According to the ADA (Australian Dyslexia Association) –

Dyslexia is best understood as a persistent difficulty with reading and spelling. It is included as a disability under the DDA 1992 (section f) as stated in the Government’s document Disability Standards Education (2005).

Dyslexia is not a disease! The word dyslexia comes from the Greek language and means difficulty with words.

Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading and spelling despite having the ability to learn. Individuals with dyslexia can learn, but learn in a different way. Often these individuals, who have talented and productive minds, are “said to have a language learning difference”.

Dyslexia is recognised in Australia under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and by the Human Rights Commission. However, New South Wales is the only state or territory where it is legally recognised as a learning disability. The Victorian Education Department website describes it as a “learning difficulty”.

According to The Galletly Report, common definitions of “learning disability” make it a very broad category, especially when used alongside terms such as “learning difficulty”; including:

speech and language difficulties,
social-emotional weakness,
maths weakness
sometimes intellectual weakness,
reading weakness.

A difference is made between dyslexic readers, with good language skills and poor reading-accuracy; and hyperlexic readers, with poor language skills and good reading-accuracy.

Dyslexia, described in The Galletly Report as “a medical term”, commonly has reading-accuracy weakness as its primary characteristic, but is also often linked to weaknesses in other areas, such as visual processing, balance, and co-ordination difficulties. When reading-accuracy difficulties are labelled as “learning disabilities” or “dyslexia”, rather than “reading-accuracy difficulties”, there is a raised likelihood that all sorts of characteristics relating to that broad category may be assigned to the child with reading-accuracy difficulties by parents and teachers, and so the child’s true challenges risk being missed, or at least diluted.

This creates various problems, both instructional and emotional. For instance, when parents of children with relatively isolated reading-accuracy difficulties are told that 75% of children with Learning Disability have significant social difficulties, forms of confusion or even anxiety may ensue! Children risk being mislabelled. Complicating matters further, there is a strong misapprehension within general society that a common characteristic of dyslexia is reading letters and words backwards (Catts & Hogan, 2003a)!

Many reading scientists use the term “dyslexia” in a relatively narrow sense, for students with good language comprehension skills and significant reading-accuracy difficulties, despite adequate instruction, (see Leach, Scarborough, and Rescorla, 2003). A ‘typical dyslexic profile’ is often seen as encompassing
⚛️ Comprehension skills comparable with those of nondisabled readers.
⚛️ Deep broad bottom-up processing deficits in word and pseudoword reading (accuracy and speed), spelling, phonological awareness and naming speed.
⚛️ Self-rating as low in literacy skills.
⚛️ Unimpaired in other respects, such as listening comprehension, vocabulary, and IQ.

Others view dyslexia as encompassing far more than reading-accuracy difficulties, with reading-accuracy (and concomitant academic difficulties) being the most obvious and common deficit, amid reports of dyslexic students showing interesting and unusual deficits in a wide variety of areas, including:

reading, phonology, writing, spelling, memory, speed, hearing, vision, balance, learning, skill, genetics, brain structure and brain function.

Most dyslexic students have other difficulties in addition to unstable vision, orthographic weakness and difficulties with sequencing sounds leading to phonological problems, such as problems focussing visual attention, poor sequencing in general, and a tendency towards being uncoordinated and clumsy. Many show mixed handedness and left/right confusions, indicating incomplete establishment of cerebral dominance.

It’s not all bad news, however, as differences in functioning are also given in aspects of giftedness, with higher rates of dyslexia present in high achieving adults than in the normal population, suggesting that a key question for reading research is whether the weaknesses of dyslexia derive from one source or many.

Any adequate framework for explaining dyslexia must therefore address questions of the underlying cause of dyslexia, why the major weakness appears specific to reading, and why there are so many high achieving adults with the condition.

While in much of Australia, debate still centres on whether dyslexia is a learning difficulty or disability – or if it even exists, possibly due to a 1979 Senate inquiry which erroneously concluded there was no such thing as dyslexia – officially, the ADA have adopted and adapted the International Dyslexia Association’s defintion of dyslexia. Most people recognise that regardless of the definitions of dyslexia that States adopt, Australia – a highly developed country – faces literacy challenges.

Infographic taken from

According to The Galletly Report, the Literate Futures report (Education Queensland, 2000) states of Year 2 students that:

⚠️ Just under 40% of all Year 2 students posed a literacy or numeracy risk, over 33% were found to be at risk in all areas, and approximately 20% required additional writing support.
⚠️ Socio-economic status (SES)was strongly linked to achievement,howevereven at highest SES levels 25% of students required support in reading, 20% in number and 10% in writing.
⚠️ Far more boys required support than girls.
Significantly more rural students required support than urban students.
⚠️ Significantly high numbers of Aboriginal students and Torres Strait Islander students required support.
⚠️ All these levels were found stable for the past three years.

In Australia, Dyslexia is estimated to affect some 10% of the Australian population. This may be a conservative estimate as many individuals are left unidentified in the Australian population. In other first-language English speaking countries, the figures are estimated to be up to 20% (UK, Canada, UK).

“It may be safe to say that dyslexia affects 1 in 5 when including the continuum of mild to severe dyslexia.”

However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not doing as well as other Australian children in terms of their education. School attendance rates for Aboriginal children who live in remote areas are as low as 14%, meaning it is often harder to recognise levels of dyslexia in these cases.

Across the whole country, just one in every ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students graduates from high school.

With almost no research conducted into levels or types of dyslexia in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, coupled with disproportionately low rates of educational attendance and achievement and a higher-than-average prison population, these minority indigenous peoples have found themselves locked within structures that have routinely failed them on social, academic, and economic measurements.

According to the First People’s Disability Network, 45% of First People (Aboriginees and Torres Straits Islanders) live with a disability, more than twice the rate than other Australians. First People Australians are also five times more likely to experience mental health problems.

Until there is official and properly-funded research into Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander dyslexia rates, contextualised within the relevant educational and economic setting, it is likely that physical and mental health problems will persist within these groups.

The Australian Government did however commission a series of reports (Closing The Gap) showing the improvements it is striving to make for educational outcomes among First People in the country. Frustratingly though, its findings are not always positive. For instance:

  • ◻️ While the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students has narrowed since 2008 across all areas, the target is not on track.
  • ◻️ Outcomes vary by state and territory, and only Year 9 numeracy is on track in all the states and territories.
  • ◻️ Outcomes also vary significantly across regions, with outcomes for Indigenous students substantially worse in remote areas, with a larger gap compared to non Indigenous students.

These findings can be highlighted by the following charts:

Student attendance rates (indiginous vs non-indiginous)
Student attendance rates, by year level, Semester 1 2017
Student attendance rates, by remoteness, Semester 1 2017
Proportion of students attending 90 per cent or more of the time by remoteness, Semester 1 2017
Indigenous students meeting National Minimum Standards for Year 3 reading, 2017
Indigenous students meeting National Minimum Standards for reading
Indigenous students meeting National Minimum Standards for numeracy
Reading results over time for the Year 9 2017 (National Minimum Standard)

Finally, Australia’s Dear Dyslexic Foundation offers voices to those with dyslexia – including First Nation Australians. We are proud to share some of those voices below.

Faces of Dyslexia – Nicholle Quilty

Faces of Dyslexia – Wayne Hutchison

Faces of Dyslexia – Sophie Day

Faces of Dyslexia – Mia

Faces of Dyslexia – Ella Noble

Faces of Dyslexia – Rory McCafferty

All “Faces of Dyslexia” links come from the Dear Dyslexic Foundation website

“Dear Dyslexic Foundation” Podcast

See for instance: