Contributory Factors

Dyslexia is a neurological difference with educational implications. It usually runs in families and is a life-long condition.

The first symptom noticed is usually a literacy difficulty. However, many aspects of body, mind and individual circumstances may be contributory factors. They should be considered when assessing for dyslexia.

Checklists and screening test are not likely to take these into account. Long, detailed, expensive multi-disciplinary assessments are not always necessary. Assessors may notice signs and suggest further investigation in relevant areas. An experienced Psychologist or specialist dyslexia teacher will ask if the following contributory factors have been checked. 

  1. Birth History
  2. Family History
  3. Educational History
  4. General Heatlh
  5. Vision
  6. Hearing
  7. Speech and Language
  8. Co-ordination
  9. Attention and Emotional Behavioural aspects
  10. Communication and relationship aspect
  11. Self-estem
  12. Intelligence
  13. Diet supplements and drugs
  14. Individual styles for learning, working and living


1. Birth history.

Were there any problems before, during or after birth, e.g. a premature birth?

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2. Family history.

Are others in the family dyslexic? There is usually a genetic factor in developmental dyslexia, though other family members may have varying symptoms and severity. 

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3. Educational history.

Has school experience been of the usual kind? Are Special Needs recognised? What intervention has there been? To what extent has it helped? 

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4. General health.

Have there been any long illnesses, involving school absence? Could there be any undiagnosed conditions, e.g. mild epilepsy or petit mal, which may look like inattention and gaps in continuity? A physical injury or a stroke may indicate acquired dyslexia. 

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5. Vision.

School medicals are not enough. Has vision been checked by an optometrist? Does the testee lose his place when reading or make many reversals? Is the testee light sensitive or does the print blur or appear to move? For more information see Eyes and Dyslexia.

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6. Hearing.

Has hearing been checked? As a young child, did the testee have 'glue ear' which may have hindered auditory perception of sounds in words? 

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7. Speech and language.

Have there been delays or deficits in speech and language development? This includes pronunciation of words, vocabulary development, complexity of spoken language and understanding of language heard. Is there a tendency towards dysphasia? Would a referral to a speech and language therapist be advisable?

Is English the first language of the testee and in the home? This could have implications for test results, even for visual/spatial aspects of cognitive ability for which oral instructions are given. 

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8. Co-ordination.

Is the testee clumsy or accident-prone? Does this affect gross and fine motor movements? Does it include awareness of one's own body in space in relation to people and objects? How about anticipation of the movements of others, e.g. in team games? Is there a tendency towards dyspraxia?

For more information visit the website of the Dyspraxia Foundation

That would be a possibility if verbal ability is considerably higher than visual-spatial skills in ability tests. Would a referral to an occupational therapist be advisable?

Left handedness is not significantly higher in dyslexics but life is harder for all left handers. Cross-laterality is not significant either. However, late development of hand dominance or non dominance of hand, eye, foot, seems to happen more often in dyslexics. This may not be full ambidexterity. 

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9. Attention and Emotional Behavioural aspects.

If this is present, is it a primary factor or an outcome of frustration at difficulty in learning? Emotional behavioural disorder appears to be controllable and intended to annoy. Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without Hyperactivity, appears to be involuntary, purposeless and puzzling to all concerned.

Further information can be found on the website of ADDISS.

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10. Communication/relationship aspects.

This is different from speech and language disorders. Does the testee have difficulty making eye-contact, communicating and making relationships and showing appropriate behaviour? Is there a tendency towards some aspect of autism?

For further information, visit the website of the National Autistic Society.

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11. Self esteem.

Literacy is deemed very important in our culture. It is not surprising that those who find it difficult are very frustrated, depressed and have low self esteem. There is controversy about giving labels, but most dyslexics are very pleased to know that there is a reason for their difference. 

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12. Intelligence.

There is controversy about the nature of intelligence and how to measure it, but it is a useful concept. It is as wrong to be expecting too much of someone with below average intelligence as it is to be expecting too little of someone with high intelligence.

Dyslexia occurs independently of intelligence and is therefore described as a Specific Learning Difficulty. Dyslexic pupils usually show a varied pattern of abilities. No two pupils with dyslexia will have the same profile of strengths and weaknesses or levels of severity of difficulties.

Pupils of high intelligence with dyslexic difficulties who can grasp some things quickly may be very frustrated or distressed by their slowness in literacy skills.

People with very low cognitive abilities known as Global Learning Difficulties or mild, moderate or severe learning difficulties may have some dyslexic characteristics but their low intelligence is the primary factor. 

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13. Diet supplements and drugs.

There is no pill that makes learning to read easy. However, nutritional vulnerability or deficiencies may affect concentration and behaviour. Therefore they affect learning indirectly. Research suggests that some dyslexics lack a natural production of some essential nutritional ingredients. Some people are allergic to food additives. Some drugs control behaviour, but their long term effects are not known. They should only be given on medical advice. 

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14. Individual styles for learning, working and living.

The assessment should reveal strengths as well as weaknesses. Some dyslexic pupils develop strategies for their own ways of doing things and this should be encouraged. 

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