ABSTRACT: Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that is often referred to as a hidden disability. While it is predominately manifested in literacy difficulties, it is much more than just a difficulty with reading – affecting mathematics, memory and organisation, with significant impact on self-esteem and confidence. Dyslexia cannot be cured but, with the correct help and support, the difficulties that it can cause can be overcome. It affects anyone of any age and background to varying degrees. This article provides a general overview of what dyslexia is and how individuals with this hidden disability can be supported within an educational or workplace setting.

What is dyslexia?

The Rose Review (2009) defines dyslexia as a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.1 Characteristic features of dyslexia:

   difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed

   it 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.

Dyslexia is relatively common; it affects approximately 10 per cent of the population to varying degrees.2 It can affect anyone of any age, race or social and economic background.

It is important to stress that dyslexia does not affect intelligence, but if left unaddressed it can result in underachievement. However, with the correct help and support it need not – and should not – be a barrier to success.

The common challenges encountered include difficulties with reading and with spelling, poor sequencing skills and poor short-term memory. There may be a reduced ability to break down words and recognise separate units of sound (lack of phonological awareness), problems with reading comprehension, difficulties with mathematics and with musical notation.

Poor handwriting is sometimes a feature too, together with difficulties expressing thoughts orally and poor organisational skills.

Some people may have slow or poor handwriting and difficulties with spelling. Image courtesy of Dyslexia Action

The number, type and severity of the difficulties will vary from one dyslexic person to another, which makes this specific learning difficulty complex and not always easy to identify; and hence the reference of 'hidden disability’.

Dyslexia sufferers may feel overwhelmed by work and study. Image courtesy of Dyslexia Action

Common signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia affects different people differently. Assumptions about the difficulties a dyslexic person may or may not have should never be made, but for an adult in the workplace or a student some common examples might be:

   making unexpected errors when reading aloud, missing words out, reading the wrong word or lacking automaticity when reading

   taking ages to read something and understand it

   difficulties with spelling or spelling the same word in a variety of ways

   difficulties taking minutes or making notes

   slow and/or poor handwriting

   difficulties recalling information and facts

   excelling at some things, while having unexpected difficulties with others

   producing work that is erratic in quality and not reflective of ability, or written documentation that is unexpectedly poor or seems careless

   finding it difficult to remember a series of numbers, such as a telephone number

   confusing memos or messages

   finding it difficult to remember a list of instructions

   deadlines regularly not being met or taking longer to learn new skills

   examination results are not reflective of ability

   similar difficulties to one or more blood-relatives.

In addition the individual may seem forgetful, disorganised and they may have low self-esteem or unduly suffer with stress and/or anxiety.

How is dyslexia identified?

It is not uncommon for an adult to be unaware that he or she is dyslexic and, indeed, some individuals do not experience significant difficulty until they are in Further and/or Higher Education, or until they are promoted. This is usually the result of the demands of a higher level of study upon their coping strategies.

Students concerned about any difficulties they are experiencing should speak to their Student Advisory Centre and specifically the Disabilities Officer (or equivalent). Those within the workplace should be able to speak to someone in their HR Department.

If formal diagnosis is required, referral for assessment should be made to an educational or occupational psychologist or specially trained teacher. They will identify if the individual’s difficulties are caused by dyslexia or another specific learning difficulty; but most importantly, they will give advice and make recommendations for support and help based on individual needs.

Educational or occupational psychologists, or specially trained teachers, will give advice and make recommendations for support based on individual needs. Image courtesy of Dyslexia Action

Help and support

Dyslexia need not – and should not – be a barrier to success, and many dyslexic individuals can be a valuable asset to an organisation. However, owing to the nature of the difficulties that dyslexia causes, some dyslexic people will require additional help and support to enable them to perform to the best of their abilities.

Dyslexia cannot be cured
; but with the right intervention it is possible to develop strategies to overcome individual difficulties. Effective support can often be simple and inexpensive. This may include having more regular one-to-one sessions with a line manager, tutor or mentor to reinforce aims and objectives; helping to prioritise and organise workload by using calendars with deadlines clearly marked, diaries, or electronic reminders; allowing regular breaks; setting realistic objectives and negotiating deadlines; and, if required, looking for professional training and coaching.

There are now a large number of products and softwares that can be incorporated into an office environment or to assist learning. These may include the use of spellcheckers, a Dictaphone for note-taking or changing the set-up on the individual’s PC (both ergonomically and in terms of the default layouts – font size and colour, and the background colour).

Assistive technology, such as EasyReader; voice-activated software, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking; or planning software, such as Inspiration, may also be helpful.

Funding for support

The Disability Student Allowance (DSA) is a fund that provides extra financial help to students who wish to study a higher education course and who have a disability, ongoing health condition, mental health condition or specific learning difficulty like dyslexia.3 This is something that students should discuss with the Disabilities Officer at their Student Advice Centre.

'Access to Work’ can help with funding if the dyslexic employee qualifies that might pay towards a support worker or the equipment needed at work.4

Workplace Consultancy is a useful option for an employer who is concerned about an employee or for advice on how best to make adjustments for a more ‘dyslexia-friendly’ workplace. Dyslexia does come under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, therefore, this would include how to make adjustments in accordance with the Act.

Develop dyslexia-friendly practices

A dyslexia-friendly approach can be incorporated across all businesses – including veterinary practices – particularly when considering recruitment, assessment and evaluation, training and course materials, and health and safety. In these areas it is important to make all communications more accessible and to provide alternative formats such as large print, or audio, if required.

It can also help to plan training and teaching sessions and inductions that accommodate extra time and/or additional support to ensure retention of important information. For instance, give the individual training or course materials in advance or present communications in a more ‘dyslexia- friendly’ layout.

Simple measures include the use of:

   bullet points

   font sizes of no less than 11pt

   San Serif fonts, such as Arial

   left-justified margin with a right rugged edge

   cream or off-white backgrounds

   increased spacing between lines

   highlighting or putting important points in bold

   not using italics.

A dyslexia-friendly approach can be incorporated in assessment and evaluation, training and course materials, and health and safety. Image courtesy of Dyslexia Action


Dyslexia affects up to 10 per cent of the population to varying degrees. It is a hidden disability that is more complex than just a problem with literacy; but with the right strategies, support, understanding and teaching, dyslexia can be overcome.

Do not generalise, treat each case individually – one size does not fit all; and remember, dyslexia is a recognised disability under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.


Kerry Bennett

Kerry Bennett is corporate marketing and communications manager for Dyslexia Action.

Dyslexia Action is a national charity that improves lives through education. We are the UK's leading provider of services and support for people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties and specialise in assessments, teaching and training. We also develop and distribute teaching materials and undertake research. We have 25 centres and 97 teaching locations around the UK.

For more information, visit www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk or call 01784 222300.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2011.00066.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 250-252


1.   Rose Review 12009) Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties; Sir Jim Rose, June 2009. https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/ standard/publicationDetail/Pagel/DCSF-00659- 2009

2.   www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk; www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk; Rose Review. 2009.

3.   DirectGov http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/ EducationAndTraining/HigherEducation/DG_1003 4898

4.   DirectGov http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/ Employmentsupport/WorkSchemesAnd Programmes/DG_4000347

Useful web pages

http://www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk//Page.aspx?Pageld= 207




• VOL 26 • July 2011 • Veterinary Nursing Journal