Advice if your child is dyslexic

Dyslexia is relatively common — but it can still be a source of confusion for many families. Liz Connor talks to an expert.
Advice if your child is dyslexic

A child struggling with homework. There is no connection between dyslexia and intelligence. Picture posed by model

ALL kids are unique and develop at different rates, and it’s not unusual for little ones to find it challenging when getting to grips with writing, reading and numeracy at some point or another.

But if learning these skills becomes an ongoing struggle, and you notice they’re falling behind their classmates, for example, or it’s causing distress, it could be an indication of dyslexia.

It’s estimated that around 10% of the population in has dyslexia, making it the most common learning difference in the classroom environment.

Despite being very prevalent however, there’s often still a lot of misunderstanding around it.

What exactly is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological difference that affects the skills involved in reading and spelling. Children with dyslexia can have a hard time deciphering new words, or breaking them down into phonetic chunks they can sound out in their head.

“It’s a specific learning difference that brings both positive and negative characteristics,” explains Helen Boden, CEO of the British Dyslexia Association (bdadyslexia.org.uk).

“The reason it is called ‘specific’ is because it only impacts on certain areas of an individual, rather than being a general learning difference that has an impact on all areas of someone’s cognitive performance.”

Dyslexia occurs across all sectors of society, independent of ability and socio-economic background. There’s also no connection between dyslexia and intelligence.

A different way of processing information

“Research tells us that dyslexia stems from differences in the way the brain processes certain types of information — particularly, it is thought, language-based information,” says Boden.

“The key point here is that it is these physiological differences in the brain that lead to the challenges that dyslexic individuals experience. It is not lack of ability, poor parenting or poor education.

“Essentially, there is an underlying cause. All too often, however, the indicators of dyslexia are written off or attributed to negative behavioural or personality traits.”

Boden explains that it’s not unusual for dyslexia to occur alongside other specific learning difficulties, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), developmental coordination disorder (commonly known as dyspraxia), autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), dyscalculia (difficulty with maths), or speech, language and communication difficulties.

“Dyslexia is genetic in origin and therefore is inheritable,” adds Boden. “This inheritable factor should also be considered, as it can mean that the parents of dyslexic pupils may also have experienced or still be experiencing similar difficulties to their children.”

What are the main symptoms to look out for?

“Dyslexia isn’t normally diagnosed until around seven years old, and every person is different,” says Boden. That said, there are a few key signs of dyslexia to look out for. These include a child that appears bright and able, but can’t get their thoughts down on paper — which can often present itself during school time.

“Look out for children that have areas in which they excel, particularly creativity and problem-solving, and kids that act as the ‘clown’ or are disruptive to mask what they see as their failings,” says Boden.

Those with dyslexia may also become withdrawn and isolated, sitting at the back of class and not participating, or look ‘glazed’ when a teacher is speaking too quickly.

“Many children with dyslexia find they are able to do one thing at a time very well, but can’t remember an entire list. They might also go home exhausted at the end of a normal day, or exhibit angry frustrated behaviour. Some also find they have difficulties being organised.”

What should I do if I think my child might have dyslexia?

It can sometimes take a bit of time to accurately spot dyslexia. “If you think your child may be dyslexic, the first thing is to be sure,” says Boden. “Dyslexia is much broader than just reading and writing issues, so start with a checklist or screener to get a better idea for little or no cost.”

For a rough indication, there are numerous paper-based and online questionnaires. The BDA’s website has lots of information about recommended checklists you can undertake.

“A screening tool is something that a non-specialist can administer,” says Boden. “A lot of schools use screening tools, but the results may not be as accurate as a medical assessment. They are, however, a useful starting point.”

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Screening programmes have been suggested for children starting school, but pilot projects in the UK proved unreliable and hence are not carried out.

If you are concerned about your child’s progress with reading and writing, you should first talk to their class teacher. You may also want to meet with other staff in the school.

If you or your child’s teacher has a continuing concern, you should take your child to visit your 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

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 learning sound-letter matching and by sounding out and building up words using a method that is known as synthesis and segmentation.

If your child is still having difficulties, the next stage would be for them to receive additional teaching and 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, usually make good progress with this type of support.

A more in-depth assessment may be recommended if concerns still exist about your child’s progress after they have received additional teaching and support. The assessment will be carried out by an educational psychologist, who will be able to support the teacher, child and parent and help them to understand the child’s learning difficulties, as well as suggesting targeted support to help with the difficulty.

An educational psychologist is a professional who specialises in assisting children who are having problems progressing with their education due to emotional, psychological, cognitive (learning) or behavioural factors.

For information on assessment and supports including supports for adults with dyslexia go to www.dyslexia.ie

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