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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Yeong

Dyslexia vs. Specific Learning Disorder

If you have noticed your child struggling to read when others their age have picked up reading easily, you may wonder if your child has dyslexia. Dyslexia is also known as Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading. The term Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-V), which is used by mental health professionals to guide the classification of disorders. Because Specific Learning Disorders can affect particular academic areas, this means that an individual can show impairment in academic areas of either reading, written expression, or mathematics. They may even show difficulties in two or all three of those academic areas.

Specific Learning Disorders look different for each individual. In addition, the functional impact of the SLD also differs. Some of the common features of dyslexia include poor reading accuracy (e.g., guessing and substituting words), taking longer than others to read, and reading that takes more effort and is laborious. Because of these reading difficulties, individuals may also struggle to understand what they have read. Consequently, these individuals avoid reading activities, may be reluctant to engage in reading activities, or struggle to pay attention at literacy time.


To be diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disorder, or dyslexia, the DSM-V adopts a Response to Intervention (RTI) model. The DSM-V states that difficulties have to have persisted and failed to improve as expected, despite the provision of targeted intervention for at least six months. This means that the assessing psychologist will consider the intervention that an individual has received and whether the individual has made progress in his literacy skills with this intervention. Furthermore, there cannot be other factors, such as inadequate school instruction or severe language difficulties, that can better account for those learning difficulties.


If you are concerned about your child’s reading progress, you should first check in with your child’s teacher. Thereafter, you may decide how to best provide support for your child to ensure they are progressing. Finally, if you feel that your child continues to demonstrate difficulties, you may want to consult with a psychologist to determine if your child presents with a Specific Learning Disorder.

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