What actually is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a concept that promotes much discussion. Some LEAs do not even recognise its existence and no one except extra specialist specialists seem to be qualified enough to diagnose it.
Parents often pay a significant amount of money for an ‘official’ diagnosis. Once diagnosed, a pupil has access to useful commodities such as extra time in exams and a perhaps a laptop. It is a shame for those children whose parents are unable to pay for a diagnosis and a shame that parents need to pay to start with when most other educational needs are diagnosed without extra funding.
We are able to screen for dyslexia at a school level but can only state that indicators suggest that it could be dyslexia. This is probably just as well, as other special educational needs can look as if they are dyslexia such as Retinoschisis (where the layers of the retina separate causing small cysts which blur vision), as this also causes difficulty with reading and writing.
Nevertheless, whether diagnosed or not, the interventions are often still the same. Luckily there are lots of high quality support and resources available to help children with dyslexic tendencies. I should also add that it is usual to wait until around year three to think about screening for dyslexia as children need a base level for the screening and letter/number reversal is common in younger children. There are always exceptions to the rule – I have taught a child who was diagnosed (privately) with severe dyslexia in year one, meaning support was put in place quicker.
Dyslexia can be described as a continuum of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities. These difficulties often do not reflect an individual’s cognitive abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.
The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment, as there are often associated difficulties such as:
- auditory and/or visual processing of language-based information
- phonological awareness
- oral language skills and reading fluency
- short-term and working memory
- sequencing and directionality
- number skills
- organisational ability
Their definition also includes an inclusive pictorial version:
Image: Dyslexia Scotland
What is it like to have dyslexia?
A font has been specially developed to emulate the experiences of a dyslexic learner. Click here to see what it’s like.
Supporting children with Dyslexia
Here are a number of suggestions to support children with dyslexic tendencies which can also be useful for those with general learning difficulties.
1. Play on strengths
Know your pupil and remember that dyslexia is not the thing that defines them. Knowing them well is the most encouraging thing for them.
2. Immerse them in literacy
Even though a child with dyslexia may struggle with learning to read, keep their interest up by reading to them regularly. If they are enjoying listening to stories or non-fiction texts, the desire to read will remain strong.
3. Reading strategies
So many children are expected to read a previously unknown text first time with few errors, particularly in their home reading. The more children can be read with (both at home and school) the better – tackling challenging words together, before the child attempts it independently. A good model for reading new texts is to read it to them first time, together second time and then independently third time.
Provide access to resources such as word mats to support key word spellings. Also pre-teaching vocabulary and having a guided reading text in advance to look at over the weekend before the lesson.
5. Use technology
Provide an audio book or recommend to parents subscribe to audible (Amazon) or similar in order to allow them to read along with the book at home reinforcing reading skills and not losing out on the essence of the story because of reading which is not very fluent. Online reading schemes are also highly engaging and motivational. Reading Eggs is a popular reading App.
6. Speech to text software
Sometimes it may be appropriate to use technology to record ideas. It must be so frustrating to not be able to get ideas down on paper and voice recognition is getting better and better. Similarly, a simple voice memo app can record what the child wants to say so they can then write it down at their own pace at a later stage. Microsoft offer a free one which is worth a look.
7. Don’t make them read out loud in front of the class
Unless they want to. This could be the most soul destroying and demotivational part of their day. If you wish to hear them read then I’m sure they’d be more willing during assembly or lunchtime.
8. Key word learning
One strategy that was recommended for a severely dyslexic child I taught was to make a model out of clay or play dough of something that the child could associate with that word e.g. a model of the child with a speech bubble for said. Take a photo of the model and the key word together and use the photos as their sight vocabulary cards. The idea is that when they see the word in a book, they can link it to the model and remember the word.
9. Introduce good role models
Famous people whose dyslexia did not hold them back from achieving include: Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson, Einstein, Steve Jobs. The list is huge and researching these people can support a dyslexic child’s growth mindset and aspirations.
10. Dyslexic fonts
There has been a number of fonts developed in recent years to support children with their reading. Try them out and see what happens! This one is popular as it supports learning the difference between d/b/p – download it here.:
What about dyslexic strengths?
Another tool to support a dyslexic learner is to encourage their strengths. Often, dyslexic people are highly creative, thinking in pictures and able to see things from different perspectives. They often have the ability to see the ‘big picture’ rather than being bogged down by details and also being able to ‘think outside the box’, considering new and innovative ways to solve problems. Other traits include being highly empathetic and great conversationalists! For more information on strengths then look here.
I’m sure that if you have a child displaying dyslexic tendencies, whether diagnosed or not, in your class, you are already doing plenty without realising just by being you, providing quality first teaching and caring for the children in your class’ needs. I hope these ideas are helpful – keep up the good work!