Unfortunately, many schools do not easily recognise dyslexia. The government estimates that up to one in five children leave school unable to read at a satisfactory level. Not all of these people will be dyslexic. Some education experts believe that there is no point in looking at the difference between people with poor reading skills and those with dyslexia. Some teachers are keen not to “label” children.
Because they are expected to develop formal reading and writing skills, and as they move through school, learn to organise themselves, this is the time that most children’s dyslexia will become more obvious. In our experience, it is the parents who usually raise concerns (unless the difficulties are very severe).
A major sign of dyslexia is a big difference in various types of learning or ability. The child may have very good verbal skills and can express their ideas well, but cannot do the same when they write them down. They may love stories and can remember every detail when stories are read to them, but show a great resistance to reading for themselves. They may be able to read well, but their spelling skills are weak. They may be excellent at number work, but poor at literacy. The range of possibilities is very wide.
Another key sign is that there is no obvious reason for the child’s difficulties. Dyslexia is a hidden disability. Parents should make sure that hearing and vision are checked. They should also think about whether there is any family history of issues in developing reading and writing skills. The child is likely to have problems with sequencing tasks – learning times tables, the alphabet, the months of the year, putting letters in the wrong order in words, forgetting simple lists of instructions and procedures that their classmates find easy are all big clues to dyslexia.
Later on, the older child may continue to have major issues with remembering names, dates, places and times. They may find it hard to put essays into the correct structure. Most dyslexic children will try very hard to keep up but will eventually develop a negative attitude towards learning and school. A lack of self-esteem and anxiety are “normal” responses to continual “failure” and criticism. Many will panic when faced with examinations.
What you can do
Parents should approach school who may wish to involve the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) or they may call in specialist teachers to carry out initial assessment. Schools have to follow the Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs. This is a framework designed to recognise and help children who are falling behind with their education. It is important that school formally recognise any difficulties by placing the child on the “special needs register”.
The first stage is called “School Action” where in-school resources are used to help develop the child’s areas of need. Each child must have an “individual Education Plan” or “Provision Map” that contains information about the nature and extent of the problems. In this way, progress can be measured carefully. If the additional specialist teaching is successful and the child’s skills improve, they are removed from the register. However, if further help is seen to be needed, then they may move on to the next stage, called “School Action Plus”. Additional teaching resources from the local authority may be used. If the child does not progress, then the final stage is called “Statutory Assessment” and should result in a Statement of Special Educational Needs. “Statements” are very rare and usually are only made in severe cases.
It’s our experience that the way in which the Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs is interpreted by Local Education Authorities can be very different. The specialist teaching offered in schools can also vary widely. Often, help is delivered by Teaching Assistants, rather than teachers. Measures of progress can be the subject of differences of opinion.
Parents may want to have an independent specialist carry out an assessment of their child so that they have an absolutely clear view. Please contact us if you need clear advice and recommendations about the way forward.
A good place to find out more is at www.ace-ed.org.uk
If the child shows poor levels of reading or writing, (if they are dyslexic or not) then they may qualify for additional support during examinations. These are called “Special Examination Access Arrangements” and they have to be agreed by the school and sometimes the Examination Board before the child sits the exam. Usually, this means that up to 25% additional time is offered. Sometimes, a reader or scribe, or the use of a word processor can also be arranged.
More information can be found at www.jcq.org.uk