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Reading is one of the most important things we ever learn to do. It is a critical life skill, with more than 98 per cent of jobs requiring reading ability. For many, becoming a proficient reader is a straightforward process, taken on board seemingly by osmosis. But, for those who find it a challenge, it can all too quickly escalate into a huge problem which knocks confidence, and leads to low self-esteem and academic failure.

Difficulties with learning to read can sometimes be easily explained. Disrupted schooling, different languages spoken at home and school, as well as emotional causes such as bereavement or illness in the family, can all cause stalled reading proficiency. For some children, it can be simply that they master reading later – we all learn and develop skills at different speeds, and learning to read can just take some children longer than others.

Signs of dyslexia

However, reading difficulties can be an indication that a child is dyslexic. So, what are the signs to look out for? In a pre-school child, it can be hard to detect symptoms of dyslexia, but delayed speech development, difficulty with pronunciation, and problems with expressing themselves clearly could potentially be early indications of dyslexia.

Once at school, dyslexia can be easier to spot. Difficulties with learning the names and sounds of letters as well as blending letters together, noticeable hesitancy when reading aloud, missing out (or inserting) letters and words when reading, as well as an inability to recognise familiar ‘sight’ words, can all be signs of dyslexia.

Help for dyslexia

So, what should be done if you suspect there is a problem? The first port of call is the class teacher. He or she should be able to shed some light on the reading difficulty and help you to understand whether there is a legitimate reason to be concerned. Teachers can give you an idea of your child’s reading ability and indicate whether this is the level expected for their chronological age.

Next, a visit your GP is a good idea, to see whether there are any underlying health issues. If a child is struggling to read, it’s sensible to get their eyesight and hearing checked. It goes without saying that if a child can’t see the letters on the page or hear sounds clearly, then reading is going to be an uphill struggle.

If problems persist, and your child reaches the age of 7 or 8 you should make an appointment (if you haven’t already) to meet the school SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator). Discuss your concerns, what support your child has already received, what else is on offer in school (such as one-to-one support from a specialist teacher) and what the next steps are. At this stage, it’s often suggested that the child should be assessed or screened for dyslexia, usually by an educational psychologist.

How can you test for dyslexia

Testing focuses on areas such as vocabulary development, reasoning, memory, and visual and auditory processing. A detailed report should follow, outlining your child’s performance, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as recommendations to be followed both at school and at home. Once the school has digested this report, they should set up an education plan for your child which will target his or her particular weaknesses.

Parents can feel powerless when a child is diagnosed with dyslexia but the most important thing you can do is provide positive emotional support. Try not to reveal your deep concerns to your child; be patient and praise them for their efforts. Your child needs your love and understanding more than ever if they are finding reading frustratingly hard.

Reading can still be a pleasure

Read to your children from a young age and don’t stop just because they are getting bigger – let it become a pleasurable part of the day or week.  Struggling readers often love paired reading as they feel less in the firing line if the parent has to read aloud too. Unabridged audio tapes can be a godsend, allowing children to focus on and follow the story itself, rather than on the task of decoding words. Try to make visits to your local library and bookshop a fun part of your routine, read the blurbs together and let your child have a say in what books appeal to them. Above all, make reading as enjoyable as possible.

With careful and well-structured support, the dyslexic child will learn to read and thrive at school. On those days when it all seems too much, however, it’s worth reminding them that there are numerous high-achieving dyslexics. It certainly hasn’t held back Keira Knightly, Tom Cruise and Richard Branson in life, or Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci or Steve Jobs for that matter.

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