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Dyslexia: To identify or ignore?

Emma Derbyshire, Nutritional Insight

When it comes to identifying whether a child has dyslexic tendencies, parents/guardians and teachers can experience a combination of feelings about whether this is for the best. The principal person that needs to be considered, however, is the child.

There are a range of favourable reasons to identify whether a child has dyslexia. Early identification of processing abilities can help to place children at a stronger position academically and help them to reach their true ‘education potential’, as interventions can readily be put into place during a time when the brain is receptive and has heightened plasticity (Sanfilippo et al., 2020; Colenbrander et al., 2018).

Early identification is also central to the prevention and mitigation of secondary consequences of dyslexia which can include anxiety, depression and low levels of self-esteem (Huang et al., 2020; Giovagnoli et al., 2020). Similarly, it has been suggested that early identification of dyslexia can reduce the risk of behavioural problems, emotional instability and introversion, and can improve quality of life (Huang et al., 2020). Once identified, there is then scope to modify learning methods and negate the ‘task-avoidant behaviour’ that tends to be linked to dyslexia (Syal & Torppa, 2019).

‘Early identification of dyslexia can reduce the risk of behavioural problems, emotional instability and introversion, and can improve quality of life.’

Some parents and teachers, however, may be concerned about allocating a ‘dyslexia label’. Researchers at Swansea University have recently studied how a dyslexia label may impact on children’s views of their academic ability and how this may, in turn, affect parents’ and teachers’ aspirations for that child (Knight, 2021). Data was analysed from the Millennium Cohort study focusing on children aged 11 and 14 years.

Interestingly, children labelled with dyslexia had lower self-belief about their English and maths abilities and were less likely to say that they would go to university compared to those without this label. Parents and teachers also had lower expectations for the child’s academic ability when they had the dyslexia label in comparison with a matched group without dyslexia. These are intriguing findings indicating that more awareness is needed about the ‘neurodiversity view’ of dyslexia and how dyslexia can also be seen as an ‘intellectual strength’ rather than a ‘disability’ or ‘deficit’ (Rappolt-Schlichtmann et al., 2018).

Finally, it is important to explain that dyslexia screening and dyslexia assessing are different, and are often confused.

While a screen can indicate possible dyslexic difficulties this is not a formal diagnosis. Formal, full diagnostic assessments conducted by educational psychologists or specialist assessors can help to give a fuller evaluation of a child’s auditory and cognitive profile, and their strengths and weaknesses. In turn, this helps to identify specific learning preferences. Ultimately, this process is not about ‘labelling a child’ but rather about gathering a deeper understanding about how their minds function and process information.

So, some questions for further discussion.

  • Should dyslexia be recognised and seen as a form of neurodiversity and intellectual strength rather than a deficit or disability?
  • Should all children take part in dyslexia screening programmes in primary school to help identify those with dyslexic tendencies early on?
  • Should we be using teaching methods that are inclusive rather than exclusive of dyslexics? (Examples include spelling software and resources that have been specifically developed with dyslexia in mind.)


Colenbrander, D., (2018). Early identification of dyslexia: Understanding the issues. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(4), 817–828. 

Giovagnoli, S., Mandolesi, L., Magri, S., Gualtieri, L., Fabbri, D., Tossani, E., & Benassi, M. (2020). Internalizing symptoms in developmental dyslexia: A comparison between primary and secondary school. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1–11.

Huang, Y., He, M., Li, A., Lin, Y., Zhang, X., & Wu, K. (2020). Personality, behavior characteristics, and life quality impact of children with dyslexia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4), 1415.

Knight, C., (2021). The impact of the dyslexia label on academic outlook and aspirations: An analysis using propensity score matching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(4), 1110–1126.

Rappolt-Schlichtmann, G., Boucher, A. R., & Evans, M. (2018). From deficit remediation to capacity building: Learning to enable rather than disable students with dyslexia. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(4), 864–874.

Sanfilippo, J., Ness, M., Petscher, Y., Rappaport, L., Zuckerman, B., & Gaab, N. (2020). Reintroducing dyslexia: Early identification and implications for pediatric practice. Pediatrics, 146(1), e20193046.

Syal, S. & Torppa, M. (2019). Task-avoidant behaviour and dyslexia: A follow-up from grade 2 to age 20. Dyslexia, 25(4), 374–389.