Dyslexia facts for secondary teachers


The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (American Psychiatric Association), a widely used diagnostic standard.

The DSM-5 includes dyslexia as a Specific Reading Disorder – “Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities.”

Dyslexia is not curable and is a lifelong disability. It can be remediated with appropriate intervention but some difficulties may still persist.


“Intensive and skilful instruction in basic word reading skills can have a significant impact on the comprehension ability of students in fifth grade and beyond.” International Dyslexia Association fact sheet – Adolescents and Adults with Dyslexia.

Explicit instruction can include teaching:

  • How to identify, and break words into, syllable types.
  • How to recognise irregular words that do not follow predictable patterns, and investigate the origin of these words (etymology).
  • How to use a ‘spelling voice’ to pronounce irregular words as they are spelt, as a memory aid.
  • How to read multi-syllabic words by blending the syllables.
  • The meaning of common prefixes, suffixes, inflectional endings and roots (for example, “-ed” modifies a verb to past tense).
  • How to break words into parts and combine word parts to create words, based on their roots and affixes (for example, “unreadable” contains the base “read”, the prefix “un” and the suffix “able”).
  • How to, and when to, use structural analysis to decode unknown words (for example, the word “psychiatrist” derives a root from the Greek “iatros” meaning “to heal”, a prefix from the Greek “ psyche” meaning “of the mind”, and a suffix from the Greek “istes” meaning “practitioner”).

Mental Health

The great majority of children with dyslexia will experience a secondary issue as a result of their educational experiences. Anxiety, learned helplessness, depression, behavioural issues and self-esteem issues need to be considered. Always refer adolescents to a medical practitioner if concerned about mental health.

Accommodations for Assessment Tasks

Teachers may need to make adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment practices for some students with special education needs, so that they are able to demonstrate what they know and can do in relation to syllabus outcomes and content. The types of adjustments made will vary based on the needs of individual students. These may include:

  • adjustments to assessment activities. For example, rephrasing questions or using simplified language, fewer questions or alternative formats for questions.
  • alternative formats for responses. For example, written point form or notes, scaffolded structured responses, short objective questions or multimedia presentations.

Possible effects of dyslexia and appropriate adjustments


Effects on reading may include:

  • Slow, laboured, inaccurate reading.
  • Visible tiredness while reading.
  • Poor reading comprehension.

Reasonable adjustments and accommodations for reading effects:

  • Only ask a student to read aloud if student is the comfortable doing so.
  • Allow use of audio books.
  • Allow use of assistive technology such as a C-Pen or other text to speech software.
  • Limit amount of reading.
  • Provide outlines, summaries, vocabulary words and preview questions.


Effects on spelling may include:

  • Continual misspelling of words.
  • Misspelling even when copying.

Reasonable adjustments and accommodations for spelling effects:

  • Allow use of assistive technology where appropriate such as predictive spelling, word processor, and speech to text software.
  • Teach the rules and structure of the English language.
  • Provide word banks.


Effects on writing may include:

  • Poor, nearly illegible handwriting.
  • Omission of spacing and punctuation.
  • Unusual pencil grip, gripping too tightly.
  • Poor posture when writing.
  • Writing is a slow, laboured, non-automatic task.
  • Difficulty with organisation of thoughts on paper.

Reasonable adjustments and accommodations for writing effects:

  • Allow use of assistive technology where appropriate such as predictive spelling, word processor, and speech to text software.
  • Allow extra time to complete tasks.
  • Do not expect large amounts of writing.
  • Avoid requiring the copying of notes from the board.
  • Give student opportunities to express knowledge verbally.

Organisation and memory

Effects on organisation and memory may include:

  • Making the learning of any task that has a series of steps which must be completed in a specific order, difficult.
  • Sequencing difficulties.
  • Difficulties with organisation.
  • Dyslexia can co-occur with working memory difficulties, and also taxes working memory due to the primary difficulties.

Reasonable adjustments and accommodations for organisation and memory:

  • Break large tasks into steps.
  • Make instructions short, simple and clear.
  • Ask students to repeat instructions, to make sure they have understood.
  • Clarify and simplify directions.
  • Use visual aids.
  • Make allowances for poor memory in terms of handing in notes and in general school organisation.
  • Sit student with a peer helper if student is comfortable with this.
  • Simplify worksheet design.


Different Australian states have different policies on homework, but a common principle is the acknowledgement that homework should take students’ abilities into account. For example:

“The effectiveness of homework can be enhanced when it is set at an appropriate level for each student, supporting those who are experiencing difficulty and extending those of high-ability” (VIC Department of Education & Training homework policy, accessed 8/4/2023).

“Research indicates that student learning may be enhanced if homework is appropriate for each student’s age and ability” (NSW Department of Education & Communities homework policy, accessed 8/4/2023).