How can I support my child with Dyslexia?

Having worked with many many students who have dyslexia, and their parents, I have been witness to a whole gamut of reactions and emotions.  All parents are concerned and want the best outcomes for their child, it’s just there are differing opinions on how to achieve the best outcomes.  What are the best outcomes?  Well this is also up for debate, but for me, a positive outcome is where Dyslexia doesn’t stop the child achieving anything they want to do.   I think all the parents I have worked with would agree with this.  Again, they may disagree with how this done!

C-Pen Reader

C-Pen Reader

Here are some of the parental reactions I have experience:

  • “I don’t want them labelled as Dyslexia or SEN as this will hinder them in their life.”
  • “They’re not dyslexic, they are just lazy and need to work harder then there won’t be problem.”
  • “They must have TA one-to-one support immediately.”
  • “Are you sure it’s not down to poor teaching.”
  • “Well actually his/her Dad has it and so does his uncle.”
  • “They will obviously now get a statement/EHCP support plan.”

So, taking this into account I would like to pass on my wisdom (makes me sound old) and experience to parents of children with dyslexia:

1.     Dyslexia is not a bad thing.  There are many many fabulous qualities that people with Dyslexia have as a result of having Dyslexia.  Last week was Dyslexia week and I saw many blogs and articles about the positives of having Dyslexia.  Google them and read them!

2.     It’s not your fault.  They don’t have Dyslexia because of something you’ve done wrong.   Dyslexia is neuro-developmental condition and not as a result of bad parenting.

3.     Your child is not stupid and having the label ‘Dyslexia’ does not mean people will think your child is stupid. Dyslexia does not affect intelligence and anyone who thinks it does is wrong (maybe stupid?)

4.     Your child will benefit from knowing they have Dyslexia and knowing how to manage it. Imagine what it does to self-esteem to not be able read as easily as your friends can.  You think there’s something wrong with you. Once children know it’s Dyslexia, that it’s not their fault, it’s just their brain works differently, the relief is clear to see.   Psychoeducation always improves outcomes.

5.     They may not automatically get additional funding or a statement.  Dyslexia has levels of severity and affects each person in different ways.  Many children with dyslexia have already developed their own strategies to manage the difficulties and don’t need any additional support.  Or the difficulties they have may not be severe enough to warrant additional funding.

6.     Having a TA to support in class isn’t the best thing.  For some parents, having a TA support their child is the holy grail.  Something that is viewed vital and necessary. However, this isn’t always the case.  Recent studies show that having a TA can be detrimental to progress – academically and socially.  Instead you should be looking at ways your child can manage their dyslexia independently.  They won’t have a TA when they leave school so by not equipping them for independent learning we are adding extra barriers for them to overcome after leaving school. There is so much assistive technology available, this should be initial go to for support.

7.     Don’t judge your child based on the artificial world of education. School isn’t the real world so don’t presume that academic levels/achievement are the only indicator of becoming a successful adult.  40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic and I bet the vast majority of those didn’t do well at school.  Make sure ALL the talents and abilities of your child are recognised.  Don’t get caught up in the parenting competitiveness of believing the best parent has the highest achieving child (or indeed the most popular). This isn’t true.

The Frostig Center, Pasadenia, California, has conducted over 20 years of research into the lives of children & adults with SEN/LD.  With this research, and incorporating other studies, they identified six success attributes in children/adults who were successful.  They judged success as:

  • having good friends
  • having positive family relations
  • being loved
  • having self-approval
  • job satisfaction
  • having physical and mental health
  • achieving financial comfort,
  • achieving spiritual contentment and an overall sense of meaning in life.

Successful adults with LD/SEN were much more likely to have the following characteristics (and these are more important that IQ):

  • self-awareness – open and specific about difficulties and how it affects their lives
  • proactivity – actively engaged in the world around them
  • perseverance – doesn’t like to quit but does know when to quit, able to try many strategies
  • goal setting – specific, flexible goals in all areas of life, understanding of steps required to achieve goals
  • using support systems – has received support but has had a successful reduction of dependence on support as getting older; able to cut the ‘chord’; support people understood and supported the moves toward independence
  • emotional coping strategies – awareness of situations that trigger stress and how to manage

Further details can be found here: http://frostig.org/our-research/ld-success-predictors/ and there is a guide for parents available.

So, if you are a parent of a child with Dyslexia don’t view it as a negative.  It’s fabulous. Your child is utterly fabulous and brilliant way.  And if they do become a millionaire remember to thank their Dyslexia that they were able to develop those skills.

Is Dyslexia a barrier to MFL?

When I originally began to work in SEN, we would often withdraw students with dyslexia/literacy difficulties from French or Spanish for small group or one-to-one interventions.  Our stock answer was that they were struggling learning one language let alone asking them to learn another one.   Yes, I know that statement is wrong on so many levels. 

Why did I presume this? Is there any evidence to back this up?

As my career has progressed, my knowledge has increased I have become more and more aware of Dyslexia across the languages.  I recently spoke at an EAL conference in Romania (cold but fabulous) and when conducting research for this I learned so much about Dyslexia and EAL it made me question why we presume dyslexic students can’t learn another language. Or why we presume it would be detrimental to them.

Dyslexia is most prevalent in the English language. This is because English is a nightmare language to learn, and I mean a nightmare.  It has 41 phenomes (blends of letters) but 21,000 ways of pronouncing them!  Other languages, such a German, Spanish and Hungarian are straight forward and simple to learn so doesn’t cause as many issues for people with dyslexia.

I believe Spelling Bee Competitions are only popular in English language countries because spelling in  all other countries isstraight forward and everyone can do it. It’s just English that is completely nuts and spelled differently to how it sounds. 

What do you think though? Let’s walk through the forest with the boughs of the branches hanging down and cough on the way.  When I got home I wound the bandage around my wound.

Let’s address another part of my initial sentence that is way wrong. People with dyslexia don’t have trouble learning the English language. They can speak it just fine! They have trouble reading it, or processing what they’ve read, or writing it etc.

So, if other languages are easier then why shouldn’t people with dyslexia learn them?  Why shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to learn a language that is actually easier for them to de-code.  How good would that feel, being able to read/speak another language that their dyslexia doesn’t affect so much.

Also, do they need to pass an exam in it?  Why do we only allow students to study subjects when we believe they can pass an exam in it? I feel another blog topic right there.   Why can’t they do the subject and receive the same levels of support they receive (or should receive) in their other lessons?

There is assistive technology out there to help people with Dyslexia read foreign languages.  And, learning something to improve self-esteem and cognitive skills seems a good enough reason to me.

Research suggests that bilingual speakers are more likely to think outside the box (something we know people without dyslexia excel at), be better problem solvers and have more social skills. There is also evidence that being bilingual can fight dementia.  So why are we denying students with dyslexia this opportunity??

Maybe you aren’t limiting choices or making these assumptions. If that’s the case big well done for that and give yourself a massive pat on the back.  My journey to learn this took a lot longer. I apologise to all those students I restricted. I was wrong. I should have spoken to each student and involved them in the process and allowed them choice.  Educators and parents out there, don’t make the same mistake.  Merci for listening (fluent French as you can see).