Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. It is a Specific Learning Difficulty and there are recognised overlaps with other conditions.
This is especially the case with dyspraxia, attention problems and with underlying skills, such as phonological processing and working memory.
It is important to remember that although dyslexia has 50 years of research behind it and is generally referred to as a disorder of reading and spelling, there is still much that is unknown about the condition.
What dyslexia means for your child
As reading is fundamental to academic success and confidence, a dyslexic child may face stigma and problems at school, but with well-informed intervention and good support they may learn to manage dyslexia and discover untapped talents.
Well-known dyslexics who found their passions outside of the classroom include Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Steve Redgrave, Linda LaPlante, Cher, Sir Richard Branson and Albert Einstein.
Variations of dyslexia
Because dyslexia covers a range of difficulties, the presenting problems for many children with a diagnosis of dyslexia will be different. Some will learn to manage with the aid of coping strategies such as learning spellings via mnemonics, repetition of irregular spelling rules until they become embedded, or kinaesthetic learning instead of phonological, so they can progress within the classroom. For others, additional support may be required for a longer time and it will take a greater struggle to master spelling, reading or mental arithmetic.
There may be associated difficulties that can be identified and treated. For example, glue ear (otitis media), which is common in children with dyslexia, can affect their hearing, which in turn affects their ability to learn phonics. Binocular vision, which involves the control and co-ordination of both eyes, is also common in children with dyslexia and can be treated.
Indicators of dyslexia
If you notice your child writes 41 for 14, b for d, or misses out words as they read aloud, you might begin to suspect dyslexia. But there are many less obvious signs, eg poor phonological awareness, poor organisation and time management, difficulty following verbal instructions. Every child is different, and dyslexia manifests differently in different age groups.
In young children, single dyslexic symptoms may be part of normal reading development. It is when several indicators are present and persistent that dyslexia (or another specific learning difficulty) may be a possible explanation. Discuss it with teachers - they may well recommend an assessment by a dyslexia specialist or an educational psychologist. As with everything, knowledge is power and this assessment will be invaluable in understanding your child and ensuring they receive the right support.
Some other signs to look out for:
- Dyslexia in the family.
- Problems with speech and language, including especially speech sounds, mispronouncing or jumbling words, poor use of syntax, difficulties with rhymes, inaccurate and inconsistent use of words, word-finding problems, avoidance of verbal expression.
- Problems with ordering words or numbers in sequence and remembering them.
- Poor organisational skills including difficulty dressing or packing the schoolbag.
- Visual difficulties - standard eye tests may reveal perfect vision, but there may be underlying problems.
- Auditory processing difficulties. The child may hear, but not be able to distinguish sounds
- Difficulty regulating attention.
- Auditory or visual memory difficulties: Hearing or sight test results may be normal, but the child may have problems remembering a string of instructions, learning nursery or other rhymes, copying from the board.
- Fine motor difficulties – perhaps holding a pencil awkwardly, having difficulty with scissors or cutlery, problems tying shoe laces.
- Gross motor difficulties may be apparent: the child may be slow to crawl, hop or jump, appear clumsy and bump into things, have difficulty distinguishing right from left.
- Avoidance of verbal, number and literacy tasks, more interest in learning by doing. Quietly withdrawing from class activities.
Can you test for dyslexia?
Most specialists will not test children for dyslexia before the age of 7, so it is likely that your child will already be at a mainstream school when they are assessed.
Your 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.
Meanwhile, a visit to 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.
The head of learning support or SENCo at your school is likely to have experience of supporting similar difficulties and manages a budget to purchase the latest technology or training, if needed. 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 a minimum, teachers should provide practical assistance such as preparing key words lists, providing ‘writing frames’ or being available for spelling requests. At best, the school will make use of the many sophisticated technologies available which support reading, such as reading pens, and promote writing, with touch-typing or programmes such as voice to text software.
It may be suggested that the child should be screened for dyslexia, which will show if they are at risk. If positive, a formal dyslexia assessment by a qualified dyslexia teacher or a full psychological profile by an educational psychologist may be recommended. And a senior school SENCo who has taken the trouble to assess which exam boards are the most dyslexia friendly is worth their weight in gold.
Testing focuses on attainment in reading, spelling and writing, and can extend to vocabulary development, reasoning, memory, and visual and auditory processing. A detailed report should follow, outlining your child’s performance, their strengths and needs, 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 needs.
Understanding a dyslexia diagnosis
It’s a good idea to become something of an expert in your child’s particular condition and what it means. Dyslexia is only an umbrella term, so understanding the differences between processing speed, working memory and perceptual reasoning is important – ask the assessor to explain.
Whether or not teachers take the trouble to understand these nuances will become key in how far you feel they are supporting your child.
How can parents help?
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 hard.
How can the school help?
For reading difficulties, aids such as coloured lenses in glasses or writing on coloured paper can help but are likely to be effective in only some 20 per cent of cases, so it is important to be screened by a specialist optometrist.
Any lesson with a large amount of writing – which can be part of English, history, geography, religious education, even science - may present difficulties. New technologies are a boon. Schools are increasingly able to offer touch-typing classes and accommodate the use of lap-tops and speech to text software, within the classroom, and in exams.
In schools with the right IT systems, teachers can send lesson notes directly from the whiteboard to the child's laptop or suggest that they take a photograph of the board on their 'phone instead of copying down. Schools need to make reasonable adjustments, if recommended by a professional, you may find that your child may use a laptop in exams and be entitled to extra time. Remember such needs should be discussed with the SENCo or headteacher well in advance of the actual tests.
Secondary school for dyslexic children
At secondary school, pupils 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 new demands from each new lesson, to be organised. Dyslexic children will struggle with all of these to a greater or lesser degree, but good, early and supportive preparation makes all the difference.
The future for dyslexic children
For those who persevere, and many dyslexics persevere at levels non-dyslexics will never attain, the results can be impressive. With effective learning support over time strategies will start to work. Those with ‘spiky profiles’ – high cognitive scores, low scores perhaps in spelling or reading – will find that their innate ability begins to shine through.
Essential to succeeding on what can be a long road is support that allows a child to believe they can pursue the subjects that excite and interest them - not giving up because learning tasks in the early years are too hard. Finding something to be good at helps to keep their confidence and happiness afloat, be it music, art, sport, charity fundraising, or singing.
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 know that the child is dyslexic but haven’t taken the time to understand the nuances of a particular child’s diagnosis.
- Teachers who hold their non-dyslexic classmates up to a dyslexic child as examples of what they should have done.
- Too much copying off the board and/or dictating notes. Removing work from the board too soon.
- Reading out loud.
- Being told not to talk when asking a friend for help.
- Not being allowed to use a laptop in lessons.
- Lack of empathy for dyslexia (from teachers and other students) – at worst being made fun of.
- Being given a part in the play/assembly with too many lines.
20 things that help the dyslexic child
- A culture of kindness and teachers who care.
- Excellent communication between the SENCo and class teacher.
- Being given help discreetly.
- Being given more time.
- Handouts with summaries of work.
- Marking work in dark colours tidily.
- Working in smaller groups.
- Trained teachers with an awareness of dyslexic difficulties.
- Grades that show individual improvement.
- Marking that is clear and constructive without over-correction of spellings.
- Work judged for content, not spelling.
- Working from the pupil's 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 voice-recognition software.
- ICT as a tool (eg for touch-typing) as well as a teaching/learning aid.
- Vocabulary lists promoting key words.
- Limiting the amount to be copied from the board – IT which can send work on the board to a child’s laptop.
- Praise, encouragement and rewards to boost confidence.
Is a mainstream school the best option for dyslexic children?
Whatever your initial decision, you may want to keep an open mind as to your alternatives. Taking a look at a specialist school by way of comparison is always helpful. Some children with a mild diagnosis at 7 have worked around their difficulties sufficiently a couple of years later to be thriving even in the most academic environments, others with a moderate or severe diagnosis may find their reading improves but their typing speed is still slow, their potential is far from being reached and their confidence suffers.
If you need help in finding a mainstream or specialist school for dyslexia, speak to our SEN team.