doing up buttons or tying shoe laces
  • Problems with catching, throwing and kicking or hopping / skipping
  • Inability to clap a simple rhythm.

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  Primary school age indicators (8-12 years)

  • Particular difficulty with reading / spelling
  • When writing, figures and letters around the wrong way
  • Starting writing from the wrong side of the page (e.g. right to left) or from top to bottom
  • Difficulty remembering letter sequences / times tables / alphabet
  • Leaves letters out of words
  • Writes letters in the wrong sequence
  • Confuses letters such as “b” with “d” and mixers up words such as “saw” and “was”
  • Still using fingers or marks to do simple computation
  • Poor concentration
  • Has problems understanding what he / she has read
  • Longer than average time to complete tasks
  • Difficulty processing language at appropriate speed.

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Primary school age non-language indicators (8-12 years)

  • Continued difficulty with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, tying laces
  • Inconsistent use of direction terms such as “left” and “right”, ordering days of the week, etc
  • Surprising in other ways as bright and often articulate
  • Poor sense of direction and time management
  • Lacks confidence and has poor self image; may manifest low self esteem and anxiety.

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 Indicators for older children (12 and over)
Primary indicators as well as:
  • Still reads inaccurately
  • Continuing difficulty with spelling
  • Needs lots of instruction and can’t recall number sequences e.g. phone numbers
  • Confuses times / dates and places
  • Great difficulty getting ideas on paper and has trouble writing essays
  • Surprising good with verbal presentations
  • Can’t sequence long spelling words correctly according to phonemes e.g. “preliminary”
  • Difficulty processing sophisticated / complex language or long series of instructions at speed.

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Older children non-language indicators (12 years and over)

  • Has poor confidence and low self esteem
  • May be suffering early indicators of depression e.g. ongoing fatigue, lack of interests in life
  • Has areas of strength as well as weakness.

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 Why might my child have these symptoms?

There are many reasons why a child may develop the symptoms of dyslexia or other learning difficulties. Sometimes, a family predisposition towards dyslexia is apparent. Alternatively, an interruption or obstruction to early childhood movement patterns may contribute.

Not enough early childhood movement

It is after a long period of spontaneous, early childhood activities that literacy skills begin to develop. Rolling, bottom-shuffling and crawling in the first year, followed by walking and then running in the second year. During this time, children learn about spatial parameters and concepts such as up, down, left and right and develop their gross motor skills (jumping, hopping, skipping). Later on, children develop the ability to master and control their fingers to paint and draw. All of these activities assist children to develop their inter-spatial awareness through their whole body.  This spatial awareness and development of gross and fine motor skills are later utilised to in order to read, write, spell and write. Letters, made up of lines (straight, diagonal) and circles go up and down, some on the right and some on the left. A lack of early childhood movement and play in three dimensional spaces may result in difficulty transferring this learning to two dimensional space on paper.

Immaturities in the visual-perceptual system

A child must have well developed visual skills, mature enough to perform the task of reading. Children need to be able to quickly processes written information from the classroom board to his/her paper. Children’s eyes also need to be able to follow across a line of writing, without deferring up or down. These visual skills develop during the early years, whilst creeping and crawling and then later during gross motor play e.g. catching and throwing a ball.

Immaturity of the auditory system

A child’s auditory system must also be appropriately developed. Hearing should be normal as children need to be able to distinguish a wide range of spoken sounds. Sometimes, if a child exhibits poor speech it can be an indication of poor hearing. Children should be absorbing speech and sounds around them from birth. If there are any interruptions to the sound waves during the important early developmental years of hearing and speech, children may not be able to develop the ability to process all the sounds of speech accurately. There may also potentially be issues with ear obstructions and sinus infections that can block pathways between soundwaves and the brain. If a child cannot ‘hear’ the sound, he / she may then be unable to spell words containing these sounds as he/ she cannot fully hear them.

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What to do if you think your child is dyslexic

  • Approach the class teacher and discuss the problem.  Close co-operation between parent and teacher is very helpful to a child with a problem.                 

It is helpful to request an appropriate time to meet and discuss the issues.  Be clear about what information you need and what outcomes you are expecting from the meeting.  Be realistic in your expectations and allow ample time for action.  It helps to remain focussed on improving outcomes for your child.  At the conclusion of each meeting, make sure you are clear what is expected of you, your child and the teacher.  If necessary, plan for a follow-up meeting to check progress.  Building a team of informed and committed adults around your child is your goal.  Be prepared to share in the responsibility of any identification and/or intervention initiatives.

  • Discuss with the school principal the extra assistance available from the various services within the Education Department and Health Services.                     

Sometimes the hectic life within a school leaves little time for investigating what other options are available.  Do your homework, and provide the information for the staff involved.

  • It is also sometimes advisable to go to your family doctor.                                           

If you can identify or eliminate any medical problems that might be affecting your child’s ability to learn effectively it will help you plan the next steps to be taken.  For example, recurring ear infections, sleep disorders, reactions to medication, etc, can all impact on the child’s ability to participate fully in his/her education.  The doctor may also recommend a visit to a specialist such as an audiologist or optometrist to further investigate possible problem.

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Dyslexia Resources

Cook-Moats, L & K. E. Dakin. “Basic Facts about Dyslexia”; The International Dyslexia Association, Baltimore, MD, USA.

Muter, V and H. Likierman. Dyslexia – “A Parents’ Guide to Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Other Learning Difficulties”; Vermillion Publishing, USA.

Ostler, C. “Dylexia: A Parent’s Survival Guide”; Ammonite Books.   Ott, P. “How to Detect and Mangage Dyslexia”; Heinemann Press, USA.

Ryden, M. “Dyslexia – How Would I Cope?”; Jessica Knightley Publishing.

Sally Shaywitz, 2003 "Overcoming Dyslexia"; Random House