Dyslexic - Is That My Child?
Reading, writing, spelling difficulties - could the problems your child is facing be indicative of dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a common difficulty, but that does not make it less of a problem. Despite its being so well recognised, there are still those who deny its existence or, more subtly, underestimate or ignore the significance of the problem for a particular individual.
A child with dyslexia?
Dyslexia is primarily about difficulties with reading, spelling and writing. It is very difficult for any individual to realise why they are different. They may recognise that what they can and cannot do is different, for example spelling accurately or remembering times-table facts, but they are unlikely to know why.
Dysleixia is a life-long condition that cannot be cured but with appropriate, timely help and intervention and good use of coping strategies its impact and effects may be minimised. Some associated difficulties can be identified and treated; for example, glue ear (otitis media), common in children with dyslexia, can affect the acquisition of auditory discrimination skills, which in turn affects the development of phonics in reading. Other aids, such as coloured lenses (it is important to screen for this), are likely to be effective in only 20 per cent of cases.
The dyslexic child is the child who usually:
- Fails at school despite adequate intelligence.
- Writes 41 for 14, reads ‘on’ for ‘no’, writes b for d and can’t remember the sequence of letters that make up a word.
- Hears a clock ticking, the sound of pencils scratching on paper, but doesn't hear what the teacher says.
- Forgets names of people, places, his own phone number, date of birth, but remembers the ads on TV.
- Loses homework, misplaces a book, doesn't know what day it is.
- Has a messy room, a shirttail hanging out, shoelaces undone, attracts dirt like a magnet.
- Doesn't look where he is going, bumps into doors, doesn't look at the person who is talking to him.
- Has trouble lining up, doesn't stop talking, fiddles with anything and everything.
- Calls breakfast ‘lunch’, says ‘Good morning’ in the afternoon, has little sense of time.
- Has a limited concentration span, especially with anything written.
- Is reluctant to try new things, to accept even minor changes in routine.
- Says ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I won’t’ when he means ‘I can’t’, and would rather be labelled bad than stupid.
- The quiet child who has withdrawn from involvement in any classroom activity.
- The child who has a headache or tummy ache on the same day each week, the day of the lesson he dreads.
Indicators of dyslexia
- Dyslexia in the family.
- Problems with speech and language, including mispronouncing or jumbling words, poor use of syntax, difficulties with rhymes, inaccurate and inconsistent use of words, word-naming problems.
- Problems with sequencing, and poor organisational skills including difficulty dressing.
- Visual difficulties - standard eye tests may reveal perfect vision, but there may be underlying problems with tracking, ordering or sorting.
- There may be auditory difficulties. The child may hear, but not be able to distinguish sounds. Hearing test results may be normal, but the child may have problems remembering a string of instructions, learning nursery or other rhymes, learning tables, the alphabet, days of the week or months of the year, or have poor rhythm.
- Counting, especially counting backwards, may be problematic.
- Fine motor skill problems may be apparent – perhaps holding a pencil awkwardly, having difficulty with scissors or cutlery, problems tying shoe laces.
- Gross motor skill difficulties may be apparent: the child may be slow to hop, skip or jump, appear clumsy and bump into things, have difficulty distinguishing right from left.
In isolation or indeed in young children these indicators of dyslexia should not give cause for concern. It is when several indicators are present that dyslexia (or another specific learning difficulty) may be present. Those who suspect that their child may have a learning difficulty should arrange for screening.
Screening for dyslexia
It is wise, from many perspectives, to screen pupils for the possibility of dyslexia or dyscalculia. There are several ways in which teachers can do this, including computer-based screening.
Facing the school day
Dyslexia is mainly associated with reading and writing, but it affects more than just English lessons. For example, the writing and sequencing demands of history can be a problem and the multi-tasking of many sports can create a problem if the coaching style is not empathetic.
Dyslexics can also run into difficulties in maths if not taught appropriately – many dyslexics find learning times-table facts very difficult, which can be a great source of frustration for child, parent and teacher.
The impact of dyslexia depends on the tasks you are asked to do and on the circumstances that surround you. Dyslexics can flourish in the cosy, reassuring atmosphere of a good primary school, but many things about the structure of secondary schools make them inherently difficult for dyslexics. For example, pupils now meet many teachers instead of just the class teacher, and they are expected to be more independent in their learning, to read more and write more, to adjust to more new demands from each new lesson, to be organised. Dyslexic children will struggle with all of these to a greater or lesser degree.
10 things that hinder the dyslexic child
- Teachers who go too fast and expect too much.
- Being expected to produce the same amount of work (as non-dyslexic pupils) in the same time.
- Teachers who do not stick to the point.
- Teachers who know I am dyslexic, but don't help me enough. Being patronised.
- Too much copying off the board and/or dictating notes. Rubbing work off the board too soon.
- Having test results read out loud. People who make fun of me or who are sarcastic.
- Being told off when I ask a friend for help.
- Not being allowed to use my laptop in lessons.
- Confusing ‘dyslexic’ with stupidity. Lack of understanding/empathy for dyslexia (from teachers and other students).
- Being made to read aloud in class.
20 things that help the dyslexic child
- Help being given discretely to individuals.
- Being given more time.
- Handouts with summaries of work.
- Marking work in dark colours ... tidily.
- Working in smaller groups.
- Trained teachers. An awareness of dyslexic difficulties.
- Teachers who care.
- Grades that show individual improvement.
- Marking that is clear and helpful.
- Catch-up exercises.
- Work judged for content, not spelling.
- Working from the pupils’ strengths.
- Multi-sensory teaching and learning.
- Use of study skills and mind maps.
- Visual aids such as diagrams, pictures, charts, interactive whiteboards etc.
- Audio-visual aids – including encouraging alternative means of recording such as videos, voice-recognition software and Dictaphones.
- ICT as a tool (eg for touch-typing) as well as a teaching/learning aid.
- Emphasising and promoting key words.
- Limiting the amount to be copied from the board.
- Praise, encouragement and rewards.
These issues should be addressed in any school’s policy for special educational needs. Ask to see the policy and ask for examples as to how it is implemented in the school.
A bright future?
For those who persevere, and many dyslexics persevere at levels non-dyslexics will never attain, the results can be impressive. There is generally good help and support for bright dyslexics at university. Note-takers, mentors and extra-time are some of the things that may be funded via the Disabled student allowance (DSA) grant. Each case is assessed on merit and will need to be supported with appropriate up-to-date document such as a recent Educational Psychologist's report.
Well-known dyslexics include Tom Cruise, Lord Rogers, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Steve Redgrave, Linda LaPlante, Cher, Sir Richard Branson and Susan Hampshire.
With thanks to Sandra Hutchinson and to Steve Chinn for additional material. 'What helps, what hinders' reproduced with kind permissions and in part from Thomson and Chinn in Dyslexia: Theory and Good Practice, Whurr, 2001)
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