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I HAVE BEEN assessing children for dyslexia for over 15 years now. In my experience, the main reason behind referrals is a parent or class teacher’s concern about a child who appears capable in class, but is struggling with homework or independent work.
The most obvious symptom of dyslexia is this discrepancy between a student’s ability and their performance. Less obvious signs include a difficulty learning things off by heart, concentration and poor organisational skills. Increasingly, the sign I look out for is the impact of this frustrating learning difference on a child’s confidence.
Some respond by ‘acting out’ or becoming upset about going to school or completing homework, others choose to give up – deciding it’s better to not bother than to try and fail, while others opt to become the class clown.
Dyslexic students simply learn in a different way
The emotional fallout of dyslexia is often under-reported but can have a huge impact on a child’s general happiness and self-esteem. In my opinion, children have a great ability to assess their unofficial “position” in their class on lots of different levels: general ability, fastest at running, best at maths, etc.
Dyslexia is also known as a Specific Learning Difficulty. Its specific nature can result in very able children struggling to keep up with their peers in the area of literacy which can result in great frustration. Again, in my opinion, dyslexia is a Specific Learning Difference. This is not political correctness gone mad, but a fact. Dyslexic students simply learn in a different way.
The school curriculum can be adapted to suit lots of children, but without knowing which students are dyslexic and which aren’t, it can be rendered comparable to an ill-fitting pair of shoes, (it doesn’t matter how well you can dance if your shoes don’t fit!).
Relief at diagnosis
I have found that children respond very positively to being told about dyslexia. They have reported feeling very relieved and happy to understand that their difficulty is not about a lack of intelligence. Diagnosis also opens the door for appropriate supports to be put in place, linking in with tuition, possible language exemptions etc.
Indicators of possible dyslexia (ages 5-7 years)
[via Dyslexic Association of Ireland]
- Is slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds (alphabetic principal),
- Has difficulty separating words into sounds, and blending sounds to form words (phonemic awareness)
- Has difficulty repeating multi-syllabic words (eg, emeny for enemy, pasghetti for spaghetti)
- Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
- Has poor word-attack skills, especially for new words
- Confuses small or ‘easy’ words: at/to; said/and; does/goes
- May make constant reading and spelling errors, including
- Letter reversals (eg, d for b as in dog for bog)
- Letter inversions (eg, m for w)
- Letter transpositions (eg, felt and left)
- Word reversals (eg, tip for pit)
- Word substitutions (eg, house for home)
- Reads slowly with little expression or fluency (oral reading is slow and laborious)
- Has more difficulty with function words (eg, is, to, of) than with content words (eg, clouds, run, yellow)
- May be slow to learn new skills, relying heavily on memorising without understanding
- Reading comprehension is below expectation due to poor accuracy, fluency and speed
- Reading comprehension is better than single word reading
- Listening comprehension is better than reading comprehension
- Has trouble learning facts
- Has difficulty planning or organising
- Uses awkward pencil grip
- Has slow and poor quality handwriting
- Has trouble learning to tell the time on an analogue clock or watch
- Has poor fine motor co-ordination
Indicators of possible dyslexia (ages 7-12 years)
- Has continued difficulty reading text aloud or silently
- Reading achievement is below expectation
- Still confuses letter sequences (eg, soiled for solid; left for felt
- Is slow at discerning and learning prefixes, suffixes, root words and other morphemes as part of reading and spelling strategies
- Poor reading accuracy, fluency, or speed interferes with reading comprehension
- Spelling is inappropriate for age and general ability (eg, spelling the same word differently on the same page, use of bizarre spelling patterns, frequent letter omissions, additions and transposition)
- Poor spelling contributes to poor written expression (eg, may avoid use of unfamiliar words)
- Uses avoidance tactics when asked to read orally or write
- Experiences language-related problems in Maths (eg, when reading word problems and directions, confuses numbers and symbols)
- Is unable to learn multiplication tables by rote
- Still confuses some directional words (eg, left and right)
- Has slow or poor recall of facts
- Lacks understanding of other people’s body language and facial expressions
- Has trouble with non-literal or figurative language (eg, idioms, proverbs)
- Forgets to bring in or hand in homework
- Has difficulty remembering what day or month it is
- Has difficulty remembering his/her own telephone number or birthday
- Has poor planning and organisational skills
- Has poor time management
- Lacks self-confidence and has a poor self-image
If you have concerns about your child’s progress it is highly recommended that your first step is to have a full and frank conversation with their class teacher. It’s always possible that his/her perceived difficulties are something all of their classmates are experiencing. NEPS (the school psychological service) provide schools with some assessments each year, but their number is limited due to funding.
Alternatively, you can contact me, Deirdre Griffin Registered Educational Psychologist PsSI CPsych BPS, at: email@example.com