What is Dyslexia

What definition is used for dyslexia 

The advice and guidance for the identification, assessment and support of dyslexia within the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit is linked directly to the Scottish Working Definition of Dyslexia.

The definition has been developed by the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland, the Cross Party Group on Dyslexia in the Scottish Parliament and a wide range of stakeholders. This is one of many definitions available and is recommended as helpful guidance by Education Scotland.

The aim of this particular working definition is to provide a description of the range of indicators and characteristics of dyslexia as helpful guidance for educational practitioners, children, parents/carers and others.

The Scottish Working Definition of Dyslexia

Dyslexia can be described as a continuum of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities. These difficulties often do not reflect an individual’s cognitive abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.

The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment, as there are often associated difficulties such as:

  • auditory and/or visual processing of language-based information
  • phonological awareness
  • oral language skills and reading fluency
  • short-term and working memory
  • sequencing and directionality
  • number skills
  • organisational ability

Motor skills and co-ordination may also be affected.

Dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds.

It is a hereditary, life-long, neurodevelopmental condition. Unidentified, dyslexia is likely to result in low self-esteem, high stress, atypical behaviour, and low achievement.

Learners with dyslexia will benefit from early identification, appropriate intervention and targeted effective teaching, enabling them to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Below is a visual representation of the difficulties associated with dyslexia. How they impact on individuals will vary.

At all stages, dyslexia is on a continuum varying from mild to severe, with a range of strengths and difficulties which are affected by the nature of the activity undertaken, the learning environment and any coping strategies and support in place. As a result, every individual with dyslexia will differ in how they are affected and in the level of severity experienced. There is however a common set of signs that can be observed.

As a starting point, see Dyslexia Scotland’s leaflet, Information for teachers’.

Receiving appropriate additional support is not dependent upon the formal identification of a specific label such as dyslexia. However, this should not mean that schools and local authorities are not supportive of formally identifying additional support needs such as dyslexia. Indeed the information gathered during the identification process is valued and forms part of the ongoing monitoring of the child or young person’s progress and support.

Select the section below to access a range of short films which may help teachers to understand what it feels like to be dyslexic and to explain this to pupils, parents and colleagues

Films to support understanding about dyslexia

Dyslexia Scotland video on the Scottish Definition of Dyslexia gives some real-life examples from children and young people about what it means for them.


British Dyslexia Association film – ‘See dyslexia differently’:


Dyslexia Scotland animation – Young People’s Guide to a Growth Mindset:


Dyslexia Scotland Youth Day clips of young people aged 10-13 speaking about what dyslexia means to them:



Calum’s film:


Dyslexia: Educate Me – this 30 minute film is about Dyslexia and the experiences shared by many dyslexic people throughout the Scottish education system:


Further Professional Development

Select here to access the Professional Reflection and Planning Tool on this section – ‘What is Dyslexia? Professional Reflection and Planning Tool’.

Select here to access the free online module ‘Introduction to Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice’.