But I am getting there now. Closer to seeing inside my little boy’s brain and understanding it’s twists and turns. Where sparks fly from connections and where there are none. He doesn’t see in pictures, I’ve been told. It’s described as ‘weak concept imagery’. He has a higher order language difficulty. Not a disorder. Although his letters are often disordered. His room is always in a disordered state…But then so is mine!
I still don’t know quite how to help him. What I can do to help him learn more easily. Or how to help him work out how to construct what he wants to say more effectively. But we’ll keep battling on and hopefully we’ll find a way to make sense of everything together.
One person who has helped on this journey is a very special lady. His tutor, and a Dyslexia specialist teacher at several schools, Abby Lloyd, who in my eyes is a legend. She makes learning fun. No. 2 looks forward to his sessions with her. Not just because she brings sweets as rewards! But because of her infectious enthusiasm and positivity. Something I know I often lack at the end of the day with 4 children who have homework to do.
Abby shares her own experiences with us in her guest post today and we are very grateful to her for doing so. I know there is a lot of information here (Abby admits it's more of a novella than a blog post!) but hopefully it lets people in similar situations know they are not alone, and gives some ideas of how to move forward.
My youngest daughter Jessica has just turned six. We spent Reception year working through the obligatory Biff, Chip and Kipper books as I had done with her older siblings. The only thing was that with this one nothing seemed to stick. By the end of the year, she was no further forward than being able to read 'Mum', 'Dad' and her name. I didn't panic at this point - she was happy at school, she had friends, she was young in the year, my eldest daughter also started late into books; there's always plenty of reasons early on in school why children just don't quite get going yet.
And so we moved into Y1. It's a mixed year group school so there were no traumatic changes in staff, classroom, environment. She'd spent plenty of the summer outdoors but also happy in her room surrounded by books. She loves the look of books, loves make-believe, fantasy, Harry Potter; has a fantastic imagination. But still the mechanics of reading evaded her.
As a Specialist Dyslexia teacher, the first thing I would ask any parent coming to me with concerns would be whether the child had been for a recent hearing and sight check. A hearing check requires a referral from your doctor and then a visit to the local audiology clinic. A sight check can be done at any opticians but it can be useful to request an optometrist screening, mentioning that your child is having reading issues at school. This looks more specifically at how the eyes work together to scan the page. Some children report that the words on the page of a book blur, move around or even look different colours. It's worth asking your child the question.
Hearing and sight ruled out, I went to have a chat with the teacher. She had already by this time classified Jessica as a child needing 'monitoring'. This is a stage below the inclusion of a child on the school's Special Educational Needs Register and picks up on children who are starting to pose a concern but still making reasonable progress. We agreed that the current reading scheme was not working for her learning style and that we'd find one better suited to her needs. For those who may be in a similar situation, she is unable to learn sight words without weeks of going over and over them, on cards, in books, on posters, on billboards, wherever we can point it out. Her phonics, however, are excellent, mainly due to the regular and consistent reinforcement that she gets every day at school. I have also used the principles of the dyslexia programme that I follow with my pupils and use pictures as much as I can. Research has found that children with cognitive delays seem to benefit from sight words being accompanied by pictures. As an example, our latest sticking point was the word 'all'. We had practised it in the word cards sent home from school and pointed it out in books but it just wouldn't stick, even a few seconds after last seeing it. I then drew her a picture with 'all' in a bubble with 'ball' and 'wall' written and drawn underneath. That was all it took, she now recognises that word whenever it appears.
We're now nearing the end of Y1. My daughter is able to read some of her sight words and she is progressing well through her reading scheme. Reading is starting to become more fluid for her; not every word has to be sounded out and she can start to get more meaning from the text. This term she has progressed onto the Special Needs Register. This was at the teacher's suggestion but with our approval. We can all see that she is trying her best and that she will get there but equally her peers at the moment are learning to read and spell at such a fast rate that she just can't keep up right now. Her memory issues are impacting on her spelling and writing and also holding her back in her maths where so much of early number work relies on memory of number sequences, number bonds, number facts. The constant feeling that she isn't as good as her classmates leads to tears, toileting accidents, nightmares, withdrawal. All very sad in such a little girl.
I know that some parents are very uncomfortable with having their child 'branded' in school but we're happy for Jessica to be 'labelled' as Special Needs because to us she does have special needs. She needs more of my attention, love and reassurance at home. She needs more time with her teacher, which she is generously given every day before school so that she has a chance to pre-learn work for that day. She needs encouragement and understanding when she takes a little longer to get things done. She needs teaching in a way that will support her weaker memory skills with pictures and lots of repetition.
I know that she's very lucky to be in the school that she's in and I know that I lot of you reading this and in similar situations will possibly be fighting for recognition that your child is different, that you're not just being an oversensitive parent. I've heard of parents being told to stop looking for an excuse for their child not being top of the class. My own parents were told to just be glad that they had one bright daughter when my sister started to falter at school.
So what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation? I would always recommend that you go to the class teacher in the first instance when you have concerns about your child's learning. It might be useful to have had eye and hearing checks before you go so that action can be taken straight away. It's also a good idea to check out any history of learning difficulties within the family as there are proven genetic links and these might support your case. If you don't get the response you are hoping for then the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) would be your next port of call.
Sadly not all schools are willing to listen, and sometimes SEN can be quite hidden from anyone who is not either qualified in the area or very close to the child (often in the case of speech and language difficulties). In these situations, the only way to get that recognition will be to seek an assessment. Some schools are now able to offer screening for dyslexia and it may be worth investigating this first. Following this there are various routes to follow, ranging from Specialist Teacher Assessments up to full Educational Psychologist reports at a cost of £350-£750 plus. Your child's school may have a particular specialist that they recommend, outside of that then it comes down to asking around for personal recommendations. I always think that it's worth asking to read a sample report by the professional you are considering using to make sure that it is not too full of jargon, has practical and useful recommendations and will be helpful to everyone involved with your child. You can also ask to have a chat with them on the phone to see if you think they will get on with your child. Some professionals will come into school to observe your child in class, others will come in after the report has been written to talk to parents and teachers about the best way forward. This may or may not be included in the initial cost.
Although it is tempting to get your child assessed as soon as possible, please bear in mind that it is widely not recommended to do so until 8 years of age. This is because the majority of tests used in assessments have been written, trialed and scored in America where the formal education system starts later than in the UK. The effect of this is that young British children can score highly on tests purely due to having had much more exposure to that task in school than their American peers. By age 8, the differences have evened out and the test scores will be much more reliable.
Once you have your report, it will be a case of making an effective partnership with the school, parents and any outside agencies or specialists that have been recommended to make sure that your child gets the best support possible. Some schools will allow specialist teachers to come and teach your child in school. This is a great arrangement if you can get it as the child can be caught while their brain is fresh, the specialist can liaise with the SENCO and class teacher and the school gain specialist knowledge on tap. Details of local specialist teachers can be found either by asking around on the playground, on social networking sites or through organisations like Dyslexia Action or the British Dyslexia Association. You really can't underestimate the difference just an hour a week will make to a struggling child. I have been lucky enough to arrange for a very experienced Reception teacher to work with Jessica in school. She skips into school that day and she skips out to tell me all about how well she did, what good reading and writing and how well she knows her sounds. It's so great to see the happy, confident little girl coming back to us again.
The thing to remember is that happy and confident is all we really want for our children to be isn't it? They don't need to be rocket scientists, though of course it is great that some of them are. I just want my little girl to work hard and to feel that therefore she has done a great job, that she's worth something, that she's valued. If it turns out that she's dyslexic, well that's what she is. She's just my little girl and we're all just going to do our best.
When the English tongue we speak,
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb, and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food, and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone--
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don’t agree.