We often get asked by parents and teachers who are worried about a child’s reading difficulties, “do they have dyslexia?”. Others ask, “is he just lazy?”. In an attempt to help everyone make sense of the terms used to describe different types of learning difficulties and the underlying causes we’ve summarised this and provided explanations of some of the alternative terms in this post for you.

A Bit of Background:

Historically children with reading difficulties were often incorrectly assumed to have an underlying cognitive deficit (intellectual impairment) and then there was a surge of interest in underlying visual deficits being the cause. There have been so many different terms and theories that have risen in and fallen out of favour in the past 100 years. It’s no wonder everyone is a bit confused now.

The latest terminology is described  in the updated 2013 DSM-5 diagnostic subtypes of Specific Learning Disorder:

1. Specific learning disorder with impairment in reading.

Includes possible deficits in:

  • Word reading accuracy
  • Reading rate or fluency
  • Reading comprehension

DSM-5 diagnostic code 315.00.

Note: Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding and poor spelling abilities.

2. Specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression. 

Includes possible deficits in:

  • Spelling accuracy
  • Grammar and punctuation accuracy
  • Clarity or organization of written expression

DSM-5 diagnostic code 315.2.

3. Specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics.

Includes possible deficits in:

  • Number sense
  • Memorization of arithmetic facts
  • Accurate or fluent calculation
  • Accurate math reasoning

So all of these 3 types of learning disorder are now considered under the one overarching banner and then additional specific descriptions of areas of deficit can provide additional information regarding an individual child’s learning profile. Generally these children do not present with any cognitive/intellectual impairment but many of these children do have co-occurring language disorders.

Hopefully that gives a little more clarity around current terminology for you!