Dyslexia – early detection can reduce a child’s anxiety around learning to read

Contributed by Dr Ingrid Kanuga

Books2All resident writer

Fri 1 Oct 2021

My debut piece for Books2All coincides with Dyslexia Week. As an educator who consults on learning, teaching and assessment strategies in higher education, I am familiar with dyslexia and the associated methods we should use in adult learning. However, as with many things in life, it wasn’t until I experienced it first-hand that I realised how difficult it is for a child to live with the condition when it is not recognised early on in their childhood.

Imagine a chatty three-year-old in pre-school who, after 50 attempts, is still unable to write their name correctly. Or who verbally understands maths better than their peers but on paper cannot distinguish the numbers.

A child who is this bright and aware of the world will often compare themselves to others who are moving more quickly through the book-bands. They might become anxious about their abilities and not understand why they cannot learn these skills. Some will start to give up and others will try and mask by relying on their memory and by skipping larger words.

Formal recognition of dyslexia took a long time

German ophthalmologist, Ruban Berlin, coined the term ‘dyslexia’ 130 years ago. Working with adults who faced difficulties with reading but had no problem with their eyesight, Berlin wondered if it was something in the brain that made them look at words differently. British researchers picked up Berlin’s findings when they were working with children around the age of 10, whose parents – often in senior medical professions – could not understand why their child, otherwise intelligent, struggled with the written word.

With the interruption of two world wars, the research halted but was picked up again in the late 1960s. Although there was progress, without the ability to perform the brain scans we can today, dyslexia wasn’t formally recognised as a learning difficulty for another 50 years. A person could only be considered dyslexic then if there was a vast difference between their general intelligence (IQ) and reading age.

As the condition was mostly identified in those from wealthier socio-economic groups, many medics believed middle-class families had invented it to explain their children’s inability to read! It wasn’t until the 1990s, with technological research advancements and populations in wealthier nations being educated to higher levels, regardless of their economic standing, that it was accepted that dyslexia did, in fact, occur across the population; in all ethnicities and backgrounds.

In 2009, the government appointed the Rose Review to make recommendations on identifying and teaching children with dyslexia. This action would ultimately result in recognition and protection for people with dyslexia under the Equality Act 2010 legislation.

Books2All blog: Dyslexia – early detection can reduce a child’s anxiety around learning to read by Dr Ingrid Kanuga

Specialist publisher Barrington Stoke produces many classic books in dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy them.

Wuthering Heights published by Barrington Stoke (2020)

Dyslexia is more than a reading disorder

We now know that dyslexia is partly linked to how our left and right eye muscles communicate with our brain what we see on paper. Small children often write letters as a mirror image but once the muscles strengthen, usually by the age of six, the sight rectifies itself. It seems that the eyes of those with dyslexic do not strengthen sufficiently and cause a vision problem called ‘convergence insufficiency’. As it is a neurological condition, it can improve if we give young readers relevant exercises for sufficient time. Some individuals manage to teach themselves without intervention, but most don’t and it is not tested for by a regular optician.

To read fluently, we need to focus both eyes on the same letter and scan across the page. Many people with dyslexia struggle to do this as their eyes wobble and move erratically. . They often look at approximately 1,000 points per minute on a page instead of 150. These extra points are in the wrong place, so people spend a lot of their processing power filtering out irrelevant information. This processing delay results in them not understanding what they are looking at and therefore being unable to link letters to phonics and then spelling later on.

By the time we consider dyslexia a possible explanation for a child’s poor spelling and reading, they are often in year 4 or 5. The anxiety around reading and writing will have already have build up and, in some cases, led to behavioural problems, including depression or angry outbursts. When struggling to understand a lesson, undiagnosed and unsupported students might misbehave, be hyperactive and disrupt lessons in other ways.

Last week I spoke to Karina, an MA student who didn’t get diagnosed with dyslexia until 2001 when she was 25 and already studying journalism. All through primary and secondary school, educators had assumed that the otherwise bright student was just lazy when it came to reading!

Having worked as a teaching assistant, Karina had come across students who showed signs of dyslexia and she felt could be better supported. She was surprised to learn that the teachers she worked with had little knowledge of the subject, or how to identify and help children with dyslexia.

Books2All blog: Dyslexia – early detection can reduce a child’s anxiety around learning to read by Dr Ingrid Kanuga

Children’s author and Books2All ‘Friend’, Jeremy Strong, writes many novels for a dyslexic audience. Ex-headteacher Jeremy’s mantra is: “write subject matter you would write for anyone of that age group. In other words, no patronising”.

Well said, Jeremy. Books2All couldn’t agree more!

Mad Iris and the Bad School Report published by Barrington Stoke (2015)

School provision still needs improvement

Although some teacher-training providers offer optional modules in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) that cover dyslexia, others will only discuss the condition in generic lessons and do not include it as a standard requirement.

The Dyslexia-SpLD-Trust has called for teacher training to include a mandatory module on SEND, including dyslexia. In addition, it asks for local authorities to train existing teachers to know how to recognise the condition, help affected pupils in the classroom through dyslexia-friendly teaching and when to refer them for further assessment and intervention.

Parents and teachers can make small interventions for young children, including printing text on different coloured paper (not white), using special apps that help build muscle communication, listening to audio books and, perhaps most importantly, raising awareness of dyslexia with all those involved, including the children themselves.

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.

Banner photo courtesy of www.freeimages.co.uk

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