Under-detection of dyslexia in girls
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Dr Sarah Kuppen
Dr Sarah Kuppen Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology Anglia Ruskin University
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Special educational needs

How do I know if my child has dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific difficulty with learning to read and spell. It is the most common of the childhood learning difficulties. Children with dyslexia do not have problems with learning in general. They also do not have problems with their eyesight or getting access to good quality teaching. Children with dyslexia do sometimes, but not always, show characteristics of other specific learning difficulties, such as dyspraxia or ADHD.
In Short
Dyslexia poses different challenges according to age group. It also varies in severity. The following characteristics are common of some, but not all, children diagnosed with dyslexia.

Pre-school age: Children aged three and four are too young to be diagnosed with dyslexia. However, children who go on to have reading difficulties are more likely to show certain behaviours. For example, pre-schoolers at risk for dyslexia may:

  • Have difficulties with remembering the alphabet sounds and identifying individual letters of the alphabet
  • Showing no interest in learning about letters or individual words

Primary school age: Following the introduction to phonics, reading difficulties become much more apparent. Children with dyslexia will have protracted difficulties with:

  • Learning the written letter to sound correspondences
  • Blending sounds together to form a word
  • Segmenting words into individual sounds
  • Learning to spell

Secondary school age: Fundamental difficulties with written language can exert even more influence in secondary school. Children with dyslexia will have difficulties:

  • Taking notes in class
  • Organising and undertaking written compositions
  • Revising and performing well in written exams
  • Reading for pleasure
How do I get an assessment?

Concerns about your child’s reading should first be directed to her classroom teacher. You may also wish to visit your GP to rule out any underlying health issues, such as hearing difficulties. If further support and additional teaching strategies are not having the desired effect, a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) may be helpful. Every school has an appointed SENCO, responsible for supporting children with special educational needs. Together you can organise an educational psychologist or dyslexia specialist to assess your child. This report will identify any areas where further support may be beneficial.

What is a Special Educational Need?

A child has a special educational need if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability. This will be the case if a child (a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning compared to others of the same age or (b) has a disability, which prevents him or her from making use of the mainstream facilities (taken from the SEND Code of Practice, 2015).

How will my child with SEN be supported?

Within school, SEN support is responsible for identifying children with special educational needs, making a note of these students in their records, telling parents, and ensuring that the appropriate provisions are made. The majority of children with SEN will have their needs met within school, using a graduated response. This approach has four stages: Assess, Plan, Do and Review.

Assess: An assessment of the child’s needs is formulated based on the views of the child, the family, and the teacher. Included in this overall assessment are the teacher’s assessments and observations, as well those of any external professionals.

Plan: Following an assessment, the student, parent, teacher, and SENCO agree on a plan. This lists any adjustments and interventions put into place for the child, as well as listing clear, achievable outcomes for the child.

Do: As appropriate, pupils and teachers are made aware of the plan. Teachers link the plan to individualised teaching to support the child’s learning

Review: The progress, which has been made since the last assessment is reviewed. If continued support is needed, the process begins again.

What if my child’s needs are not being met in school?

Occasionally, parents may believe that a school is not able to meet a child’s individual needs. When a young person is being held back by a learning difficulty or disability, parents may contact the Local Authority and request an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment.

What is an Education, Health, and Care (EHC) needs assessment?

An Education, Health, and Care (EHC) needs assessment, is not just an educational assessment. Health care and social care needs will also be considered. The Local Authority (LA) will seek information from the child’s parents or child herself, teachers, health care professionals, psychologists as well as taking advice and information related to social care. At the end of this process, the LA will decide whether or not to issue an EHC plan. The EHC plan details the provisions made across the relevant agencies and settings.

What are the causes of dyslexia?

The causes of dyslexia are still hotly debated. However, most researchers agree that phonological difficulties are present in the majority of children. This means that most children with dyslexia have difficulties with the spoken sounds in language and will, for example, have difficulty breaking a word down into its constituent sounds. While some researchers see the phonological deficit as the primary cause of dyslexia (e.g. Ramus, White, and Frith), others point to a more basic underlying sensory deficit. For example, the temporal sampling hypothesis (Goswami), suggests children with dyslexia have issues with how they process the timing information in spoken language.

Most children with dyslexia have phonological difficulties, however, some do not, and show visual processing or visual attention difficulties instead. A few theories explain these children’s reading impairments, for example, the automaticity hypothesis (Nicolson, Fawcett, and Dean) or the visual theories of dyslexia (e.g. Stein & Fowler). Again, the causes of dyslexia in these children are not well understood.

The role of genetics

Dyslexia runs in families, which is largely due to the overlap in genes between family members. Studies comparing identical and non-identical twins suggest that on average, genetic factors can explain about half of the variability in reading ability. Studies have found a number of candidate genes for dyslexia. However, there is no current consensus on the genes involved. It is likely that there are multiple genes, which interact in association with each other, and the environment.

Dr Sarah Huppen is the author of Little Kids, Big Dilemmas.


Goswami, U. (2011). A temporal sampling framework for developmental dyslexia. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 3-10.

Nicolson, R. I., Fawcett, A. J., & Dean, P. (2001). Developmental dyslexia: the cerebellar deficit hypothesis. Trends in neurosciences, 24(9), 508-511.

Ramus, F., White, S., & Frith, U. (2006). Weighing the evidence between competing theories of dyslexia. Developmental Science, 9(3), 265-269.

Stein, J. F., & Fowler, M. S. (1993). Unstable binocular control in dyslexic children. Journal of Research in Reading, 16(1), 30-45.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.