Dyslexia

Reviewed by Nora Allali-Carling
Last updated 19th May 2023 | Next update due 18th May 2026

A dyslexic person can be described as someone who has problems with the way they process information. Dyslexia isn't related to intelligence and it usually runs in the family. Here we take a look at dyslexia in more detail, how it can impact mental health and the benefits of counselling.

What is dyslexia?

Even though dyslexia is a common learning difficulty (affecting roughly 10% of the UK population), it is still sometimes misunderstood by society. Dyslexia causes issues with specific abilities needed for learning such as spelling, writing, and reading. It can affect the way someone remembers information, as well as impacting other areas of a person’s life such as organisation, motor coordination, and concentration. These symptoms can sometimes make dyslexia challenging to diagnose.

The British Dyslexia Association uses the Rose (2009) definition of dyslexia. They explain the characteristics of dyslexia, as well as additional difficulties:

“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] can range from mild to severe, and it can co-occur with other learning difficulties. It usually runs in families and is a life-long condition."

Dyslexic people can encounter many challenges in life. But they can also show great strengths in the ability to think differently, especially in the areas of problem-solving, innovation, intuition, and creativity.

We recognise that some people may use identity-first language ('dyslexic person') and some people may use person-first language ('person with dyslexia') when referring to themselves as dyslexic. Please use the language that you feel most comfortable with.


Signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia can involve a range of problems, but it’s important to remember that dyslexic people experience their condition differently. Each individual will encounter difficulties and strengths in a way that is particular to them. There are some general signs that could help you identify whether certain symptoms may need further investigation. These are:

  • forgetting words
  • following instructions or directions
  • confusing the order of letters in words
  • poor spelling
  • finding it hard to focus
  • reading slowly
  • struggling to plan
  • concentrating if there are distractions
  • retrieving or misusing words

Dyslexia can manifest differently depending on the age group of that individual. For example, a younger child may find it difficult to learn nursery rhymes or listen to stories. An older child may confuse upper and lowercase letters and find tasks tricky to complete within a timeframe, and an adult may find it difficult to skim text in a book or forget certain dates. To learn more about the signs of dyslexia by age group, visit the BDA.

If you’re looking to be assessed for dyslexia, please contact a local dyslexia association for advice. If you’re concerned your child may have dyslexia, it is advisable to speak to their teacher or the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) as your first port of call. 


Parenting a dyslexic child 

It's hard for parents to see their child struggle at school. If you’re a parent of a dyslexic child (or a child displaying many of the symptoms), you may have seen them wrestle with friendships, low self-esteem, and adapting to change. It can be really tiring, especially if you’re battling to get them the right kind of support.

Talking to a friend or a counsellor can help you offload tensions and reduce your stress levels. You may have lost confidence in your parenting skills or simply feel helpless. Getting the right kind of support, not just for your child, but for you as a parent, can improve the well-being of the family.

Psychotherapist Elle Mead explains how counselling can help parents of children with learning difficulties, guiding them toward better emotional and social well-being.


How can dyslexia affect a person?

We understand more about the physical repercussions of dyslexia, but there are various emotional challenges that dyslexic people have to contend with, especially where the learning difficulties have gone unrecognised for some time.

The diagnosis itself can bring about a mix of emotions, from relief to devastation, or feelings of regret or resentment. Specialist dyslexia counsellor Pennie Aston (MSc NCS Senior Acc) talks about how conflicting it can feel to receive an evaluation of dyslexia in her article, The human cost of dyslexia.

Having lived a life under a cloud of believing they were rather 'thick and stupid', it is alarming to discover things could have been very different.

Past struggles may now make sense to the dyslexic person, but the label can bring about dividing feelings. She highlights the compassion needed to appreciate the “sense of fragmentation” that occurs when dealing with the news of a diagnosis.

Pennie also talks about the ongoing emotional effects of dyslexia in her article, Dyslexia counselling: Addressing the emotional repercussions. She says there are several emotions and difficulties commonly reported by dyslexic people, such as anxiety, confusion, despondency, and anger - “A sense of being imprisoned, trapped and impotent is often reported and this frustration soon turns to anger.”

Dyslexic people can feel cornered by the way society and the academic system work, feeling a lack of confidence or even shame for not fitting the mould. This can feel traumatic for a dyslexic person who has endured “daily unrelenting small traumas”, resulting in angry feelings.

If you’re concerned about your mental health as a result of dyslexia, please contact your GP as soon as possible.

Dyslexia and the fear of change

Pennie also explains how the prospect of change can feel especially daunting for a dyslexic person. Change can make dyslexic people feel anxious because it “brings the unexpected”, such as new learning problems, social demands, career challenges, and new sensory environments.

Dyslexic people can feel easily overwhelmed by environmental changes and sometimes view themselves as more sensitive than other people. Pennie’s advice is to avoid the tendency to accuse them of being inflexible, instead understanding the root causes of the emotional effects of dyslexia.

In this video, Louise Taylor (MNCS (Accred), MA) explains more about neurodiversity, the strengths and disadvantages of living in a society as a neurodivergent person.


Being in a relationship with a dyslexic person

Each relationship is different and dyslexia may cause very few challenges. But if you’re more of a ‘linear thinker’ and are in a relationship with a dyslexic person, you may find it tricky to understand certain aspects of this learning difficulty, such as their organisation skills, potential communication barriers, and emotional frustrations.

When we come across difficulties in our relationships, it can be hard to know what to do for the best. Talking to a counsellor can make a difference, as can sharing your problems with a trusted friend or family member. You may find couples counselling helpful, or would simply prefer to talk through the relationship issues by yourself. 

If you’re looking for more of an understanding as to how to effectively communicate with a dyslexic person, you could try:

  • Using voice messages when possible to communicate.
  • Reminding them of special dates if they struggle with memory retention.
  • Letting them know if you have moved their belongings to a different place.
  • Asking them what kind of things feel helpful.
  • Allowing them space to work things through at their own pace.
  • Understanding their life challenges, whilst honouring your personal needs and boundaries.

If you'd like to know more about how to support a dyslexic person, read What you need to know if you care about someone with dyslexia by counsellor Pennie Aston.

Dyslexia does not condone negative behaviours. Understanding the symptoms of dyslexia is a way to improve communication and keep the relationship as healthy as possible.


Dyslexia and counselling

Dyslexia can affect a person’s mental health a great deal. It can have an impact on emotional well-being, relationships, and everyday life. The challenges of dyslexia can feel overwhelming and, at times, difficult to cope with. Dyslexic people may fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others, sometimes feeling ‘less than’. This low self-esteem coupled with the lack of understanding from others can lead to stress, anxiety, shame, and depression.

If you’re a dyslexic person and are looking for help, speaking to a professional trained in dyslexia counselling can help you understand yourself through the lens of neurodiversity. It can take some time and you may have to discuss some uncomfortable aspects of your life, but opening up in this way can help you gain a balanced view of yourself and feel happier about your life moving forward.


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