In the next of our interview series we speak with Sue Flohr, Policy Manager at the British Dyslexia Association, about how parents can identify and support children with dyslexia.
The next interview in our series is with Sue Flohr MBE, Policy Manager at the British Dyslexia Association. For over 40 years the BDA has been the voice of the ten percent of people in the UK that have dyslexia. The organisation aims to spread awareness about dyslexia and to promote government policies that support dyslexics both at school and beyond.
UK Study Centre contacted the BDA to find out more about dyslexia and the ways in which parents and educators can help dyslexic children.
UK Study Centre: So Sue, I’ll start with a very simple question: What is dyslexia?
Sue Flohr: Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, something specific that stops you from achieving your potential. It’s usually diagnosed with signs of weak working memory or processing speed, both of which affect your performance.
What are some early indicators of dyslexia?
It depends on how young we’re talking about. We think that you can see signs of dyslexia at pre-school age, but it’s very difficult to get a diagnosis before you’ve actually started school, since only then will literacy tests come into play (there is a benchmark at 6). It’s very difficult to see whether somebody’s behind if you assess them at 6 because that’s only the starting point, but you can see very early signs in a child if they have difficulty perhaps with learning nursery rhymes, paying attention, sitting still when listening to stories or have difficulty with learning to sing or recite texts. If children get words muddled up, such as ‘par cark’ rather than ‘car park’, or forget the names of their friends or how to play games – these things can be early indicators. Poor auditory discrimination is another sign – we can think it’s quite amusing when little children pronounce things differently, but it shouldn’t be amusing, it should be a cause for concern. Putting clothes on back to front, not being able to put their shoes on, catch or kick a ball, these are indicators too. We have a full list of indicators on our website for parents to have a look at. In general though early signs can be seen from quite a young age.
Is dyslexia genetic?
Well researchers do believe that it is, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way. I have five children who all have different strands of dyslexia — different difficulties and characteristics – because a lot of things come into play. One might have difficulty with tracking visually and another might not because she actually only uses one eye. So different things come into play, and while it is genetic, there are certainly other influences too.
At what age can a child be officially diagnosed as dyslexic?
We like to think around the age of 7, because they develop and things change, so it’s difficult to do it before then.
How can parents help a child with dyslexia?
Parents can help by offering lots of reinforcement, lots of love, and most of all keeping up their child’s self-esteem. Find the things that the child is good at and play on those. Make sure that they know they’re good at something so that they don’t appear vulnerable to others and don’t develop poor self-esteem. It might be that they’re good at painting or sport, — everybody will have their qualities, so it’s important to help them find that and to give them lots of support at home.
What kind of assistance can dyslexic children receive at school? Are all dyslexic children entitled to extra time in exams for example?
Parents should look at information reports and special needs policies on school websites, and see what they say they will put in place if a child is struggling. Dyslexia varies from one person to another, so not all children will necessarily be entitled to specialist support. It will depend on whether the child can keep up in class or has fallen behind. Regarding exams, again it’s not taken into account whether a child is dyslexic or not. All schools should now have access to a teacher who has a qualification in assessing for access arrangements, and that person will decide if a child needs extra time or not. In the case of GCSEs for example, no child would be denied special arrangements if they needed it. They wouldn’t necessarily have to be dyslexic – dyslexia reports can’t be taken into consideration.
What would you say are the biggest myths about dyslexia?
Probably that it’s a reading and spelling difficulty; it’s not just that at all. It does impact on other aspects such as time management and organisation, working memory and processing speed as I've already mentioned.
UK Study Centre should like to thank Sue and the British Dyslexia Association for taking the time to speak with us.