Expert: Dyslexia, and How To Recognise The Signs
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty, that primarily affects the skills involved in reading and spelling words. It is a 'spectrum disorder'; meaning that symptoms can range from very mild to very severe.
Dyslexia is thought to be one of the most common learning difficulties. It is estimated that 4-8% of all schoolchildren have some degree of dyslexia, though it appears to be more common in boys than girls.
In particular, people with dyslexia have difficulties with:
Phonological Awareness: The ability to identify how words are made up of smaller units of sound, known as phonemes. Changes in the sounds that make up words can lead to changes in their meaning. So, for example, a child with a good level of phonological awareness would understand that if you change the letter 'p' in the word 'pat' to 's', the word would become 'sat'.
Verbal memory: The ability to remember a sequence of verbal information, for a short period of time. For example, remembering a short list such as 'red, yellow, blue'; or a set of simple instructions, such as 'put on your gloves, find the dog-lead, and walk to the park'.
Verbal processing speed: The time it takes to process verbal information, such as letters and digits. For example, your verbal processing speed is the time that it takes you to look at the following numbers and letters - 'R', 'T,' 'E', 2', and then realise that the information relates to the name of the television channel RTE2.
Even though dyslexia is classed as a learning difficulty, there is no connection between dyslexia and intelligence. Children of all intellectual abilities can be affected by dyslexia; and a child's difficulty with reading and spelling is not determined by their intelligence, but by how severe their dyslexia is.
Although there is currently no ‘cure’ for dyslexia, a range of educational programmes and interventions have proven effective in improving reading and writing skills in many children with the condition.
Children with dyslexia learn differently; so if this is not accommodated within the education system, the student may have difficulty in learning to read, write, spell and handle numbers. Research shows us that multi-sensory methods of learning are beneficial; utilising various sensory channels while learning information, such as:
- Auditory (listening)
- Visual (seeing, using diagrams, colour)
- Kinaesthetic (touch, movement, action)
Around 95% of children respond well to educational interventions, and go on to make good progress with reading and writing; while 5% of children will require more intensive support and long-term assistance.
It should be stressed that although children with dyslexia will face challenges on a day-to-day basis, even children who have severe dyslexia can go on to lead full and productive lives.
Identifying dyslexia in younger children can be difficult, because the signs and symptoms are often subtle. A psycho-educational assessment may be required to make a specific diagnosis; but the following indicators can help when deciding whether to obtain an assessment. Of course, not all the indicators will apply, and some may be seen to a greater extent than others:
Indicators of possible dyslexia
- Is later than most children in learning to speak.
- Is prone to spoonerisms (e.g... Fips and chish for fish and chips).
- Has trouble learning numbers, days of the week, colours and shapes.
- Is unable to follow multi-step directions or routines.
- May have difficulty telling a story in correct sequence.
- Confuses small or easy words: at/ to; said/ and; does/ goes.
- Reads slowly with little expression or fluency (oral reading is slow and laborious), and uses avoidance tactics when asked to read orally or write.
- May be slow to learn new skills, relying heavily on memorising without understanding.
- Confuses some directional words (e.g... left and right).
- Has difficulty planning or organising.
- Uses awkward pencil grip; and has slow and poor-quality handwriting.
- Has trouble learning to tell the time on an analogue clock or watch.
- Spelling is inappropriate for age and general ability (e.g. spelling the same word differently on the same page, frequent letter omissions, additions and transposition).
- Has difficulty repeating multi-syllabic words (e.g. emeny for enemy, pasghetti for spaghetti).
- Has trouble with non-literal or figurative language (e.g. idioms, proverbs)
- Has better oral skills than written skills.
- Procrastinates, and/or avoids reading and writing tasks.
- Has problems recalling the names of some words or objects.
- Has more difficulty in language-based subjects (e.g.. English, Irish, History) than in non-language based subjects (e.g.. Mathematics, Technical Graphics).
- Lacks self-confidence and has poor self-image.
If you are concerned about your child's progress with reading and writing, you should talk to their class teacher. If you or your child's teacher have a continuing concern, you should then visit your child's GP: It may be that your child has health problems that are not connected to dyslexia, but are affecting their ability to read or write. For example:
- Vision problems - such as short-sightedness (myopia) or a squint (strabismus)
- Impaired hearing - as the result of conditions such as 'glue ear'
- Other conditions - such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
If your child does not have any obvious underlying health problems to explain their learning difficulties, it may be that they are not responding very well to the method of teaching that is being used. To help them learn to read, an approach can be used where words are understood by sounding out and building up letters, using a method that is known as 'synthesis and segmentation'.
If your child is still having difficulties, the next stage is for them to receive additional teaching support, possibly using a different approach, such as smaller group work or one-to-one teaching, and frequent 'short burst' inputs - for example, two to three times a day for 15 minutes. Many children, even those with mild or moderate dyslexia, make good progress with this type of support.
However, an in-depth assessment may be recommended if concerns still exist about your child's progress: The assessment will be carried out by an educational psychologist, and should give clear recommendations for your child; noting any supports which your child may be entitled to by virtue of their degree of difficulty.
The child may need to access some, or all of the following:
- Help at home from parents, and other family members.
- Help in school from the class teacher, learning support or resource teacher, or the Guidance Counsellor.
- Help outside school e.g. Specialist tuition, or a one-to-one tutoring.
Depending of the severity of dyslexia, a child may qualify for certain accommodations such as:
- Exemption from Irish, or an exemption from language entry requirements at third level.
- Reasonable accommodations in exams, such as extra time.
Parents may need to actively pursue schools in order to get assessment recommendations implemented. If you are unhappy with the response from the school, you may appeal to the board of management of the school, and/or to the school inspector. If that fails, contact the Office of the Ombudsman for Children at 1800 202040 or 01 865 6800.
How Parents Can Help
Parents often ask how best they can help their children once a diagnosis of dyslexia has been given; but here are some simple points to get you started:
Don’t feel guilty, or blame anyone else. Dyslexia is a fact of life: Accept it and think of positive things you can do.
Talk to your child about dyslexia. Explain how it may affect them, and what you can do together to overcome it.
- Read with your child, as often as possible. The benefits of this are enormous. The child will:
- develop a larger vocabulary,
- hear words pronounced properly and punctuation marked,
- learn to enjoy books,
- keep up-to-date on books peers are reading, enjoy an activity without pressure.
Read Next: How To Nurture A Love Of Reading
Play games together; from “I spy” with your young child, to memory games, chess, and monopoly. With younger children, saying nursery rhymes, tapping out rhythms, and singing songs are all very useful.
Never underestimate the amount of learning a child does simply by being with you, and observing. Parents are the most important teachers of their children, just through spending time together; not necessarily 'teaching'.
Take trips: You don’t have to go to a museum to provide a learning experience: A walk by the river, in a shopping centre, or round to Granny’s can be just as useful as a formal session. Grandparents are a great source of support to children with dyslexia as they may have more time to chat and to listen or read.
Help with homework by being close at hand to answer questions and to ensure that the child stays on task. Let the child decide what help s/he needs from you and provide just that amount; but don’t take charge of the homework or feel that you have to teach the child.
Explore your local library for books which have a high interest level for your child. Check out abbreviated versions of classics which are designed for students learning English as a foreign language. Librarians are very willing to help, so do ask.
Finally, enjoy your child and let them know that you love having them or her around. It may sometimes seem like a lot of work to support a child with dyslexia, but they grow up fast!