Updated: Jun 19
So your child struggles. Reading is a battleground; they avoid writing like a teenage boy avoids the shower and don’t even get me started on learning times tables! Let me start by saying, you are not alone. I’ve been there, 3 times in fact. Apparently 10% of people are dyslexic and 4% are severely affected. I have 3 fantastic sons, 1 beautiful little girl and an amazing husband who can build anything I dream up. Currently, only my 2 year old daughter and I are not recognised as having dyslexia, so I completely get the struggle to understand this crazy, amazing quirk of genetics.
Let me start by saying dyslexia is different for different people. It ranges from mild to very severe and can affect people from all ability groups. From my research, boys and girls are just as likely to be affected although often girls cover it more making their difficulties harder to spot. Dyslexia does not mean you have a lower intelligence in fact one of my sons who is very severely dyslexic has a very high IQ and is in the top 7% of the population for intelligence. It simply means that you learn better in different ways. Some people may also suffer from visual stress meaning that some colours of paper and print makes things move and flip around. Think about when you see a red Christmas paper with green spots, how they can move around when you move your eyes, that, every time someone pushes a book in front of you.
Whatever your previous knowledge of dyslexia, not every person will struggle in the same way. My boys were all diagnosed by http://www.dyslexiasparks.org.uk/ in Hull. For my eldest son, at 14 his dyslexia is more noticeable in his writing. Backwards letters, strange spelling choices which are often impossible to decipher, even for him and lack of basic punctuation and spaces. He is verbally great and his amazing school have provided him with a scribe and voice recognition software so his teachers can read the content. He also has visual stress so was referred to the visual stress clinic at Hull Royal Infirmary he now wears tinted glasses to help with this. My middle son struggles most obviously with his reading, comprehension, using the punctuation in the text and the classic, spelling. His writing is beautiful, a complete contrast to his elder brother. My youngest son’s dyslexia is spotted easily in his reading and spelling too. The phonics that children use to learn to read and write make no sense to the dyslexic child making reading difficult and unenjoyable.
These are the obvious, classic signs. It goes deeper, I had no idea my husband was dyslexic until I bought him an analogue watch as a wedding present. Telling time was his nemesis and thinking he was “thick” as an undiagnosed dyslexic he wore a digital watch and covered up his difficulties and made jokes when he was asked to do tasks he found hard. Standing in a lift in our local shopping centre, I asked him the time. “It’s 10 to 2” he answered after a minute or so, frowning I answered “I hope not, we’ve just had breakfast!” checking his watch it said 10 past 10. Put on the spot, trying to cover up his panic he figured out some of it but processing the task didn’t leave room for thinking about what the time could conceivably be too and he got it wrong. It took having our eldest child diagnosed for my lovely intelligent husband to admit where his struggles lay. Acknowledging what he’d been hiding for years has helped no end as, understanding the reason, that he was not thick has enabled him to try to learn the things he struggles with, a bit at a time.
So processing; retrieving and storing information. Short term memory; not only is there a struggle to process information coming in but the shelf inside the brain that it arrives on can't hold it for long meaning the information is lost before it gets processed, the over learning of things is paramount. Telling time. Visual stress, reading, writing, spelling. These are just some of the the issues my lovely lot struggle with the most.
The flip side?
They are so inventive! They come up with strategies to over come the issues. They also see things completely differently to my non dyslexic brain. The boys make the most amazing lego models. From scratch, their own invention which look amazing! My husband can plan any number of diy projects, no plan, just all in his head. I’ve learned to trust him as his brain is like a computer, able to flip 3D images round and see issues without any paper plan. They are all amazing at maths. I’m completely lost with the calculations they can do easily. My middle son’s year 6 teacher challenged himself to find a problem that he couldn’t solve, to his delight, he didn’t succeed! Indeed he nicknamed him Mr Solve -It!
Photo credit to D. Robinson
Some of our greatest inventors and scientists were dyslexic. It was often diagnosed through their notes:
Alexander Graham Bell inventor of the telephone
Michael Faraday inventor of the electric dynamo
Piere Currie He and his wife, Marie Curie, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for their contribution to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.
Galileo Galilei The Father of modern science
If you google far enough some amazing people turn up, see who you can find!
So how can you help?
I'm just a mum with experience of having children with Dyslexia. Never when I was at school getting SP. written all over my English book did I think I would be held up as a spelling oracle, and I truly aren't, believe me but I sometimes feel like I'm part of a strange spelling bee where I carry on everyday tasks while having spellings fired at me continuously from random members of my family! I definitely not an expert in Dyslexia so please consult with the correct people in your area.
Speak to your child’s school. They will have a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator or S.E.N.D.C.O. They are responsible for making sure that the extra needs of the children in their school are met.
Get a diagnosis. Absolutely essential. Your child, you and their teachers need to understand where their difficulties lie. When my eldest first found out he was dyslexic the change in his confidence was profound. There were times before when he would sit on the bottom of the stairs and cry, saying he hated himself. Utterly heart-breaking. A diagnosis helped him believe in himself as he realised he wasn't stupid. His words, not mine. It’s also important as, if your child gets a diagnosis, they may be eligible for extra time and support in exams. Call you nearest Dyslexia Charity. In Hull and East Yorkshire this is http://www.dyslexiasparks.org.uk/
Overlearn everything. With processing and memory issues you child will not learn their times tables the first or even 50th time you chant them. Don’t expect them to, just keep plugging away at them. In the car on the way to school is a good time. Short bursts, little and often can help you both to stay focused.
Use mnemonics Phrases to remember spellings can help eg Big Elephants Can’t Always Use Small Exits for BECAUSE and Dogs Only Eat Sausages for DOES. There are lots out there, this link is for high frequency words. https://abbotsphonics.wordpress.com/teddy-words-book-1-nursery-reception/high-frequency-words/
Play games to support memory. Kim’s game is a good one. Fill a tray with items. Everyone has 1 minute to look at the items, then cover the tray and take one item away. The first to spot the missing item wins! This is a great out and about game as the contents of your bag will do!
Let your child know that they are NOT thick, stupid, daft, unintelligent or any other negative connotation associated with Dyslexia. They are not, their brain just works differently and this is not wrong.
Instil a love of reading. When reading is a struggle and you are using all your concentration to read each word, comprehension is lost and with it any chance of loving the story. When your reading level is much lower than your level of general intelligence and vocabulary, the books you can read are often boring and the plot lines too simple. Reading to your child or putting on an audio book can help dyslexic children to fall in love with stories, learn new facts which interest them and model good flow and expression in reading. My boys adore Harry Potter, Secret Seven, David Walliams and Kate Dicamillo's Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane was a firm favourite.
Let them sleep! In my experience of having dyslexic children, they get so tired after a day of focusing and working their brain harder than their classmates. Make sure they get enough sleep, and time to be free and just chill.
Be their champion. This important for any parent to do. Supporting and believing in your child is fundamental to them growing to be well rounded adults with self-belief. For a dyslexic child this is even more important, they will need you to fight their corner even with the most amazing school, no one knows your child like you do. Find what makes them special, what they excel at and celebrate it. Every child is amazing and unique and having a parent who believes that and celebrates it, makes such a difference.