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.
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- The quiet child who has withdrawn from involvement in any classroom activity.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.
A child with dyslexia?
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.
The first recorded case of dyslexia was in Scotland over 100 years ago. It wasn't called dyslexia then and some people still get agitated over what it could or should be called now. So you may still see ‘specific learning difficulties’ used instead of or even in conjunction with ‘dyslexia’. Whatever the issues some academics and some educational administrators have with ‘dyslexia’, most people now have some ideas about what dyslexia is about. It is primarily about difficulties with reading, spelling and writing. There are other issues, but more on those later.
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, so if you have worries, ask if this can be done. NFER-Nelson publishes, on CD-ROM, screening tests for both of these specific learning difficulties. Lucid Research also publishes a computer-based screening test for dyslexia.
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.
Quick cures for dyslexia
I fear that a 'cure' from such interventions alone is unlikely. Vulnerable parents may have their hopes raised, so enter those doors carefully and at your own risk.
Over the years I have worked in the dyslexia field I have met many ‘cures’ for dyslexia. Sometimes they make a difference for some people, sometimes that difference is dramatic, but not always and not with all people. For example, it was thought by some that a deficiency in zinc was the problem. Some 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 (see ‘Orthoptist’ in Chapter 3). Fish oils, kinaesthetic exercises, computer games and reading books held upside down whilst draping a coloured scarf over the left shoulder have all been tried with variable and often doubtful results.
Is dyslexia on the increase?
Dyslexia is a fairly common difficulty. Researchers say around 10 per cent of people have a problem that affects their work and life and that for 4 per cent these problems are very significant. Whatever the statistics suggest, I know if people ask me what I do for a living and I say ‘I work with dyslexics’ I frequently am told, ‘Oh my son/brother/husband/ auntie/ neighbour is dyslexic and I think I may be, too.’ Another indicator of the prevalence of dyslexia is that provision for dyslexic students in higher education exceeds provision for all the other disabilities put together.
A bright future
For those who persevere, and many dyslexics persevere at levels non-dyslexics will never attain, the results can be impressive. Ex-pupils of my school have done some great things. For example, one is a partner in a tree surgery, one presented his Masters degree research into dyslexia at the last BDA international conference, one has worked as a master plasterer, one teaches special needs children in the Bronx, New York, one is a sergeant in the Army, one runs a catering equipment business, one is an engineer at Lotus. The range of destinations is impressive and not always predictable.
Well-known dyslexics include Tom Cruise, Lord Rogers, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Steve Redgrave, Linda LaPlante, Cher, Sir Richard Branson and Susan Hampshire.
The great Olympian rower, Sir Steve Redgrave, was guest speaker at the British Dyslexia Association’s international conference at which he received a standing ovation. Afterwards the committee presented him with a special hardbound copy of the conference book. He thanked the committee, smiled wryly and said,
‘I guess this won’t be the fifth book I have ever read!’
With thanks to Dr Steve Chinn, former principal of Mark College, Somerset .
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