Contributory Factors

many_factors_3Many aspects of body, mind and individual circumstances may have contributed to the development of dyslexia, and some of the more common factors are shown below in no particular order of significance.

full diagnostic assessment is usually required to ascertain whether learning difficulties experienced by an individual are ‘global’, i.e. part of an overall problem with learning, or ‘specific’ in that difficulties in the acquisition of literacy skills may be limiting their progress in learning. Once this has been established, a suitable teaching programme can be devised based on using a learners’ strengths to overcome their weaker areas.

it is helpful to obtain as much background information as possible before carrying out a full diagnostic assessment for dyslexia. Questionnaires completed by parents, teachers and any other agencies involved in a pupil’s health and education can contribute valuable information for consideration.

Birth history

Were there any problems before, during or after birth that may explain current difficulties, e.g. a premature birth?

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.

Educational history

Has school experience been of the usual kind? How many schools have been attended? Is attendance good? Are special needs recognised? What intervention has there been? To what extent has it helped?

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.


School medicals are not enough. Has vision been checked by an optometrist? Does the student lose his place when reading or make many reversals? Is the student light sensitive or does the print blur or appear to move?


Has hearing been checked? As a young child, did s/he have ‘glue ear’ which may have hindered auditory perception of sounds in words?

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 individual in the home? This could have implications for test results, even for visual/spatial aspects of cognitive ability for which oral instructions are given.


Is the individual 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?

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.

Communication/relationship aspects

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

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.


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.

People of high intelligence who can grasp some things quickly may be very frustrated 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. Dyslexics usually show a varied pattern of abilities.

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.

Individual styles for learning, working and living

A dyslexia assessment should reveal strengths as well as weaknesses. Some dyslexics develop strategies for their own ways of doing things and this should be encouraged. Areas of strength can be harnessed to develop weaker areas.