Yesterday I went on the most brilliant course, run by Dyslexia Action (www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk). I learned so much from it, that I was inspired to write my first blog - to share the valuable information I took away from it. I can’t do the course justice here - I’d urge anyone to go on it themselves.
A bit of background first though…
I signed up for the course as one of my nine year old twins was diagnosed with dyslexia two years ago and I was keen to learn how I can further help Jack, especially with the spectre of big school looming in a couple of years. It’s going to be a huge step for Jack, exacerbated potentially by his twin Harry possibly not being around to help him.
So here are my take-aways from the course - I hope others in similar situations that stumble across this blog, find it helpful and share it to their wider network.
Basically it’s a difficulty with processing language (more on this later*). Dyslexic peoples brains simply work differently to those who aren’t. It can occur at ANY intellectual-ability level - it doesn’t mean dyslexic people are stupid! Hopefully, that old view is now diminishing.
It’s now recognised as a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act, which has legal implications (which might be worth knowing if you need your child’s school to be a bit more proactive in supporting your child - I’m very lucky - Jack’s school (Lyminge Primary) and it’s headteacher have been hugely supportive) - others less so). This classification means that children mustn’t be denied access to the national curriculum.
If you’re struggling to get the support your child needs from the school you can approach your schools SEN (special educational needs) governor - this is a statutory position on the governing board, required by law.
Dyslexia can’t be cured, but strategies can help.
10% of the UK population is thought to be dyslexic, 4% severely.
Dyslexia can cause problems in learning to read, write and spell. BUT it can also cause difficulties with short-term memory, sequencing, concentration, personal organisation and mathematics. Because of these problems it can also lead to low self-esteem and behavioural problems. It’s sad to hear that some children are treated/punished for behavioural problems rather than the root cause of them hasn’t been uncovered or supported.
*Dyslexics brains literally light up in a different way - they try to process things normally handled by the left hand side of the brain in their right hand side. They take different routes to get to the same point which can be slower.
It is the ‘working memory’ that is a problem - the ability to remember new information whilst thinking about it e.g. mental arithmetic. Our working memory allows us to temporarily hold information, BUT in the case of dyslexic people if they start to receive more than 3 or 4 pieces of information into their working memory it starts to overspill and they ‘lose’ things. This is a problem when that then gets stored away in both their short-term memory (where ‘labelling’ takes place) and their long-term memory - things get stored away ‘wonky’ or ‘part-complete’.
With dyslexic children they often know/understand a lot more than they can actually show (due to the problems with processing information) = FRUSTRATION
Dyslexics tendency to process information using the right hand side of the brain which is the area associated with ‘big picture/out of the box/conceptual’ thinking has its advantages and its place. NASA tend to recruit dyslexics for this very reason. This kind of out of the box thinking is often sought after in business too.
Dyslexics are often very logical, but just not in the same way as we expect them to conform to!
As adults if we don’t like something we can ordinarily change it - e.g. make new friends, change jobs, move house etc. A child has very little autonomy over the things in life and the environment around them that they may not like - they can’t change it. So for the dyslexic child in a school environment where they may not be achieving like their peers and therefore not enjoying it - why would you want to do something you are not good at or dislike, and at worst perhaps ridiculed for?!
Try as best you can to seek out the activities your child has a passion for, build their self-esteem in other ways - supporting them in out of school clubs, sports etc. Use these positive experiences to counter-balance the negatives they might be experiencing with their school work.
I’m going to skip to this section as it resonated most for me at this stage (we are already getting Jack private tutor lessons and awesome one-to-one support in his primary school, so our attention is more tuned to the future: secondary school and beyond).
I think this was the most pertinent point learned today - the best you can give your child (and I believe this goes for non-dyslexic children too) is to equip them with life skills. After all we spend most of our life out of school (although for a child it won’t seem like that yet!).
An example of this might be helping them with personal organisation - an area they might struggle in due to their dyslexia and memory issues. Work on skills for independence - get them to be responsible for getting stuff ready for school, e.g. you could put a family planner on the door and mark if there is an activity after school that your child then has to ensure they have what they need for that club ready the night before.
Other skills could be speaking in public, IT skills and meeting deadlines.
I have always tried to explain it to Jack as just simply ‘your brain works differently to others’ and stressed that that is not a bad thing. I can already see some of these strengths, often associated with dyslexic children, in Jack:
Inventive, practical, sport, good computer skills
Think laterally and make unexpected connections, see the big picture, good at problem-solving and have good visual spatial awareness
Creative, artistic, articulate, with good social and networking skills
And of course, I always remind him of some famous dyslexics:
Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Richard Branson, Tom Cruise and Keira Knightley - the list goes on.
There’s tons more to impart but that’s it for now. I hope this post helps at least one person.
My parting advice is - if you suspect your child is dyslexic, get it checked, then seek as out as much information as possible, talk to their school and try to get in touch with others in the same situation. Trust your instinct. I was lucky - had a benchmark to work with in the form of Jack’s twin - I knew something wasn’t right when after Reception class Harry started pulling away from Jack in his progress in the school, whilst Jack seemed to stall.
Thanks for reading. Good luck!