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Kaplan Brand Mark Logo Kaplan · 4 minute read


What is Neurodiversity? A focus on dyslexia

Learn Better series text with brain icon

We hear the term Neurodiversity often, but what does it actually mean for learners?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the spectrum of differences that exist as to the way brains function differently from each other. Neurodivergent refers to an individual who processes information differently from what might be considered standard or typical.

Most people are classed as neurotypical, meaning they process information in a manner that would be considered typical. In terms of behaviour, they tend to learn skills and reach developmental milestones around the same time as others. These words are chosen carefully to avoid using ‘normal’ and as a consequence ‘abnormal’. This is not about being politically correct but highlights that the differences can result in both positives and negatives depending on the circumstances.

Neurodiverse conditions

There are a whole range of different neurodiverse conditions, they include Dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum condition(ASD/ASC), Asperger’s syndrome and dyspraxia. In terms of how diverse we are as a nation, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent in some way, with the most common being dyslexia at around 10%, followed by ADHD.

“Being dyslexic, I was told that I was an idiot all the time.”

For completeness here are some further details of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned above:

  • Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words and spelling.
  • ADHD is commonly known as behavioural, resulting in people being restless, struggling to concentrate, and having a tendency to be impulsive. However, there is much more to ADHD than the common assumptions, while there are many different types that can vary for different people.
  • ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum, with people experiencing a wide variation in the type and severity of characteristics. The most common trait that people are aware of is difficulty with social communication and interaction, along with restricted, repetitive behaviours or interests. But, again, it can be much more than that.
  • Dyspraxia usually affects movement and coordination.

As mentioned, there is much more to be said about each condition. In many cases, characteristics can be almost unidentifiable which can lead to denied access to support. Other traits can affect a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. Each condition can vary depending on who you are, so if you don’t fit into any of these descriptions exactly, that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t apply to you. In addition, if someone displays some of those characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. It’s important to seek a diagnosis if you are not sure and want to know more.

“I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.”

In this case, we will focus more on dyslexia. Let’s take a deeper look.

What’s happening in the dyslexic brain?

Like many other neurodiverse conditions dyslexia results from the way in which the brain processes information. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has provided us with a unique picture of what is happening in the dyslexic brain, for example, we know that when people who are dyslexic read, a different part of their brain is activated.

“My mum got me a copy of a screenplay Emma [Thompson] had written. And I am dyslexic, and the way she got me over it was to say: “if Emma Thompson couldn’t read, she’d make sure she’d get over it. So you have to start reading because that’s what Emma Thompson would do.”

The main problem with the most common form of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, is that the brain finds it difficult to recognise phonemes, these are the basic sounds of speech, for example, the C in ‘cat’ is a phoneme. The impact is that it’s hard for the brain to connect the sound with the letter, making recognising words problematic. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to make the connection, comprehension is lost.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last part of the puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

What causes dyslexia?

Knowing what is actually happening inside the brain of someone with dyslexia is interesting. Still, there is perhaps a more pressing question: Why do some people have it and others do not?

Most of the evidence points to a genetic connection with some suggesting that if a parent has dyslexia there is a 40% to 60% chance of their children also being dyslexic. The risk is increased if the condition is known to exist in the wider family. That said, the degree to which anyone is impacted is less well known and it may be relatively mild and, as a result, will go undetected.

“I suffer from severe dyslexia. I was the only child on my block on Halloween to go ‘trick or trout’ … Here comes that young William’s boy. Better get some fish.”

What can you do?

Should you get a formal diagnosis? Well, it’s entirely up to you. It could be necessary especially if you require extra time for an exam. A diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is carried out by experienced specialist teachers and psychologists across the UK. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quotes an average fee of £515 for a specialist teacher and £670 for a psychologist. However, there are more cost-effective options available. If you just want to know a little more, there are many free checklists or screening options, including one from the BDA.

However, if you are a slow reader, have difficulty spelling, need to re-read paragraphs to better understand them and confuse similar words such as ‘dog’ and ‘dug’, then maybe you have enough information. Whatever route you choose for diagnosis, below are some positive steps that can help improve how you learn.

  • Do not use dyslexia as an excuse: it’s not who you are, nor a reason as to why you can’t succeed.
  • Recognise that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s a neurodivergent way of processing information.
  • You may find that podcasts, videos or other forms of audio/visual recordings are an easier way of taking in information. You can also listen to them several times.
  • Ask for and use dyslexic-friendly fonts. In a classic study, fonts that were found easier to read were Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans with a font size of 12-14. Another key takeaway was that italicising words severely decreases readability.
  • Make lists and produce notes in a bullet-style format. Also, consider using more visual techniques such as mind maps and diagrams.
  • Allow for the fact that it might take you more time, but tell yourself that you can do it.
  • Consider dyslexic tools such as coloured overlays, there are also many great apps out there that can help such as Voice Dream Reader which lets you listen to any document and ebook using text-to-speech.

The overall message is that we all process information in different ways, but a traditional learning environment does not always favour those with neurodivergent traits. However, take full advantage of all the support and remember that your school years may not have been your best event in the “decathlon of life,” but there will be other events at which you can and will excel.

“I think the advantage is my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, sometimes more interesting than I think the way everyone else does.”


I would like to thank two of my Kaplan colleagues Abbi Nolan and Kirsty Gibson for sharing their expertise and inspiring me to find out more about this fascinating and important subject.

Need more information?

At Kaplan, we offer support for anyone with additional learning needs or accessibility requirements. If you need any support, please contact us at als@kaplan.co.uk or find more information on our Accessibility page.

We dive deeper into the topic of Neurodiversity during our Learn Better Podcast in Series 3.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence-based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaplan

Find out more
An image of Stuart Pedley-Smith

Written by Stuart Pedley-Smith

Stuart is a qualified accountant with an extensive career in professional education. As Kaplan’s Head of Learning, he focuses on educational strategy and best practices, fostering a supportive learning culture and helping students achieve career success.

View all from Stuart Pedley-Smith


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What is Neurodiversity? A focus on dyslexia

Learn Better series text with brain icon

We hear the term Neurodiversity often, but what does it actually mean for learners?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the spectrum of differences that exist as to the way brains function differently from each other. Neurodivergent refers to an individual who processes information differently from what might be considered standard or typical.

Most people are classed as neurotypical, meaning they process information in a manner that would be considered typical. In terms of behaviour, they tend to learn skills and reach developmental milestones around the same time as others. These words are chosen carefully to avoid using ‘normal’ and as a consequence ‘abnormal’. This is not about being politically correct but highlights that the differences can result in both positives and negatives depending on the circumstances.

Neurodiverse conditions

There are a whole range of different neurodiverse conditions, they include Dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum condition(ASD/ASC), Asperger’s syndrome and dyspraxia. In terms of how diverse we are as a nation, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent in some way, with the most common being dyslexia at around 10%, followed by ADHD.

“Being dyslexic, I was told that I was an idiot all the time.”

For completeness here are some further details of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned above:

  • Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words and spelling.
  • ADHD is commonly known as behavioural, resulting in people being restless, struggling to concentrate, and having a tendency to be impulsive. However, there is much more to ADHD than the common assumptions, while there are many different types that can vary for different people.
  • ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum, with people experiencing a wide variation in the type and severity of characteristics. The most common trait that people are aware of is difficulty with social communication and interaction, along with restricted, repetitive behaviours or interests. But, again, it can be much more than that.
  • Dyspraxia usually affects movement and coordination.

As mentioned, there is much more to be said about each condition. In many cases, characteristics can be almost unidentifiable which can lead to denied access to support. Other traits can affect a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. Each condition can vary depending on who you are, so if you don’t fit into any of these descriptions exactly, that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t apply to you. In addition, if someone displays some of those characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. It’s important to seek a diagnosis if you are not sure and want to know more.

“I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.”

In this case, we will focus more on dyslexia. Let’s take a deeper look.

What’s happening in the dyslexic brain?

Like many other neurodiverse conditions dyslexia results from the way in which the brain processes information. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has provided us with a unique picture of what is happening in the dyslexic brain, for example, we know that when people who are dyslexic read, a different part of their brain is activated.

“My mum got me a copy of a screenplay Emma [Thompson] had written. And I am dyslexic, and the way she got me over it was to say: “if Emma Thompson couldn’t read, she’d make sure she’d get over it. So you have to start reading because that’s what Emma Thompson would do.”

The main problem with the most common form of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, is that the brain finds it difficult to recognise phonemes, these are the basic sounds of speech, for example, the C in ‘cat’ is a phoneme. The impact is that it’s hard for the brain to connect the sound with the letter, making recognising words problematic. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to make the connection, comprehension is lost.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last part of the puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

What causes dyslexia?

Knowing what is actually happening inside the brain of someone with dyslexia is interesting. Still, there is perhaps a more pressing question: Why do some people have it and others do not?

Most of the evidence points to a genetic connection with some suggesting that if a parent has dyslexia there is a 40% to 60% chance of their children also being dyslexic. The risk is increased if the condition is known to exist in the wider family. That said, the degree to which anyone is impacted is less well known and it may be relatively mild and, as a result, will go undetected.

“I suffer from severe dyslexia. I was the only child on my block on Halloween to go ‘trick or trout’ … Here comes that young William’s boy. Better get some fish.”

What can you do?

Should you get a formal diagnosis? Well, it’s entirely up to you. It could be necessary especially if you require extra time for an exam. A diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is carried out by experienced specialist teachers and psychologists across the UK. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quotes an average fee of £515 for a specialist teacher and £670 for a psychologist. However, there are more cost-effective options available. If you just want to know a little more, there are many free checklists or screening options, including one from the BDA.

However, if you are a slow reader, have difficulty spelling, need to re-read paragraphs to better understand them and confuse similar words such as ‘dog’ and ‘dug’, then maybe you have enough information. Whatever route you choose for diagnosis, below are some positive steps that can help improve how you learn.

  • Do not use dyslexia as an excuse: it’s not who you are, nor a reason as to why you can’t succeed.
  • Recognise that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s a neurodivergent way of processing information.
  • You may find that podcasts, videos or other forms of audio/visual recordings are an easier way of taking in information. You can also listen to them several times.
  • Ask for and use dyslexic-friendly fonts. In a classic study, fonts that were found easier to read were Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans with a font size of 12-14. Another key takeaway was that italicising words severely decreases readability.
  • Make lists and produce notes in a bullet-style format. Also, consider using more visual techniques such as mind maps and diagrams.
  • Allow for the fact that it might take you more time, but tell yourself that you can do it.
  • Consider dyslexic tools such as coloured overlays, there are also many great apps out there that can help such as Voice Dream Reader which lets you listen to any document and ebook using text-to-speech.

The overall message is that we all process information in different ways, but a traditional learning environment does not always favour those with neurodivergent traits. However, take full advantage of all the support and remember that your school years may not have been your best event in the “decathlon of life,” but there will be other events at which you can and will excel.

“I think the advantage is my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, sometimes more interesting than I think the way everyone else does.”


I would like to thank two of my Kaplan colleagues Abbi Nolan and Kirsty Gibson for sharing their expertise and inspiring me to find out more about this fascinating and important subject.

Need more information?

At Kaplan, we offer support for anyone with additional learning needs or accessibility requirements. If you need any support, please contact us at als@kaplan.co.uk or find more information on our Accessibility page.

We dive deeper into the topic of Neurodiversity during our Learn Better Podcast in Series 3.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence-based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaplan

Find out more
An image of Stuart Pedley-Smith

Written by Stuart Pedley-Smith

Stuart is a qualified accountant with an extensive career in professional education. As Kaplan’s Head of Learning, he focuses on educational strategy and best practices, fostering a supportive learning culture and helping students achieve career success.

View all from Stuart Pedley-Smith


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What is Neurodiversity? A focus on dyslexia

Learn Better series text with brain icon

We hear the term Neurodiversity often, but what does it actually mean for learners?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the spectrum of differences that exist as to the way brains function differently from each other. Neurodivergent refers to an individual who processes information differently from what might be considered standard or typical.

Most people are classed as neurotypical, meaning they process information in a manner that would be considered typical. In terms of behaviour, they tend to learn skills and reach developmental milestones around the same time as others. These words are chosen carefully to avoid using ‘normal’ and as a consequence ‘abnormal’. This is not about being politically correct but highlights that the differences can result in both positives and negatives depending on the circumstances.

Neurodiverse conditions

There are a whole range of different neurodiverse conditions, they include Dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum condition(ASD/ASC), Asperger’s syndrome and dyspraxia. In terms of how diverse we are as a nation, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent in some way, with the most common being dyslexia at around 10%, followed by ADHD.

“Being dyslexic, I was told that I was an idiot all the time.”

For completeness here are some further details of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned above:

  • Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words and spelling.
  • ADHD is commonly known as behavioural, resulting in people being restless, struggling to concentrate, and having a tendency to be impulsive. However, there is much more to ADHD than the common assumptions, while there are many different types that can vary for different people.
  • ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum, with people experiencing a wide variation in the type and severity of characteristics. The most common trait that people are aware of is difficulty with social communication and interaction, along with restricted, repetitive behaviours or interests. But, again, it can be much more than that.
  • Dyspraxia usually affects movement and coordination.

As mentioned, there is much more to be said about each condition. In many cases, characteristics can be almost unidentifiable which can lead to denied access to support. Other traits can affect a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. Each condition can vary depending on who you are, so if you don’t fit into any of these descriptions exactly, that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t apply to you. In addition, if someone displays some of those characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. It’s important to seek a diagnosis if you are not sure and want to know more.

“I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.”

In this case, we will focus more on dyslexia. Let’s take a deeper look.

What’s happening in the dyslexic brain?

Like many other neurodiverse conditions dyslexia results from the way in which the brain processes information. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has provided us with a unique picture of what is happening in the dyslexic brain, for example, we know that when people who are dyslexic read, a different part of their brain is activated.

“My mum got me a copy of a screenplay Emma [Thompson] had written. And I am dyslexic, and the way she got me over it was to say: “if Emma Thompson couldn’t read, she’d make sure she’d get over it. So you have to start reading because that’s what Emma Thompson would do.”

The main problem with the most common form of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, is that the brain finds it difficult to recognise phonemes, these are the basic sounds of speech, for example, the C in ‘cat’ is a phoneme. The impact is that it’s hard for the brain to connect the sound with the letter, making recognising words problematic. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to make the connection, comprehension is lost.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last part of the puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

What causes dyslexia?

Knowing what is actually happening inside the brain of someone with dyslexia is interesting. Still, there is perhaps a more pressing question: Why do some people have it and others do not?

Most of the evidence points to a genetic connection with some suggesting that if a parent has dyslexia there is a 40% to 60% chance of their children also being dyslexic. The risk is increased if the condition is known to exist in the wider family. That said, the degree to which anyone is impacted is less well known and it may be relatively mild and, as a result, will go undetected.

“I suffer from severe dyslexia. I was the only child on my block on Halloween to go ‘trick or trout’ … Here comes that young William’s boy. Better get some fish.”

What can you do?

Should you get a formal diagnosis? Well, it’s entirely up to you. It could be necessary especially if you require extra time for an exam. A diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is carried out by experienced specialist teachers and psychologists across the UK. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quotes an average fee of £515 for a specialist teacher and £670 for a psychologist. However, there are more cost-effective options available. If you just want to know a little more, there are many free checklists or screening options, including one from the BDA.

However, if you are a slow reader, have difficulty spelling, need to re-read paragraphs to better understand them and confuse similar words such as ‘dog’ and ‘dug’, then maybe you have enough information. Whatever route you choose for diagnosis, below are some positive steps that can help improve how you learn.

  • Do not use dyslexia as an excuse: it’s not who you are, nor a reason as to why you can’t succeed.
  • Recognise that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s a neurodivergent way of processing information.
  • You may find that podcasts, videos or other forms of audio/visual recordings are an easier way of taking in information. You can also listen to them several times.
  • Ask for and use dyslexic-friendly fonts. In a classic study, fonts that were found easier to read were Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans with a font size of 12-14. Another key takeaway was that italicising words severely decreases readability.
  • Make lists and produce notes in a bullet-style format. Also, consider using more visual techniques such as mind maps and diagrams.
  • Allow for the fact that it might take you more time, but tell yourself that you can do it.
  • Consider dyslexic tools such as coloured overlays, there are also many great apps out there that can help such as Voice Dream Reader which lets you listen to any document and ebook using text-to-speech.

The overall message is that we all process information in different ways, but a traditional learning environment does not always favour those with neurodivergent traits. However, take full advantage of all the support and remember that your school years may not have been your best event in the “decathlon of life,” but there will be other events at which you can and will excel.

“I think the advantage is my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, sometimes more interesting than I think the way everyone else does.”


I would like to thank two of my Kaplan colleagues Abbi Nolan and Kirsty Gibson for sharing their expertise and inspiring me to find out more about this fascinating and important subject.

Need more information?

At Kaplan, we offer support for anyone with additional learning needs or accessibility requirements. If you need any support, please contact us at als@kaplan.co.uk or find more information on our Accessibility page.

We dive deeper into the topic of Neurodiversity during our Learn Better Podcast in Series 3.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence-based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaplan

Find out more
An image of Stuart Pedley-Smith

Written by Stuart Pedley-Smith

Stuart is a qualified accountant with an extensive career in professional education. As Kaplan’s Head of Learning, he focuses on educational strategy and best practices, fostering a supportive learning culture and helping students achieve career success.

View all from Stuart Pedley-Smith


Related articles

Online learning: ALN, AI, and blended learning

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Kaplan · 6 minute read

How to tell a good story with financial modelling

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Are you looking to work in finance but you’re unsure whether it’s ‘too late’ for you to start? Here are five of our tips to get back into studying as a mature learner.

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Transformations

View all

What is Neurodiversity? A focus on dyslexia

Learn Better series text with brain icon

We hear the term Neurodiversity often, but what does it actually mean for learners?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the spectrum of differences that exist as to the way brains function differently from each other. Neurodivergent refers to an individual who processes information differently from what might be considered standard or typical.

Most people are classed as neurotypical, meaning they process information in a manner that would be considered typical. In terms of behaviour, they tend to learn skills and reach developmental milestones around the same time as others. These words are chosen carefully to avoid using ‘normal’ and as a consequence ‘abnormal’. This is not about being politically correct but highlights that the differences can result in both positives and negatives depending on the circumstances.

Neurodiverse conditions

There are a whole range of different neurodiverse conditions, they include Dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum condition(ASD/ASC), Asperger’s syndrome and dyspraxia. In terms of how diverse we are as a nation, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent in some way, with the most common being dyslexia at around 10%, followed by ADHD.

“Being dyslexic, I was told that I was an idiot all the time.”

For completeness here are some further details of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned above:

  • Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words and spelling.
  • ADHD is commonly known as behavioural, resulting in people being restless, struggling to concentrate, and having a tendency to be impulsive. However, there is much more to ADHD than the common assumptions, while there are many different types that can vary for different people.
  • ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum, with people experiencing a wide variation in the type and severity of characteristics. The most common trait that people are aware of is difficulty with social communication and interaction, along with restricted, repetitive behaviours or interests. But, again, it can be much more than that.
  • Dyspraxia usually affects movement and coordination.

As mentioned, there is much more to be said about each condition. In many cases, characteristics can be almost unidentifiable which can lead to denied access to support. Other traits can affect a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. Each condition can vary depending on who you are, so if you don’t fit into any of these descriptions exactly, that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t apply to you. In addition, if someone displays some of those characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. It’s important to seek a diagnosis if you are not sure and want to know more.

“I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.”

In this case, we will focus more on dyslexia. Let’s take a deeper look.

What’s happening in the dyslexic brain?

Like many other neurodiverse conditions dyslexia results from the way in which the brain processes information. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has provided us with a unique picture of what is happening in the dyslexic brain, for example, we know that when people who are dyslexic read, a different part of their brain is activated.

“My mum got me a copy of a screenplay Emma [Thompson] had written. And I am dyslexic, and the way she got me over it was to say: “if Emma Thompson couldn’t read, she’d make sure she’d get over it. So you have to start reading because that’s what Emma Thompson would do.”

The main problem with the most common form of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, is that the brain finds it difficult to recognise phonemes, these are the basic sounds of speech, for example, the C in ‘cat’ is a phoneme. The impact is that it’s hard for the brain to connect the sound with the letter, making recognising words problematic. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to make the connection, comprehension is lost.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last part of the puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

What causes dyslexia?

Knowing what is actually happening inside the brain of someone with dyslexia is interesting. Still, there is perhaps a more pressing question: Why do some people have it and others do not?

Most of the evidence points to a genetic connection with some suggesting that if a parent has dyslexia there is a 40% to 60% chance of their children also being dyslexic. The risk is increased if the condition is known to exist in the wider family. That said, the degree to which anyone is impacted is less well known and it may be relatively mild and, as a result, will go undetected.

“I suffer from severe dyslexia. I was the only child on my block on Halloween to go ‘trick or trout’ … Here comes that young William’s boy. Better get some fish.”

What can you do?

Should you get a formal diagnosis? Well, it’s entirely up to you. It could be necessary especially if you require extra time for an exam. A diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is carried out by experienced specialist teachers and psychologists across the UK. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quotes an average fee of £515 for a specialist teacher and £670 for a psychologist. However, there are more cost-effective options available. If you just want to know a little more, there are many free checklists or screening options, including one from the BDA.

However, if you are a slow reader, have difficulty spelling, need to re-read paragraphs to better understand them and confuse similar words such as ‘dog’ and ‘dug’, then maybe you have enough information. Whatever route you choose for diagnosis, below are some positive steps that can help improve how you learn.

  • Do not use dyslexia as an excuse: it’s not who you are, nor a reason as to why you can’t succeed.
  • Recognise that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s a neurodivergent way of processing information.
  • You may find that podcasts, videos or other forms of audio/visual recordings are an easier way of taking in information. You can also listen to them several times.
  • Ask for and use dyslexic-friendly fonts. In a classic study, fonts that were found easier to read were Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans with a font size of 12-14. Another key takeaway was that italicising words severely decreases readability.
  • Make lists and produce notes in a bullet-style format. Also, consider using more visual techniques such as mind maps and diagrams.
  • Allow for the fact that it might take you more time, but tell yourself that you can do it.
  • Consider dyslexic tools such as coloured overlays, there are also many great apps out there that can help such as Voice Dream Reader which lets you listen to any document and ebook using text-to-speech.

The overall message is that we all process information in different ways, but a traditional learning environment does not always favour those with neurodivergent traits. However, take full advantage of all the support and remember that your school years may not have been your best event in the “decathlon of life,” but there will be other events at which you can and will excel.

“I think the advantage is my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, sometimes more interesting than I think the way everyone else does.”


I would like to thank two of my Kaplan colleagues Abbi Nolan and Kirsty Gibson for sharing their expertise and inspiring me to find out more about this fascinating and important subject.

Need more information?

At Kaplan, we offer support for anyone with additional learning needs or accessibility requirements. If you need any support, please contact us at als@kaplan.co.uk or find more information on our Accessibility page.

We dive deeper into the topic of Neurodiversity during our Learn Better Podcast in Series 3.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence-based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaplan

Find out more
An image of Stuart Pedley-Smith

Written by Stuart Pedley-Smith

Stuart is a qualified accountant with an extensive career in professional education. As Kaplan’s Head of Learning, he focuses on educational strategy and best practices, fostering a supportive learning culture and helping students achieve career success.

View all from Stuart Pedley-Smith


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What is Neurodiversity? A focus on dyslexia

Learn Better series text with brain icon

We hear the term Neurodiversity often, but what does it actually mean for learners?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the spectrum of differences that exist as to the way brains function differently from each other. Neurodivergent refers to an individual who processes information differently from what might be considered standard or typical.

Most people are classed as neurotypical, meaning they process information in a manner that would be considered typical. In terms of behaviour, they tend to learn skills and reach developmental milestones around the same time as others. These words are chosen carefully to avoid using ‘normal’ and as a consequence ‘abnormal’. This is not about being politically correct but highlights that the differences can result in both positives and negatives depending on the circumstances.

Neurodiverse conditions

There are a whole range of different neurodiverse conditions, they include Dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum condition(ASD/ASC), Asperger’s syndrome and dyspraxia. In terms of how diverse we are as a nation, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent in some way, with the most common being dyslexia at around 10%, followed by ADHD.

“Being dyslexic, I was told that I was an idiot all the time.”

For completeness here are some further details of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned above:

  • Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words and spelling.
  • ADHD is commonly known as behavioural, resulting in people being restless, struggling to concentrate, and having a tendency to be impulsive. However, there is much more to ADHD than the common assumptions, while there are many different types that can vary for different people.
  • ASD, as the name suggests, is a spectrum, with people experiencing a wide variation in the type and severity of characteristics. The most common trait that people are aware of is difficulty with social communication and interaction, along with restricted, repetitive behaviours or interests. But, again, it can be much more than that.
  • Dyspraxia usually affects movement and coordination.

As mentioned, there is much more to be said about each condition. In many cases, characteristics can be almost unidentifiable which can lead to denied access to support. Other traits can affect a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. Each condition can vary depending on who you are, so if you don’t fit into any of these descriptions exactly, that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t apply to you. In addition, if someone displays some of those characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. It’s important to seek a diagnosis if you are not sure and want to know more.

“I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.”

In this case, we will focus more on dyslexia. Let’s take a deeper look.

What’s happening in the dyslexic brain?

Like many other neurodiverse conditions dyslexia results from the way in which the brain processes information. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has provided us with a unique picture of what is happening in the dyslexic brain, for example, we know that when people who are dyslexic read, a different part of their brain is activated.

“My mum got me a copy of a screenplay Emma [Thompson] had written. And I am dyslexic, and the way she got me over it was to say: “if Emma Thompson couldn’t read, she’d make sure she’d get over it. So you have to start reading because that’s what Emma Thompson would do.”

The main problem with the most common form of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, is that the brain finds it difficult to recognise phonemes, these are the basic sounds of speech, for example, the C in ‘cat’ is a phoneme. The impact is that it’s hard for the brain to connect the sound with the letter, making recognising words problematic. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to make the connection, comprehension is lost.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last part of the puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

What causes dyslexia?

Knowing what is actually happening inside the brain of someone with dyslexia is interesting. Still, there is perhaps a more pressing question: Why do some people have it and others do not?

Most of the evidence points to a genetic connection with some suggesting that if a parent has dyslexia there is a 40% to 60% chance of their children also being dyslexic. The risk is increased if the condition is known to exist in the wider family. That said, the degree to which anyone is impacted is less well known and it may be relatively mild and, as a result, will go undetected.

“I suffer from severe dyslexia. I was the only child on my block on Halloween to go ‘trick or trout’ … Here comes that young William’s boy. Better get some fish.”

What can you do?

Should you get a formal diagnosis? Well, it’s entirely up to you. It could be necessary especially if you require extra time for an exam. A diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is carried out by experienced specialist teachers and psychologists across the UK. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quotes an average fee of £515 for a specialist teacher and £670 for a psychologist. However, there are more cost-effective options available. If you just want to know a little more, there are many free checklists or screening options, including one from the BDA.

However, if you are a slow reader, have difficulty spelling, need to re-read paragraphs to better understand them and confuse similar words such as ‘dog’ and ‘dug’, then maybe you have enough information. Whatever route you choose for diagnosis, below are some positive steps that can help improve how you learn.

  • Do not use dyslexia as an excuse: it’s not who you are, nor a reason as to why you can’t succeed.
  • Recognise that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s a neurodivergent way of processing information.
  • You may find that podcasts, videos or other forms of audio/visual recordings are an easier way of taking in information. You can also listen to them several times.
  • Ask for and use dyslexic-friendly fonts. In a classic study, fonts that were found easier to read were Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans with a font size of 12-14. Another key takeaway was that italicising words severely decreases readability.
  • Make lists and produce notes in a bullet-style format. Also, consider using more visual techniques such as mind maps and diagrams.
  • Allow for the fact that it might take you more time, but tell yourself that you can do it.
  • Consider dyslexic tools such as coloured overlays, there are also many great apps out there that can help such as Voice Dream Reader which lets you listen to any document and ebook using text-to-speech.

The overall message is that we all process information in different ways, but a traditional learning environment does not always favour those with neurodivergent traits. However, take full advantage of all the support and remember that your school years may not have been your best event in the “decathlon of life,” but there will be other events at which you can and will excel.

“I think the advantage is my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, sometimes more interesting than I think the way everyone else does.”


I would like to thank two of my Kaplan colleagues Abbi Nolan and Kirsty Gibson for sharing their expertise and inspiring me to find out more about this fascinating and important subject.

Need more information?

At Kaplan, we offer support for anyone with additional learning needs or accessibility requirements. If you need any support, please contact us at als@kaplan.co.uk or find more information on our Accessibility page.

We dive deeper into the topic of Neurodiversity during our Learn Better Podcast in Series 3.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence-based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaplan

Find out more
An image of Stuart Pedley-Smith

Written by Stuart Pedley-Smith

Stuart is a qualified accountant with an extensive career in professional education. As Kaplan’s Head of Learning, he focuses on educational strategy and best practices, fostering a supportive learning culture and helping students achieve career success.

View all from Stuart Pedley-Smith


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