What do we know about Dyslexia in Our Learners

By Dr Wu Chiao-Yi
Education Research Scientist, OER Centre for Research in Child Development
Research Scientist, National Institute of Education - Office of Education Research
Published: 1 August 2022

Overview of Behavioural Disabilities

Developmental dyslexia is characterized by persistent difficulties in reading and/or writing that cannot be explained by sensory or cognitive deficits, lack of motivation, or inadequate reading instruction. Dyslexia is a heritable learning disability, and thus it is common for siblings or parents of children with dyslexia to show poor reading and/or writing skills. Compared to typical readers, children with dyslexia show differences in functional activation and structure in the brain regions involved in reading. These brain regions are engaged when we decode how sounds are represented in words and when we recognize what written words look like.

The severity of dyslexia can range from mild to moderate to severe. Examples of the signs and symptoms experienced by children with dyslexia include:

  • Difficulty in reading words accurately and/or fluently

  • Poor spelling and writing skills

  • Struggle with phonological processing (i.e., difficulty in discriminating and manipulating sounds in words)

  • Difficulty in learning the relationship between letters and sounds

  • Frequent errors in reading and/or spelling common words

  • Problem with reading comprehension

The Singapore Context

In Singapore, the prevalence rate of dyslexia is up to 10 % as reported by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore. Upon school entry at Primary 1, students are screened for their English language and literacy ability through the Early Literacy Indicator. Those with language and literacy difficulties are identified and early intervention is provided through the Learning Support Programme (LSP). Students who have persistent difficulties in reading and/or writing despite LSP need to receive further screening for formal dyslexia identification by qualified educational psychologists.

Singapore implements a bilingual education system. While the diagnosis of dyslexia in Singapore is primarily based on the English literacy performance, students who are diagnosed with dyslexia in English may apply for Mother Tongue Language exemption in mainstream primary schools. This implies that (1) dyslexia in the mother tongue languages is often overlooked, and (2) students with dyslexia in English may have reduced exposure to learning to read in other languages. However, research has shown that dyslexia in different languages may affect differentiated skills for reading and writing in each language. The differences may be attributed to specific linguistic features in each language (Wu & O’Brien, under review). Other research suggests that individuals with dyslexia in one language may still be able to learn to read in other languages, and that learning multiple strategies for reading may facilitate overall reading ability (Zhou et al., 2014). Therefore, for bilingual learners, it is important to evaluate reading and language skills for each language and to consider language learning separately.

In Practice

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, and children with dyslexia do not outgrow their learning condition. Without proper support, children with dyslexia may end up falling behind their peers in academic performance due to reading and/or writing difficulties, which may in turn lead to social and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. Before receiving formal reading instruction, children at-risk for developing dyslexia show poorer performance in linguistic skills such as phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and rapid automatized naming (Zuk et al., 2020). Hence, it is possible to identify children at-risk for dyslexia at kindergarten.

Previous studies have suggested that early identification and intervention is the key to helping children manage the challenges and succeed in school and in life. Several teaching approaches and strategies have been shown to be effective in helping children with dyslexia improve their reading and writing skills. With early intervention, at-risk children could develop typical reading and/or writing skills comparable to their peers. The Orton-Gillingham approach (https://www.ortonacademy.org/resources/what-is-the-orton-gillingham-approach/) is one of the well-known approaches that adopts multisensory techniques to teach literacy to individuals with dyslexia.


  • Dyslexia is characterized by persistent difficulties in reading and/or writing.

  • Dyslexia has nothing to do with intellectual disabilities, sensory problems, or inadequate learning resources.

  • Individuals with dyslexia do not outgrow dyslexia, but adequate intervention can help them manage the challenges and improve their reading and/or writing skills.

  • Dyslexia is heritable, and early identification of at-risk children enables early remediation.

  • It is important to consider reading and language abilities for each language separately for bilinguals with dyslexia as dyslexia in one language may not necessarily impact reading and writing skills in the other.


Wu, C.-Y., & O’Brien, B. A. (under review). Brain Signatures of Reading within Different Types of Learners and across Written Languages: Evidence and Implications for Education.

Zhou, Y., McBride-Chang, C., Law, A. B.-Y., Li, T., Cheung, A. C.-Y., Wong, A. M. Y., & Shu, H. (2014). Development of reading-related skills in Chinese and English among Hong Kong Chinese children with and without dyslexia. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 122, 75-91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2013.12.003.

Zuk, J., Dunstan, J., Norton, E., Yu, X., Ozernov-Palchik, O., Wang, Y., . . . Gaab, N. (2021). Multifactorial pathways facilitate resilience among kindergarteners at risk for dyslexia: A longitudinal behavioral and neuroimaging study. Developmental Science, 24(1), e12983. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12983.


Wu, C.-Y. (2022, August 1). What do we know about Dyslexia in Our Learners. Child and Human Development, Life@NIE SG®. https://nie.edu.sg/chd/topics/special-education/dyslexia