Helping Dyslexics: recognising dyslexia and tutoring
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Recognising Dyslexia
The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has provided awareness information for the recognition of learning difficulties, and advice for parents and educators. The New Zealand Ministry of Education Te Kete Ipurangi website includes a working definition of dyslexia and a number of resources concerning dyslexia.As well, there is a webpage for parents "Dyslexia: Breaking down the barriers" that provides basic information.

If the answer to all or several of the following questions is "Yes", it is probable that the individual needs help.

Many children have similar difficulties and they do grow out of them. But it is the number and persistence of the problems which causes concern, despite the child receiving the same teaching as classmates. If nothing is done, the child finds schoolwork gets harder and harder to cope with, and they start seeing themselves as failures and not enjoying the challenges of school.

Signs that may indicate Dyslexia

Child under 8 1/2 years old. Do they

  • have a history of delays in speaking, making sentences, or pronouncing words correctly?
  • have particular difficulty with reading and spelling?
  • have difficulty in kicking or catching a ball?
  • have difficulty with tying shoe laces or dressing?
  • put letters and figures the wrong way round, e.g., confuse "b's" and "d's" longer than expected, and "15" for "51"?
  • have difficulty telling left from right?
  • have difficulty in remembering the order of the days of the week, or months of the year?
  • have difficulties in remembering the times tables and the alphabet?
  • surprise you because in other ways they are bright and alert, and have strong recall skills such as what they have seen and heard on television?

Child 8 1/2 to 12 years old. Do they

  • still make mistakes in reading?
  • still make strange spelling mistakes?
  • leave letters out of a word being spelt?
  • put letters of a word being spelt in the wrong order?
  • have a poor sense of direction, and still confuse left and right?
  • still occasionally confuse "b's" and "d's" and other letters?
  • still find times tables difficult?
  • still needs to use fingers, or marks on paper, to make calculations?
  • have problems understanding what they have read?
  • take longer than average to do a small amount of written work?
  • lack self confidence and have a poor opinion of themselves?
  • surprise you will their power of recall, speaking abilities, and wide knowledge?

Child 12 years or older. Do they

  • still read inaccurately?
  • still have difficulties in spelling?
  • need to have instructions and telephone numbers repeated?
  • get "tongue tied" using long words such as "preliminary" and "philosophical"?
  • confuse places, times, and dates?
  • have difficulty with planning and writing essays?
  • lack self confidence and self-esteem?
  • surprise you with their wide knowledge, and seems a bright child?

If a child has all or a number of these difficulties, parents must do something to help them. 

Ask your school if they will administer an assessment, such as the Bangor Dyslexia Test.  A full assessment should be done by a registered psychologist using an assessment tool such as the full Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children, version 4 (WISC-IV®) that helps to pinpoint a student’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses (see the article by Lizette Campbell summarising information on WISC-III®).

What parents can do

At the school:

  • talk to the teachers, and ask if they think there is a problem.
  • if the teachers tell you "Don't worry, they will catch up", ask how they can be helped to do so.
  • if the teachers tell you there are plenty of children worse than them, alarm bells should be ringing: if the teachers have so many problems to deal with, your child may not get help. Make sure that they do get help.
  • create good parent/teacher relationships.
  • set up a communications network at school and keep it going.
  • if a new teacher arrives, go and make yourself known (although this becomes more difficult when an older child has many subject teachers, or there are a number of relieving teachers).

Some children develop behaviour problems out of frustration, anything from bedwetting or refusing to go to school, to throwing tantrums - or worse. You may be told that their reading and writing difficulties are due to behaviour problems. This is almost certainly not the case - it is more likely to be the other way round.

Some schools may be reluctant to allow students to leave school for tutoring during normal school time. In New Zealand parents need to be aware that under Section 25B(a) of the Education Act 1989, a student is able to be released to receive out-of-school tuition during normal school hours.

If your child needs reader/writer support for assessments, tests, or examinations, ensure this support is provided. In New Zealand the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has its requirements that parents need to be aware of; these are outlined in the article Reader/writer assistance for dyslexic students for examinations and assessments at secondary schools.

At home, be patient and positive:

  • teach them to do things for themselves, such as tying shoe laces and telling the time.
  • give them aids to tell left from right.
  • avoid failure at home - they get enough at school.
  • don't show your anxiety, and talk to them about their problems.
  • encourage them in the things they can do well.
  • don't just tell them to try harder.
  • don't make comparisons with others in the family or at school.
  • don't allow other children to tease them about what they cannot do - tell them the things they can do.
  • read aloud to them as much as you can, no matter what their age.
  • encourage them to go slowly and take their time.
  • do not allow them to make dyslexia an excuse.
  • make time to play games with them, especially those using words. Home should be a "learning place" but not a "remedial teaching place".
  • establish a routine for them and try to keep distractions to a minimum.
  • ask for their timetable and help them to be organised.

What teachers can do
Assessments should establish what a student knows and can do, not whether if they can read questions or write answers. Lack of literacy need not inhibit learning. Technology today provides aids such as tape recorders, video cameras, computers, and talking books.
As a teacher, be aware of information in the article Notes for my teacher, "Everything I would like you to know, but I am too shy to tell you", compiled by Sharon Olsen for Room 13, Rangeview Intermediate School, Auckland.

Remember, as well as reading, writing, and spelling difficulties, a dyslexic student may:

  • read a passage correctly yet not get the sense of it.
  • have difficulty with the order of words in a sentence, or sentences in a paragraph.
  • have great difficulty with mathematical symbols, reading music, or anything which entails the interpretation of symbols.
  • have difficulty with a foreign language.
  • be inconsistent in performance.
  • omit words, or write one twice.
  • suffer from constant, nagging uncertainty.
  • be unable to take good notes because they cannot listen and write at the same time.
  • work slowly because of difficulties, so is always under pressure of time.
  • tire quicker than normal as far greater concentration is required.
  • have difficulty copying from a blackboard or whiteboard.

As a teacher you can help dyslexic students by:

  • letting the student know you are interested in their difficulties, and talk with them and encourage them to ask for help.
  • try to make positive comments on their work.
  • find something they are good at, and praise whenever possible.
  • sit them at the front of the class so you can help them unobtrusively.
  • mark written work on content, not spelling.
  • give new information more than once and check they understand it.
  • give them time to organise their thoughts and complete their work.
  • teach them study skills.
  • make sure they know what their homework assignments are, and remember it will take them longer to complete.
  • DO NOT
    • ever ridicule them.
    • brand them as lazy or careless.
    • tell them just to try harder.
    • compare them with the rest of the class - grade them on their own progress.
    • make them read aloud in class - it will destroy their self-esteem.
    • correct all spelling mistakes in written work - it is too discouraging.
    • assume reading and writing are part of natural human development - most of us can learn these skills if taught in the way which suits us best.

If they cannot learn the way you teach, can you teach the way they learn?

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