European Union

At the 1994 ‘Action for Dyslexia’ conference, delegates from EU Ministries agreed on the following working definition, which Dyslexia International then adopted:

‘the student with specific learning difficulties shows
– some learning skills developed to an above-average or average standard, but also shows
– organising or learning difficulties which impair fine motor skills, organisation of laterality and information skills inworking memory, so limiting the development of curriculum skills in some or all of speech, reading, spelling, writing and behaviour.’

According to the European Dyslexia Association (EDA):

“Dyslexia is used as a term for a disorder that is mainly characterized by severe difficulties in acquiring reading, spelling and writing skills”.

Based on the experience of more that 10 years intensive research, “three different disorders – a reading disorder, a spelling disorder, and a combined reading and spelling disorder – were differentiated”. Many people use dyslexia “as a synonym for the combined disorder”. The prevalence rate of each of the three disorders is about 3-4%.

The EDA’s most widely accepted theory is that “it is caused by difficulties in phonological processing: verbal working memory, rapid naming and sequencing skills are also affected”.

They state that there is no relationship between a person’s level of intelligence, individual effort, of socio-economic position, and the presence of dyslexia. The “cognitive difficulties that cause dyslexia and different learning disorders can also affect other aspects of verbal learning including arithmetic. Difficulties in organizational skills and motor coordination are frequently observed but these are not core to the condition”.

EDA figures indicate that:

🔹 20-40% of people with dyslexia also have dyscalculia.
🔹 20-55% of people with developmental language disorder are dyslexic.
🔹 10-20% of people with dyslexia have an anxiety disorder.
🔹 2-14% of people with dyslexia have depression.
🔹 8-18% of people with dyslexia have ADHD.

The European Commission stated in 2012 that one in five 15 year olds, as well as nearly 75 million adults, lack basic reading and writing skills. EU Education Ministers then set a joint goal of reducing the ratio of 15 year olds with poor reading skills from 20% at present to 15% by 2020. The report also highlighted a significant gender gap, with 13.3% of low achievers among girls compared with 26.6% among boys. The gender gap is smallest in the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, and highest in Malta, Bulgaria and Lithuania (according to 2009 statistics).

The Commission officially supports and supplements Member States’ actions to improve the literacy skills of children and adults and to provide adequate support. The Commission does this through the Open Method of Coordination and in implementing the commonly agreed policy strategies between Member States. The Commission actively monitors developments in this area via a series of annual Progress Reports.

Dyslexia International (in their Action for Dyslexia conference for EU Ministries) found that:

There are “many definitions of dyslexia. But only some of them” are officially recognised by governments internationally. Within the EU, one study showed that five countries viewed dyslexia as a medical condition requiring a medical diagnosis (Estonia, France, Italy, Latvia, Sweden) and seventeen did not.

Across Europe, the diversity of languages and the multilingual demands may pose particular challenges for dyslexic children and adults given their language learning difficulties. However, according to the EDA, the group of European Citizens with dyslexia and specific learning disorders “encompasses between 9 and 12% (between 40 and 53.5 million) of the population”, navigating through life in a largely non-dyslexia friendly world, which is claimed to be an “ongoing challenge”.

The European Commission, however, released a report in 2013 stating that of the 445 million citizens within the European Union, 15 million of them had Special Educational Needs.
This equates to 3.3% of the block’s population.

European Commisson Report (2013)

The difference between the EU Commission’s estimate of the number of dyslexic people in the EU, and the European Dyslexia Association’s upper estimate of the number of dyslexic people in the EU amounts to a staggering 38.5 million people. In other words, the difference between the two organisations’ estimates is slightly more than the population of Poland (at about 38 million).

This is hardly surprising, considering the Commission released a report in 2013 stating that despite the universally accepted importance of supporting children with special educational needs, there is no common agreement in Europe of what constitutes special needs in education.

See for instance: