What is Dyslexia?
It is Dyslexia Awareness Week (5th -11th October) and in light of this, I thought I’d explain what ‘Dyslexia’ is and dispel any misconceptions about this frequently occurring neurological difference. You may well find that there are pupils in your classroom with this specific learning disorder that have gone under the radar! According to the British Dyslexia Association, ten per cent of the population are believed to be dyslexic. That’s roughly three children in every mainstream classroom! I bet you can think of some children already.
Let me start off by saying that the indicators of Dyslexia are not limited to letter reversal. It is common for teachers and parents to share their concerns that their child is dyslexic, often stating that ‘they always write their letters back to front’. In fact, it is quite common for children to write letters back to front so this should not be the only indicator you look for. It is also known for some children with dyslexia to have visual difficulties where letters appear to blur or move about the page. However, Dyslexia not only affects reading and writing skills but coordination, organisation, memory and speech.
A recent article in Scientific American states:
Skilled readers routinely link letters to speech sounds, or phonemes (e.g., c→k), so they readily recognize kat and cat as homophones; they sound alike. This process (phonological decoding) is unconscious and automatic, yet it’s an integral part of reading. But in dyslexia, this process is disrupted.
The roots of the problem arise much earlier. Before a child learns to read, she needs to recognize that spoken words are composed of sounds (e.g., cat begins with a k sound), or else, the function of letters is mysterious. But for children with dyslexia, phonemic awareness is difficult. Speech perception is likewise atypical. Infants who are at risk for dyslexia (because dyslexia runs in their families) show atypical brain response to speech well before they ever read their first word. And since the reading brain network “recycles” the speech and language network, an atypical speech system begets atypical reading.
The signs of dyslexia may differ in each individual child but in general, you might find a child has:
Difficulty following your instructions
Difficulty concentrating on a task, especially a written one
Slow processing of language (takes a while to process a question and give a response)
Problems decoding words when reading
Refusing or avoiding reading
Difficulty composing speech or finding the right words
Did you know?
Dyslexics may find some areas of learning a challenge but they are also said to be more creative and good at reasoning and puzzle solving!
The Dyslexia Association offers really handy checklists for primary and secondary which you can use to find out if your child is in need of a Dyslexia screening, which then determines the need for a further diagnostic assessment. The UK’s NHS website also has information on how to get go about getting a diagnosis for Dyslexia. If you are worried a child in your class may be dyslexic then bring them to your school SENCO's attention so that assessments and screenings can happen as soon as possible and the correct support can be put in place.
It is important to note that sometimes other underlying health conditions can contribute to a child being unable to access reading and writing. For example, an Ophthalmologist was giving me an eye test and on hearing of my role working with children at risk of exclusion she shared a story with me. Recently, she had tested the eyesight of twin boys. Their mother was in despair because they were displaying disruptive behaviour at school, they were behind in their learning, in particular reading and writing and she couldn’t understand why. The eyesight test showed that they had really poor eyesight and so once this was resolved their behaviour dramatically improved! They had been behind in reading and writing because they couldn’t see the text, not that they couldn’t read. Imagine that.
So, be sure to highlight your concerns, reflect on your teaching practice and add in strategies to support the children and let the professionals carry out the assessments. In the meantime, look out for my free ‘Look, Cover, Write’ spelling packs to support with the spelling of high frequency words. These will be uploaded to the website later this week!
Happy Dyslexia Awareness Week!