The purpose of this article is to look at the subject of dyslexia, ways to spot it, the educational challenges it raises and the help available.
Dyslexia is a common type of specific learning difficulty which affects the ability to read and spell words accurately. Often running in families, dyslexia makes it difficult to process words or numbers, and can also affect other areas like the ability to remember sequences of actions.
Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, of which most dyslexics have an average or above-average level. Some famous people who have had or have dyslexia include Einstein, Cher, Michelangelo and Walt Disney. In reality, dyslexia is on of the most common learning difficulties in England, since it is thought to affect between 4 and 8 per cent of all children.
The challenges posed by dyslexia
Phonological awareness (i.e. the awareness that words are made up of specific phonemes) is believed to play an important role in the development of early reading and spelling skills. All words are made up of smaller units called phonemes. Changes in individual phonemes in a word can change its meaning. For instance, take the phoneme ‘s’ in the word ‘seek’; if we substitute it with an ‘m’, the word becomes ‘meek’. Dyslexics find it difficult to recognise phonemes, thus finding it challenging to connect a letter/phoneme symbol and its sound.
Other areas affected by dyslexia include verbal memory (the ability to remember a sequence of information received verbally or a list of items spoken to the person (e.g. take the book out of your bag, place it on the desk and sit down). Dyslexics also take longer to process verbal information, they can find it difficult, for instance, to write down a telephone number or a word that is spelled to them.
If you would like to know what it is like to read a sentence or passage for a dyslexic, typical sentences might look something like this:
Asentencemightlooklikeithasnospaces (A sentence might look like it has no spaces)
The rem aybei rregular it iesinthe spacing (There may be irregularities in the spacing)
A dyslexic mei rite tha wrd as it sawnds to them (A dyslexic may write the word as it sounds to them)
What are some common indications of dyslexia?
Dyslexics sometimes try to hide their learning difficulty from teachers and parents, yet an early diagnosis is vital if families are to take positive steps towards overcoming this hurdle. Some signs parent and teachers may notice in children with dyslexia include:
- The child may have difficulty reading, despite being of average or above average intelligence.
- The child may not be able to finish written tests or essays within the set time.
- They may have difficulty remembering terms.
- They may have difficulty memorising lists and numbers.
- They may be unable to understand directions (e.g. left or right, in and out).
- They may have difficulty learning foreign languages.
According to the British Dyslexia Association, some factors which are present both in children and adults with dyslexia include difficulties with sequencing (e.g. red-blue-yellow-read-blue-yellow) and a tendency to have good/bad days without any seemingly logical explanation. Other indications, however, vary according to age. Children in pre-school, for instance, may mix up phrases (by reversing letters), find it difficult to memorise the names of everyday objects or develop speech at a later stage. Interestingly, non-language-related signs include skipping the â crawling stage â (even if baby walks early), having difficulties catching a ball and often being told the child is not paying attention to the teacher.
In primary school, children with dyslexia may write letters, symbols and numbers in the wrong order, have difficulty memorising the information taught in lessons, or have difficulty comprehending written text. In a non-academic sphere, they can often surprise parents because of the many areas in which they reveal their intelligence and alertness. Older children have similar difficulties, often confusing dates/times, needing to have verbal information repeated and having difficulty with written assessment.
What help is available?
There are many steps you can take if you are a parent who suspects their child has dyslexia. The logical first step is to speak to your child’s class teacher (if your child is in primary school) or the head teacher of the year (if your child is in secondary school). If the school is savvy enough, they will have a good understanding of this common learning difficulty and will make it easy and quick to formulate a plan of action.
You will probably find it useful to read up on dyslexia. Sites of groups like the British Dyslexia Association, NHS Choices and even Kids Health provide a host of useful information, everything from interesting facts about dyslexia to theories on its causes, top rated therapies and even alternative therapies. The British Dyslexia Association provides a directory of local associations and helplines.
If, after speaking with the head teacher, you find that you are unsatisfied with the strategy to be pursued, request an appointment with the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). The latter will create an Individual Education Plan, specifying the steps the school needs to take to satisfy your child’s specific needs.
If this Plan is not resulting in progress, attempt to receive a full assessment from an educational psychologist or a teacher who is qualified to carry this assessment out. Your local association will be able to provide you with a wealth of information on where you can have an independent assessment performed.
The results of the assessment should be presented to the school’s SENCO; if the latter does not adopt the recommendations, see your Chief Educational Officer about meeting up with your LEA to ensure an appropriate action plan is implemented by your child’s school.
What kind of help will my child receive?
A specially trained teacher will enrich your child’s phoneme awareness (i.e. their awareness of particular sounds in words) and will enlighten them on the relationship between specific letters and sounds (phonics). They will also share useful practices (like listening to a recorded book, using particular computer software and recording lessons).
The emotional support of family and friends will also go a long way towards helping those with dyslexia realise that they can be anything they want to in life; all it takes is patience, discipline and help from a specialist in the field.
We hope that you have found this article useful. Please feel free to share your experiences with the education system and dyslexia here via the comments.
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