What Is Dyslexia?

DAS is guided in its definition of Dyslexia by the Ministry of Education, Singapore in their November 2011 publication “Professional Practice Guidelines for the Psycho-educational Assessment and Placement of Students with Special Educational Needs”.

Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition [1]. It is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and processing speed. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia [2].

An appropriate literacy programme should include the following components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension3. The literacy programme provided by DAS meets these guidelines. 

  1. U.S. Department of Education. (2006). Assistance to States for the education of children with disabilities and preschool grants for children with disabilities; Final rule. Retrieved on May 26, 2011 from http://idea.ed.gov/download/finalregulations.pdf
  2. Rose, J. (2009). Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.
  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

Updated as of 21 March 2019

Learn more from our experts… What is Dyslexia? 

We have a series of videos on Dyslexia on our YouTube Channel.

Other Definitions of DYSLEXIA

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. Many state education codes, including New Jersey, Ohio and Utah, have adopted this definition. Learn more about how consensus was reached on this definition: Definition Consensus Project.

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.”

Adopted by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) Management Board 


Listed below are some common areas that dyslexic children often show difficulties in (For age specific symptoms, please refer to the checklist attached with the referral forms). However, it should be noted that not every dyslexic child will present with all of these difficulties. In addition, sometimes children who present with some of these signs could also have other difficulties aside from dyslexia.

To find out more about your child’s difficulties, do look at the Learning Checklist.

Common errors in reading and spelling:

  • Confuses letters that look alike e.g. b/d, p/q
  • May reverse letter sequences e.g. “was” for “saw”, “on” for “no”
  • Makes anagrams of words e.g. “tired” for “tried”, “wives” for “views”
  • Mixes up words that start with the same letters e.g. “there”, “that”, “the”, etc.
  • Omits or adds letters in words e.g. “lip” for “limp”
  • Unable to write down a word even when the letters are dictated
  • Unable to identify the appropriate letter when given a sound and vice versa

Difficulties associated with reading:

  • Reads below age/grade level
  • Reads hesitantly and effortfully
  • Difficulty recognising familiar / high-frequency words
  • Substitutes words of similar meaning e.g., “road” for “street”
  • Misreads common words, such as “a” for “and”, “the” for “a”, “from” for “for”, etc
  • Ignores punctuation, e.g. not pausing for commas etc.
  • Difficulty remembering and/or understanding text passages
  • Difficulty extracting important points from a passage
  • Loses place in a line of print
  • Skips or re-reads a line of words in a passage
  • Leaves out words or adds extra words
  • Complains that words or lines of text on page seem to move, yet standard eye examinations do not reveal a problem

Difficulties associated with spelling and writing:

  • Spells below age/grade level
  • Poor handwriting
  • Numerous spelling errors in a piece of work and may spell the same word in several different ways.
  • Confuses similar sounding words when spelling, e.g. “one” and “won”
  • Poor standard of written work compared to oral ability
  • Messy, badly organised work
  • Has trouble copying from the board in class
  • Letters, syllables and words omitted, inserted or placed in the wrong order
  • Mixes capital and small letter within words e.g., dysLexiA
  • Lack of punctuation, or totally inappropriate use of punctuation
  • Cannot write in a straight line

Short-term and/or Verbal Working Memory:

  • May learn and understand how to do something, but requires frequent reminders before they remember to do it.
  • Difficulty remembering multiple-step instructions
  • May have excellent long-term memory for movies, experiences, locations and faces, but poor memory for sequences as well as unfamiliar facts and information

Sequencing Difficulties with:

  • Sorting or ordering information
  • Writing/reciting the alphabet / numbers 
  • Remembering/executing a list of instructions
  • The months of the year and days of the week in order
  • Mathematics
  • Giving a good verbal account of an event/events in their correct order


  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and may communicate more with gestures rather than words
  • Difficulty finding the words he/she wants to use
  • People who do not know the child well have difficulty understanding what he/she says
  • Mispronounces long words, or transposes phrases and words when speaking
  • Difficulty attaching names to things and people

Time / Mathematics:

  • Difficulty telling time as well as managing and being on time
  • Difficulty counting objects and/or dealing with money
  • Difficulty with Mathematical word problems despite adequate ability to solve arithmetic operations
  • May have a problem with numbers and calculations involving adding, subtracting and time tables
  • May be confused by similar-looking mathematical signs; e.g., + and – ; < (less than) and > (greater than)
  • May be confused by terms, e.g., deduction, minus and subtraction; adding versus find the total
  • May reverse numbers, such as reading or writing “17” for “71”
  • May transpose numbers i.e., 752 for 572; or transcribe their answers wrongly
  • May have a difficulty with performing mental calculations


  • Disorganised
  • Easily frustrated or emotional about school, reading, writing, or mathematics
  • Appears bright and articulate but performs unexpectedly poorer than expected in the academic areas
  • Performs much better when tested orally, but not in written form
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention
  • Has a poor sense of direction and/or confusion between left and right
  • Common signs of dyslexia by school level

Myths about Dyslexia

You are unable to determine if a child has dyslexia just by looking at them,  Children with dyslexia might start out fine at school, but gradually, schoolwork can become a struggle for them. If left unsupported, dyslexia may lead to low self-esteem, behavioural problems, withdrawal from friends, family and school. 

Here we explore some myths and facts about dyslexia.

Myth 1: Dyslexia is a sort of mental retardation.

FACT: Dyslexia is a difficulty in learning to read, write and spell, despite traditional teaching, average intelligence, and an adequate opportunity to learn. It is an impairment in the brain’s ability to translate information received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of intelligence.

Myth 2: There is no ‘cure’ for dyslexia.

FACT: Dyslexia is not a disease. Given the appropriate specialist teaching, dyslexics can successfully learn to read (and even to spell).

Myth 3: Dyslexia is rare in Singapore.

FACT: The incidence of dyslexia in Singapore is 10%, of that 4% will have dyslexia severe enough to warrant intervention. There are about 20,000 primary and secondary school students who are dyslexic. An average of 1 to 2 students could be dyslexic in a class of 40. Dyslexia can range from mild to moderate to severe.

Myth 4: My child can’t be dyslexic. No one else in the family has it.

FACT: Beware. In some families, one, or both parents, are obviously dyslexic and all, or most, of their children, have the difficulties. In other families, dyslexia is not apparent in either parent and the other children are unaffected.

Myth 5: Dyslexics are gifted/”stupid”.

FACT: Repeated studies have shown that there is very little relationship between dyslexia and intelligence in young children. Dyslexia occurs across a whole spectrum of intelligence and is as likely to be found in the gifted and talented population as it is to be present in the low-ability, and most of them fall in the middle. However, if dyslexics don’t learn to read, their IQs tend to fall behind as they get older.

Myth 6: Reversing letters is a good indication of dyslexia.

FACT: In fact, backwards writing and reversals of letters and words are common among young children learning to write whether or not they have dyslexia. Only about 10% of dyslexics reverse letters. In general, letter-reversals become an area of concern if it persists beyond Primary 2 or 8 years old.

Myth 7: Dyslexics can’t read.

FACT: People with mild to moderate dyslexia have usually learnt to read well enough to ‘get by’ and to avoid being noticed. Despite this, their reading usually remains slower than normal and a spelling skills check will often reveal their true difficulties.

Myth 8: He can’t have dyslexia because he can read.

FACT: All children with dyslexia can read—up to a point. But the problem they have with processing speech sounds prevents them from hearing all the individual sounds in a word. So they generally don’t read by sounding out.

With poor ability to detect and manipulate speech sounds, dyslexics tend to have inadequate knowledge and application of how sounds are linked with their written form. This weak letter-sounds link affects their ability to read to some extent. Instead, they often use alternative strategies such as memorising familiar stories, recognising words by their shapes or guessing based on the first letter or two. But our memories can hold only a limited number of words. So these strategies will fail them by P3 or P4. Without the right type of help, making progress will be a struggle—no matter how smart they are and how hard they try.

Myth 9: He can read okay. He just can’t spell. That’s not dyslexia, is it?

FACT: A child with severe dyslexia will struggle with reading from the very first day. But intelligent children with mild-to-moderate dyslexia can get away during the first few years in school. They can read. You just don’t know HOW they are reading. But their unusual reading strategies will force them into a brick wall by primary three or four.

Their difficulties with spelling, however, are obvious very early. If they spend hours each night working on a spelling list, they may be able to pass the test. But they tend to have difficulties spelling the same words when they’re writing sentences or compositions. Poor spelling is highly related to poor reading, and poor spelling shows up first. But it may take until primary three or four for the reading struggles to become equally obvious. Reading and spelling are closely related skills.

Myth 10: Reading difficulties disappear with age.

FACT: Not if it’s dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Dyslexic children become dyslexic adults. If they are identified and given the right kind of help early, dyslexics can learn to compensate for their learning difficulty and read accurately. Even so, they may continue to read slowly and not automatically.

Myth 11: Repeating a school grade can remove dyslexia.

FACT: Dyslexics learn in a different way. Specialist teaching is necessary to learn to overcome dyslexia and cope in mainstream school.

Myth 12: The way to help a dyslexic child to read is to force him or her to read at least 20 minutes a day.

FACT: It is necessary to make reading easy and fun so the dyslexic child learns. The DAS uses multi-sensory techniques like the Orton-Gillingham approach, spelling method to help the child read and write better.

Myth 13: Dyslexia only affects children who speak English.

FACT: In fact, dyslexia has been shown to affect native Dutch, Israeli and Portuguese speakers as well as speakers of other languages. Dyslexia primarily affects the processing of speech sounds, otherwise known as phonological awareness. Dyslexia is also known to affect languages that are orthographically-based like Chinese.

Myth 14: Dyslexia cannot be identified until a child is 8 to 11 years old.

FACT: Research suggests children at risk of developing reading, spelling and writing difficulties can be identified at 5 to 6 years of age. In fact, there are validated instruments which allow us to do so. It is also important to identify them early so that appropriate help can be given before they start failing in school.

Myth 15: There is no way to truly diagnose dyslexia.

FACT: There are highly sophisticated and well-recognized techniques to diagnose dyslexia. A qualified educational psychologist will be able to diagnose dyslexia through a series of assessments with the child.

Myth 16: Dyslexics will not succeed in life.

FACT: A great majority of dyslexics have succeeded in life in their own respect. Some famous and accomplished dyslexics include Albert Einstein, MM Lee Kuan Yew, Richard Branson and Tom Cruise to name a few.