Whether you wait for a formal diagnosis or you know from your own observations that your child meets the criteria for dyslexia, realising that you child is dyslexic can be difficult to come to terms with.
You may have suspected it for some time but hoped that things would improve in time or you may have been falsely reassured by teachers and other educational professionals that there is nothing to worry about. Even if you know you are dyslexic yourself there is always the hope that your child will not be affected in the way you were. For other parents, who are unaware of their own dyslexia, the world of dyslexia can be new and daunting.
1. Try not to panic
While dyslexia is a lifelong condition, it is not a life sentence.
As many websites try to point out it is a learning difference rather than a disability. While learning to read and write will be a much harder process than it is for most children, dyslexic children can learn if they are taught in the right way. In addition, many dyslexics have strengths that in life and the work place make them successful people.
Try to keep things in perspective, while school is an important part of a child’s life, it is only one aspect of their life. A positive home life and relationships are very important, as are interests and activities outside school.
2. Encourage your child to do more of the things that they are good at and enjoy.
It is very tempting to pull out all the stops in trying to help your child ‘catch up’ through extra work at home and tutoring. However, don’t forget that school will be exhausting enough and often demoralising, without coming home to face more tasks that are difficult. We all need down time and to have time to do the things we enjoy. This energises us to face the things we find difficult. It is very important to preserve your child’s sense of self and confidence. In reality, it will be these interests and strengths that lead them into productive and happy adult lives.
3. Give yourself and your child time
Take time to read and understand dyslexia as fully as you can. There is a wealth of information and advice online and this can be overwhelming. It is important to understand that while there are principles that help all dyslexics, no one intervention or method can help all dyslexic children. Each child and family are different and what may be hugely successful with one child may not successful with another child.
Once you work out how best to support your child, it is worth remembering that you should allow your child to develop at their own pace and not allow the pressure of the school system to dictate. School systems set benchmarks of what your child should achieve at each age but these should only be considered as guidelines. In reality, there is plenty of time for your child to develop their literacy skills. It is better to build the foundation stages thoroughly rather than trying to rush ahead and try to ‘keep up’. Many dyslexics who receive consistent interventions from age 6 or 7 will have reasonable literacy skills by the time they are 10 or 11. Reading is easier to master with the right intervention, writing and spelling will take considerably longer.
4. Try to pinpoint your child’s strengths and weaknesses
This is very important in deciding what approach to take in supporting your child. You should try to utilise your child’s strengths while encouraging them to practice the skills they find difficult. Every dyslexic child is different and has a different combination of strengths and weaknesses. While multisensory methods are recommended for all dyslexic children, knowing whether your child has stronger visual or auditory skills will help your child make quicker progress. For example, if a child has a weak visual sequential memory using mnemonics to learn irregular high frequency words will be effective. However, if they have strong visual skills you may colour code letter patterns and encourage your child to visualise the word in their head.
5. Find ways for your child to receive systematic support for reading and spelling
Children with dyslexia are capable of learning to read and write they just need to be taught differently. The first step is to ask the school to provide specific dyslexia interventions for your child. These do need to be delivered outside the classroom individually or in small groups by a specialist teacher or an adult who has been trained to use a specific intervention. More repetitions or a slower pace of ordinary classwork will not help them to develop their literacy skills and they will only slip further behind. If the school is not able to provide adequate support then tutoring or support at home may be the only option. But as pointed out earlier think carefully about your child’s schedule, if they are overtired or favourite activities are cancelled in favour of tutoring it will be counterproductive.
There are many options available both online and through workbooks, they vary widely in terms of cost and intensity of delivery. The key part is that they systematically teach letter-sound relationships and use multisensory methods. You may choose to use a specialist tutor but it is also possible for parents to provide appropriate support. Cost is not an indicator of how effective an intervention will be for your child, remember that there are many effective low cost methods to support dyslexia.
6. Develop your child’s intellectual skills apart from reading and writing
It is important that your child still continues to develop their other skills despite having difficulty with reading and writing. Children who are competent readers extend their vocabulary, learn about the structure of language and develop their imagination. If they read information texts they will extend their general knowledge. Very often dyslexic children end up lagging behind because they are often reading well below their grade level. Reading to your child, using audiobooks and video clips can help your child to learn age appropriate concepts and vocabulary. Spend time talking about stories and events to ensure your child understands them and makes connections. In terms of writing, it is good to scribe for your child from time to time so that they can develop their skills in composition rather than the focus always being spelling and handwriting. Videoing their ideas and then typing these up for child is another useful approach. Then the child can focus on editing and using interesting vocabulary. You can try voice to text applications to allow your child express themselves more freely than they can when writing themselves.
7. Believe your child will succeed in their own way
Finally, staying positive and helping your child stay positive is so important. They will have their own negative feelings and those of both adults and children at school to contend with on a day to day basis. Try to keep your own concerns, frustrations and disappointments away from your child.
Typically there is a ‘mourning’ process when you discover your child has learning difficulties. This can bring to the surface many strong emotions, work through these and seek support when you need it.
Accepting the child you have and not expecting them to be something they are not is vital for everyone’s wellbeing. It is fine to have high expectations as many dyslexics can pass exams and go to college or university. However, many have skills that will lead them into a whole range of practical careers. Enjoy and appreciate your child for who they are.
Visual Perceptual Difficulties
Visual perception is the term used to describe the way in which the brain processes visual information. There can be differences in the way that visual information is perceived, processed, organised and understood. This is different from the idea of 20/20 vision and being long sighted or short sighted.
We assume that when we show someone information visually on an interactive white board or a page in a book or a poster that they are seeing what we are seeing. We also assume that they will be able to readily pick out the information that they need from a visual source. For many children and adults this is not the case.
Good visual perception is important for all aspects of life. We need the ability to process visual information to make sense of the world around us. We need to be able to understand shapes, colours and distance. We use visual perception to develop our understanding of everyday concepts. For example: to know what a cup is, we need to see many cups and remember what are the key features that make a cup, as not all cups are the same. This understanding and visual memory will help us see that while a jug is similar to a cup it is not the same. We can mentally compare and realise that a jug has a lip for pouring that a cup does not.
Good visual perception is vital to learn to read and write. We need to distinguish letters and spaces between words. We need to remember spellings and organise words on a page. Visual perception should be one of the first things that is checked if a child is having difficulty learning to read or write.
It is not always easy to identify children who have difficulties with visual perception. Children usually don't realise that what they see is not what others see. It is also very hard to verbalise what we see or explain exactly what the problem is.
Some of signs to look out for are:
- difficulty remembering visually presented information
- difficulty with the order of letters and objects
- difficulty picking objects out from a busy background
- difficulty organising themselves or materials in space
- they may not realise that an object orientated differently is actually the same
- they may not notice big or small differences
- they may appear clumsy
Visual perception is complex and is made up of a number of skills.
visual sequential memory
visual form constancy
visual figure ground
visual motor intergration
Children do not usually have weaknesses in all these areas, a weakness in just 1 or 2 of them can cause significant difficulties both at school and in every day life.
www.eyecanlearn.com is a very useful website for parents that explains both visual efficiency and visual perception clearly.
If you have any concerns use should consult a behavioral optometrist who can test these areas using standardised tests. Check these websites to find a suitably qualified professional http://www.babo.co.uk or https://www.covd.org