I think a child in my class may be dyslexic - what do I do next? An interview with Rachael McMullen, Education Manager of British Dyslexia Association
I was fortunate enough to bump into Rachael McMullen at the TES North show recently. (Readers of The Link magazine may remember her informative article exploring the link between dyslexia and speech and language difficulties, last month in The Link Magazine- Issue 13). Rachael was kind enough to agree to an interview with me.
Here she talks about immediate strategies that schools can put in place, to support their children that they have concerns about.
What steps should schools take if they suspect a child may have Dyslexia? Is age important?
Firstly, report any concerns to the SENCo and then find out as much information about Dyslexia as you can which will help you spot signs of difficulties amongst your pupils and put strategies to support them in place.
It is really important that the child’s strengths as well as challenges are recognised e.g. you may have noticed that a pupil can recognise a word by sight, but they might not be able to decode a word bit by bit. This means that they may be able to read words that they have seen before but are struggling with vocabulary they have not seen before. Their strength is visual memory, their weakness is decoding - which will need more work. Understanding this will help you plan strategies for the classroom.
Talk to the child’s parents – encourage them to read to their child to maintain their child’s exposure to new language. This oral language knowledge will help them read the word when they see the word in print. Even if the child is unable to decode words keeping them exposed to new vocabulary and using these words orally will have a huge positive impact on future literacy skills.
Assessment for Dyslexia is not usually carried out before a child is 7 years old. In the Early Years Setting there may be some indictors of Dyslexia, but some children come to reading later than others and so we would not formally assess them before this.
Do children with Dyslexia always require specialist intervention?
It is important for teachers to understand exactly the strengths and challenges that each individual child has. All teachers need to be aware of Dyslexia and know the strategies that they can put in place, in their classroom, that will allow those learners to stay in the classroom and to access the curriculum. Learning within the classroom is the best place for children to be. Some learners however, may need some intervention which takes them out of the classroom. This might be with a TA who has that specialist knowledge, or it could be with a specialist teacher. Often if the right strategies are put in place in the classroom early on, children will still be able to develop with their learning and not need that specialist support.
When the interventions, that are normally put in place in school, are not successful specialist teaching would need to come into place.
The school must always work closely with families so that they understand what the school has put in place to support their child and have the knowledge and skills to be able to complement this at home.
What advice would you give to schools who may not yet have the appropriate support in place for children with Dyslexia?
A level of whole school Dyslexia awareness should be standard in any school and will enable the school to recognise the signs to look out for; understand how children with Dyslexia respond to learning, what challenges they face and what strategies to put in place. It’s not that Dyslexia always need its own set of strategies – many strategies you would put in place for a range of neurodiverse conditions such as SLN, Dyslexia, ADHD or Dyspraxia are similar. Many of the strategies that you would put in place for each of these conditions actually benefits everybody. Instead of trying to get to grips with every type of SEND it might be more manageable to think about what do I need to do to support my neurodiverse classroom? This is a more realistic and manageable way of thinking about support in the classroom. Looking for the commonalities – what are the difficulties that are common? What are the strategies I can put in place that are common? The support will then encompass all children.
Your setting may wish to complete the Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark ™ through the British Dyslexia Association which provides a framework of support and understanding and ensures that all within the school have a good knowledge of the needs of the dyslexic individual and that resources are available to meet such needs.
When should I tell a child that they have Dyslexia?
It’s important to give children and young people that knowledge if you think it would help them - parents will know that best. There are lots of children who say ‘Yes I’m dyslexic and the best way for me to learn is…’ Sadly lots of individuals are not diagnosed until later in life and this has had a huge emotional impact and a detrimental effect on life hopes and expectations.
What is the outlook like for Dyslexic children in the UK?
If schools identify children’s difficulties early and put in place the right support as soon as possible, there is no reason why Dyslexic children can’t do very, very well. There are Dyslexic children at the top universities and those with Dyslexia who excel in every walk of life. If children have had sympathetic schooling and, if they have had very good support from parents as well, they will have a good understanding of how to manage their strengths and challenges. Unfortunately, this isn’t typical across all settings and we have a long way to go in terms of getting that awareness into schools.
Rachael previously worked as a SENCo and specialist teacher in an independent school for children with Dyslexia and SPLD.
Read Rachael's article on the link between dyslexia and speech and language difficulties online here.