A Glossary of SpLD Terms

Acataphasia - Difficulty in expressing ideas in logical sequence, characterized by difficulties with phrasing and sentence structure of speech.

Accommodation - The eye's way of changing its focusing distance. Necessary when, for example, copying from a board to a book.

ACID profile - An acronym for four sub-tests in the Weschler Intelligence scale for children, Arithmetic, Coding, Information, and Digit span. Noticeably low scores in one or more of these tests, in relation to the others, are usually indicative of dyslexia.

Acquired dyslexia - Any symptoms usually associated with dyslexia caused by trauma or damage to the brain, such as a head injury or a brain tumour. There are four types, of which the three principle are: deep dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, surface dyslexia

ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder. An extreme lack of ability to concentrate.

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. An extreme lack of ability to concentrate, combined with compulsive restlessness. Both ADHD and ADD are frequently treated with drugs, of which Ritalin is the best known. There is a significant body of opinion which believes the problems are caused, in part or wholly, by additives in foodstuffs such as crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks.

Affix - A prefix or a suffix added to a root word to make another word with a changed meaning: disappearance

Alexia - An inability to perceive letter forms correctly; a type of reading disability usually associated with neurological dysfunction caused by illness or brain injury. There can be difficulties understanding speech or choosing words.

Alliteration - The occurrence of the same letter or sound in successive or closely placed words, as in around the rugged rocks the ragged rascals, etc

Ambylopia - A vision defect involving lowered visual acuity (clarity) and/or poor muscle control in one eye. The result is often a loss of stereoscopic vision (3D) and depth perception. Sometimes known as lazy eye

Aphasia - A disorder of the speech function which shows as a loss of ability to understand or express written or spoken language; caused by brain damage such as a head injury, a tumour or a stroke. Motor or expressive aphasia is the inability to use speech; sensory or receptive aphasia is the inability to understand speech.

Asperger's Syndrome- A condition characterized by normal intelligence and language development, but marked deficiencies in social and communication skills and difficulties with transitions or changes. Those with the syndrome often have obsessive routines and become preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. (Learn more via OAASIS, on our Links page)

Astigmatism - A defect of vision due to irregularities in the curvature in the refracting surfaces, which produces distorted images.

Auditory discrimination - The ability to hear the difference or similarity between sounds in phonemes, syllables and words.

Auditory dyslexia - Difficulty turning speech into written symbols; with hearing phonic elements accurately and representing them with the correct letters.

Auditory memory - The ability to remember sounds which have been heard, whether the sounds of letters in a word, or the sounds of several words. This skill is tested by Digit Span, one of the subtests used in the WISC.

Auditory perception - The ability to discriminate similar sounds, as three and free. There is not necessarily a hearing problem.

Auditory processing - Listening to, understanding, relating and reacting to information acquired through hearing.

Automaticity - The ability to read, say or understand a word without having to think about it.

Binocular vision - When both eyes work together smoothly, accurately, equally and simultaneously. If this is defective, the result is a partial or total loss of binocular depth perception and stereoscopic vision.

Blending - the bringing together of the sounds of a word to form the whole word. Consonant blends such as tr, str also need to be blended.

Breve - see diacritical marks

CA - Chronological Age; often used in conjunction with a Spelling Age, Reading Age or Vocabulary Age to indicate the subject's level of ability in a standardized test. The discrepancy between the ages is a measure of the weakness or strength of the subject.

Centile - Used in psychometric tests to describe a Percentile

Cloze procedure - A technique involving the deletion of letters or words from a printed passage; the reader provides the missing letters or words, sometimes selecting them from a list provided.

Congenital - A condition existing from birth.

Consonant - Any letter of the alphabet which is not a vowel.

Consonant blend - Two or more consonants sounded together correctly when reading, writing, or pronouncing a word, as sk in skip or sl in slip

Consonant digraph - Two letters which make one speech sound and not a blend of the two letters, such as th in the.

Convergence - The ability of the eyes to meet comfortably together at a set point.

Cross-lateral - Not having a preference for using one side of the body only with regard to hand, eye, ear, and foot.

Decode - To match sounds to symbols to read words correctly. The opposite of encode. A reading test consisting of single words requires decoding; a different, and possible more accurate, measure of reading ability can be obtained using continuous text (sentences).

Deep dyslexia - Includes semantic errors which relate to meaning when reading.

Diacritical marks - Signs used above vowels to indicate whether they are long or short. A breve ( a smile) goes above a short vowel; a macron (a flat line) goes above a long vowel.

Diagnostic - Used of a test designed to identify strengths or weaknesses, as opposed to one which merely provides a score.

Digraph - Two successive letters which make one sound, as th in this or ea in speak.

Diphthong - Two vowels representing one vowel sound, such as ui in fruit.

Dyscalculia - An inability to perform the operations of arithmetic.

Dysgraphia - An inability to handwrite with consistent legibility.


  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
  • Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.
  • It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
  • Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
  • A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.

[ref: Rose 2009]


Dyspraxia - A condition characterised by difficulties with co-ordination, frequently with evidence of significant planning and perceptual problems.

Dysqwertya - An irresistible neologism. The making of spelling errors, especially transpositions such as fro for for, by those typing with two fingers of each hand who otherwise have no particular spelling difficulties.

Encode - To write words, with correct spelling, from hearing them.

Etiology - The underlying causes of difficulty.

Glue ear - Secretory otitis media - a collection of fluid behind the ear-drum. An operation for alleviating this condition is carried out by the insertion of a grommet (a tube passed through the ear-drum).

Grapheme - A written letter or letters representing a phoneme. There are 118 written forms of the 42 phonemes of English speech. The phoneme oo can be written in 11 graphemes - food, do, dew, due, fruit, through, you, shoe, neutral, two, lieu.

Homograph - A word spelt like another, but having a different meaning, derivation or pronunciation eg bow (loop): bow (bend at the waist)

Homonym - A word having the same sound or spelling as another, but with a different meaning eg sole (of foot): sole (only)

Homophone - A word having the same sound as another but differing in meaning; eg threw: through

Inversion - The result of confusing the vertical representation of a symbol: u/n, 6/9, b/p

IQ - Intelligence Quotient. A number relating the ratio of a person's intelligence to the average for their age. Average is 100. A Full Scale IQ is calculated from performance on up to 12 sub-tests, half providing a Verbal Score and the other half a Performance Score. The Performance sub-tests do not require verbal or literacy ability.

Kinaesthetic - The use of feeling and muscular effort to learn; thus, for example, finger-tracing letters made of sandpaper or velvet can place the shapes in motor memory so that the shape and how to form it are learned

Language disorders - There are many types but most can be recognised among five main categories:-
phonological disorder - difficulties reproducing heard speech accurately
Semantic disorder - problems with the meaning of words and sentences
Syntactic disorder - problems saying words in sequence
Morphological disorder - problems dealing with suffixes modifying the meanings of the root words to which they are attached.
Pragmatic disorder - relating to use of language.

Laterality - The side of the body preferred by the user. This usually refers to the eye, ear, hand, or foot. Someone is cross-lateral if they are not one-side dominant eg right-handed and right-eyed but left-eared.

Long vowel - A vowel which says its name: A in April, E in he

Macron - see diacritical marks

Methodology - The technique used to teach, as direct, dictated, multi-sensory. As many dyslexics will testify, this could also include a raised voice and ridicule.

Miscue analysis - The diagnosis of reading or spelling problems by analysing a written record of errors made.

Mnemonic - A device (visual, auditory, verbal) that helps to prompt memory. Thus, Big Elephants Can Always Upset Small Elephants is a mnemonic to remember the spelling of because.

Morpheme - A meaningful unit of a word that cannot be reduced: in, come and -ing are morphemes of incoming.

Motor - Of the muscles. Motor memory is what the body has learned to do by frequent repetition. Fine motor skills usually involve the fingers and hands, requiring small or delicate movement such as handwriting or winding a watch; gross motor skills describe large movements, as of the arms and legs, such as using shears or throwing/kicking a ball.

Multi-sensory - The use of several senses together in learning or problem-solving. So, saying letters aloud when spelling involves the eyes, the hand, the mouth and the ears. The stronger senses reinforce the weaker.

Nystagmus - Unco-ordinated rapid eye movements.

Ocular pursuit - Following a moving target with ease. This requires convergence and co-ordinated tracking skills.

Oculo-motor problems - Vision difficulties caused by a failure of the eye muscles to work efficiently. There are problems with focusing, fixation, tracking or scanning. Difficulties can include the eyes jumping off the line, the text appearing to move and problems copying from a board, amongst a range of others. These problems are not always identified by a standard eye-test, and can be misdiagnosed as photosensitivity.

Onset - The initial consonant(s) of a word: sk in skip

Opsimath - One who begins to learn late in life [Included for fun - the compiler wishes he had known this word when speaking to parents whose children were quite unable to learn anything - a comment like "Well, Mrs Blank, I'm very happy to be able to tell you that little Johnny may well turn out to be an opsimath" would be so much better than the usual euphemisms and evasions. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people failing dismally in school, but earning high academic honours later on.]

Orthography - Correct or conventional spelling.

Percentile - A ranking position in 100 people. Someone scoring at percentile 75 is achieving better than 74 in that hundred; 25 would be expected to score better. By extension, this ranking includes the ranking position in the population as a whole.

Perceptual difficulties - A poor ability at interpreting visual or auditory stimuli. It can also include difficulties understanding information from several sensory channels.

Perseveration - The repetition or insertion of syllables within words such as rememember for remember.

Phoneme - The minimal sound unit of a language. O is a phoneme represented by a number of graphemes such as toe, known, boat.

Phonics - Use of the sounds of letters, their blends and combinations, to build up words.

Phonogram - A symbol representing a spoken sound

Phonological awareness - The ability to recognise different sounds within words

Phonological dyslexia - Includes an inability to read nonsense words due to problems identifying the sounds in them

Photosensitivity - a condition in which the eyes are sensitive to light; this can cause problems seeing black print clearly against the brightness of the page.

Prefix - A syllable added to the beginning of a word to alter the meaning. un+happy=unhappy

Raw score - The number of marks obtained, usually the number of correct responses on a test. On a standardized test, a raw score can be converted into a standardised score, from which a percentile can be obtained.

RA - Reading Age

Reversal - The confusion of place or order of one letter or word with another such as d/b, p/q, no/on, was/saw, 48/84

Rime - The consonants after the vowel in a word.

Ritalin - A drug used to control hyperactivity. Proprietary brand name

Saccade - A short, quickly focused eye movement.

Saccadic movement - The sudden movement of the eyes from one fixation point to another, as in reading. It is not unusual for a dyslexic's eyes to make bigger movements, with longer fixation periods, than those on non-dyslexics; this can cause perceptual difficulties.

Schwa - The indistinct unstressed vowel sound "uh", as in a moment ago

Scotopic sensitivity - A condition in which the eyes are sensitive to light - see photosensitivity

Semantic - Relating to the meaning of words; understanding words in different contexts

SENCO - Special Needs Co-Ordinator; the teacher responsible for a school's arrangements and provision for pupils with special educational needs.

Sequence - The order in which information should be placed: the alphabet, times tables, months of the year, facts or ideas in written material

Short-term memory - Storage of information for a short time only [for children this includes instructions to stay clean, for men any verbally-presented domestic instructions, and for women the punch-lines to jokes]. Short-term memory can be auditory or visual and is for storage and repetition; it might include names or telephone numbers. Information must be firmly established in short-term memory before it can be transferred to long-term memory. For SpLD students, this can require considerable patient repetition

Short vowel - A vowel making a short sound: a in cat, e in pet

Sound/symbol confusion - A difficulty in knowing what sounds symbols make, or which symbols to use to represent sounds: weec for weak

SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulties: that is, learning difficulties caused by a specific weakness such as memory, visual or auditory perception or the ability to sequence letters, words or ideas. Once known as SLD, sometimes given as an acronym for Some Learn Different, and a constructive viewpoint from which to approach their teaching.

Standardised score - (usually abbreviated to SS on reports) A score obtained, using tables, to turn a raw score into one which enables meaningful comparisons across different age levels. Standardised scores usually range between 60 and 140, with 100 being average (Percentile 50). 50% of subjects fall into the average band (90 to 110 - Percentile 25 to Percentile 75)

Standardised test - A test which has been tried out on a sample of a particular population (for example British school children aged between nine years and 12 years). Scores are distributed from the results - the raw score can then be converted to a standardised score; frequently this can then be converted to a percentile. Standardised tests enable those taking them to be compared in ability to others of similar age.

Stanine - A nine-point scale reflecting percentiles and standardised scores. The average band is 4 to 6, with 5 being average (Standardised scores 97 to 103, Percentiles 41 to 60)

Statement - A Statement of Educational Needs is a document issued by an LEA to say that a child has special educational needs more profound than can be accommodated by standard provision. The child has been assessed and his/her needs are detailed, as is the provision necessary to meet them. The ease with which a statement can be obtained varies from one LEA to another.

Substitution - Using words or letters other than those that are correct when reading or spelling: snack for snake when reading, ecspect for expect when spelling

Suffix - A letter, letters or syllable added to the end of a word - run - s, jump - ed, read - ing

Surface dyslexia - Includes a disturbance between a person's visual word recognition and the semantic knowledge

Syllabification - The process or method of dividing polysyllabic words into their syllables. re - mem - ber

Syllable - One or more letters forming a word or part of a word, containing a single vowel sound: re - mem - ber, ice, hap-pen

Symbolic - Of symbols (letters or numerals). It is possible to have a poor symbolic visual memory, but a good visual memory for images (eg faces or places), and vice versa

Syndrome - A specific disorder characterised by an accepted combination of symptoms

Syntax - The grammatical arrangement of words.

Telescoping - Omitting one or more syllables within a word, such as rember for remember.

Tracking - The ability of the eyes to move smoothly in the desired direction

Transposing - Placing letters in the wrong position when reading or writing. Jhon for John

Visual acuity - The quality and sharpness of vision.

Visual discrimination - The ability to detect the differences in shape, size and formation of symbols (letters, numbers or shapes) and objects.

Visual dyslexia - An inability to process visual information normally.

Visual memory - The ability to remember a visual image accurately; this could be a word, a number or an object.

Visuo motor difficulties - Difficulties in carrying out motor tasks which require visual control, such as writing or drawing.

Visual spatial difficulties - Difficulty in recognising and distinguishing written symbols; in reproducing letters or groups of letters correctly; confusing or reversing letters, and confusing the order of letters in reading and writing.

VSM - see Visual Sequential Memory

Visual discrimination - the ability to detect differences and similarities in size, shape, colour and pattern.

Visual sequential memory - The ability to remember images, whether letters, numbers or objects, in a given order. Memory of orientation is as necessary as of sequence.

Vowel - The letters a, e, i, o, and u are vowels; y, which can be interchangeable with i, is sometimes considered a vowel.

WAIS - Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale. The grown-up version of WISC. Applicable to those aged 18 and upwards

WISC - Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children. a widely used test for measuring intelligence (IQ). Up to12 sub-tests are usually administered; some provide the performance IQ, some the verbal IQ. A full-scale IQ is achieved from these figures. The individual sub-tests indicate strengths and weaknesses in the performance of the subject. This test can only be administered by an educational psychologist. For further information on these tests, see the Patoss factsheet Understanding Educational Psychologists' Reports, under Publications.

Working memory - The memory required if information is to be added to or manipulated, such as when problem-solving.

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