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Spotting signs of Dyslexia
Dyslexia affects around ten per cent of the population and is a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD). It does not only concern reading and writing, but can also impact on maths, spelling, memory and organisational skills.
Many Dyslexic children unfortunately are not correctly identified, as teachers cannot always recognise the signs. Research has shown that fewer than 14 per cent of teachers are confident that they can recognise a dyslexic child, and fewer than nine per cent feel they know how to teach one.
Specific Learning Difficulties
Dyslexia is one of an array of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs). Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) involves difficulty sustaining attention and can exist with or without hyperactivity.
Dyscalculia involves a specific difficulty with aspects of mathematics.
Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder involves difficulty with motor coordination and organising some cognitive skills.
Dysgraphia involves difficulty with fine motor skills, especially for handwriting.
Aspergers syndrome includes difficulty with certain interpersonal skills and may be seen as the mild end of the autistic spectrum.
The Rose Review (2009), commissioned by the government in England, ‘Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties’, provided the following working definition of dyslexia and its characteristics:
‘Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skill involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
‘Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
‘Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
‘Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
‘A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.’
Acknowledged by the BDA, some dyslexic individuals also experience visual processing difficulties. These can include visual stress, visual tracking problems, binocular visual dysfunction and difficulty with visual-motor perception. They may reverse letters or numbers or mis-sequence, report that letters ‘move’, lose their place more frequently reading across lines of print, be sensitive to the ‘glare’ from the white page/board/screen and their eyes can tire more easily when reading.
These difficulties can also affect reading musical notation. Visual stress symptoms can also sometimes be suffered by non-dyslexic individuals.
Affecting the learning process
Furthermore, dyslexic learners can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process. Some may have strengths in areas such as problem solving, design, creative skills, interactive and oral skills.
Phonological processing problems are widely accepted to be a key difficulty for many dyslexics. Connecting letter shapes to letter sounds, breaking words down into sounds, or building strings of sounds up into words and understanding of the way sounds work within words can be a struggle and can undermine the early acquisition of written language skills.
Hearing the difference between certain letter sounds, word retrieval and speed of processing can also be problematic for some dyslexic individuals. These issues can impact on musical skills.
Some dyslexic individuals also experience elements of another SpLD. These are referred to as ‘co-morbid’ or ‘co-occurring’ difficulties, though in families where dyslexia is evident there can be a higher amount of individuals with other SpLD’s that the dyslexic individual may not have personally as co-occurring.
Some children leave primary school unable to read or write. This is contributed to by those who fall behind in their reading at school, not being correctly identified if they are dyslexic and given appropriate intervention programmes until they are two or more years behind their expected levels. This can make the transition to senior school traumatic for them. It is during this time that the child may begin to become anti-social and their behaviour may deteriorate dramatically. For these young people, the future is potentially blighted and they are at serious risk of becoming disaffected and in some cases involved with the criminal justice system.
Of course there are exceptions and there are schools which are very good at recognising dyslexic children and who can provide the appropriate support and assistance. Students who have had their dyslexia recognised at school find their learning development less troublesome and tutors are more knowledgeable as to their learning difficulties and possible strengths.
Throughout their school career a dyslexic child may display these ‘tell tale’ signs. They may appear bright and able, but can’t write their thoughts down on paper. They may have areas in which they excel, particularly in drama, art and debating.
They may also be clumsy.
Another tell tale sign is acting as the ‘class clown’ to mask what they see as their academic failure, or becoming withdrawn and isolated, sitting at the back and not participating. They may be able to do one thing at a time very well but can’t remember an entire list, or look ‘glazed’ when language is spoken too quickly. A dyslexic child may go home exhausted at the end of a normal day because they have had to put so much effort into learning. They may also be bullied.
There are also more age specific signs. Pre-school children may show persistent difficulty in learning nursery rhymes or the name for things, like ‘table’ or ‘chair’; have difficulty with clapping a simple rhythm; enjoy being read to but no interest in words or letters; or have delayed speech development.
Primary school children may show a poor sense of direction and confusion between left and right.
Pronounced reading difficulties may include hesitant or laboured reading; omitted lines or repetition of the same line or loss of place in the text; difficulties in saying multi syllabic words; and confusion of similar letters, like ‘b’ and ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ and ‘w’ and ‘m’, resulting in some bizarre spelling.
Secondary school pupils may continue to experience the same problems as at primary school, for example: still read inaccurately; confuse places, times and dates; have difficulty planning and writing essays; and suffer poor confidence and low self esteem.
In addition, secondary school offers a new set of challenges which place a huge amount of pressure on dyslexic pupils, who already have problems with their short-term memory and organisational skills. These may demonstrate themselves as having difficulty organising life around a timetable; failing to remember which books to bring to class; and misunderstanding complex instructions. They may also have problems trying to write down notes at speed and completing work on time; and memory impediments which affect the marshalling of learned facts effectively in exams.
One area that needs to be addressed is how school and colleges spend their Special Education Needs budget. A dyslexic student may be allocated time with a learning support teacher and some may receive targeted assistive technology. More often, if support is provided within state schools, it may well be from a teaching assistant (supporting in the classroom and/or delivering a recommended written language programme, e.g. in a small group). It is crucial that all of these staff have appropriate levels of dyslexia training, but often this is not the case.
The B.D.A. accredits courses for teachers and teaching assistants working in this field (see www.bdadyslexia.org.uk for details).
A prime example of how dyslexia specialist support can allow a child to reach their potential is the case of Ben. Ben is a twelve year old dyslexic boy who had been given learning assistant support for the past six years yet made no improvement in his reading, writing or spelling. Ben was then given twenty hours of dyslexia specialist support and his reading, writing and spelling improved by two years.
There is not a cure for dyslexia but by using appropriate coping strategies dyslexics can overcome their difficulties, as Ben has, allowing them to achieve good qualifications and suitable employment in the future.
Being Dyslexia Friendly
Overloading pupils with instructions or criticisms can have a negative impact. Dyslexic pupils benefit from multi-sensory teaching methods that are clear and broken into brief sections. This principle is central to the course, which teaches that difficulties with reading and writing need not lead to dyslexic pupils feeling alienated from school if teachers use an approach that recognises that dyslexic individuals process information differently.
The key to a ‘dyslexia friendly’ classroom is to remove any necessary barriers to learning and enhance strengths; determine all individual learning needs; and teach in a way that these individuals can learn from.
Teachers often comment that what works well for dyslexia pupils also benefits other pupils as well. This is an important point as being ‘dyslexia friendly’ actually means being learner friendly for everyone.
Crucial to a child’s education is appropriate use of ICT and assistive technology. Some of the popular computer programmes used in today’s classrooms were originally designed for dyslexic children. When ICT is used effectively, many of the barriers to and differences in learning can be reduced or overcome. Assistive technology, used in conjunction with multi sensory teaching, can enable the dyslexic child to access the curriculum and learn more successfully.
As part of the mission to achieve ‘dyslexia friendly’ classrooms, the BDA run a certification scheme, the Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark, which encourages schools to make themselves more responsive to the needs of dyslexic pupils; the BDA’s training courses can form a part of the process for achieving this status. Several local authorities and many schools have achieved the Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark certificate, benefiting their pupils.