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Problems with reading can have a profound effect on a child’s everyday life.Kate Saunders and Emma Abdulaal look at how dyslexia affects people throughout their lives, and what we can all do to help

Whether you are a teacher struggling to find a way to engage the student who has difficulty with reading and writing, a dyslexic parent fearing your daughter will ask you to help with her homework when you can't read yourself, or an employer looking to make your company more inclusive, it is clear that dyslexia touches all of us.

One in ten people has some degree of dyslexic difficulty. Many have not been formally diagnosed, but have struggled through their lives with weak reading, writing and/or spelling skills. For some, that struggle has led to disinterest or an inability to engage in tasks using literacy skills, when their peers can do the same task in half the time.

The theme of Dyslexia Awareness Week 2014 is "Dyslexia Matters..." It will focus at how this specific learning difficulty (SpLD) affects the individuals who experience dyslexic difficulties themselves, and how all of us can work towards creating a dyslexia friendly society through awareness raising. 2014 has already proved to be full of changes for those with dyslexia, including the SEN reforms and cuts to the Disabled Student Allowance in England. But why does all of this matter? In this article, we will look at dyslexia from the different perspectives of parents, adults with the condition, educators and employers of those with dyslexia to see how the condition impacts upon them, and how dyslexics can be provided with the support they need.

The parent

Olivia Loder was just six and a half years old when she was diagnosed with dyslexia. After she was bullied in two state schools, her parents were able to move her to a dyslexia specialist school at the age of eight, where she has since blossomed. Her father, Tim Loder, acknowledges that it isn't just the dyslexic child, but the parents and any siblings as well who end up going on what he calls a "huge journey of understanding and research" following a diagnosis of dyslexia, in order to help the child as much as possible.

As a parent of a child with dyslexia, Tim says "You go through a rollercoaster of emotions, like wanting your child to just be able to do schoolwork without any struggles, like a non-dyslexic child, and it seems so unfair that they do struggle when you know they are so bright. You have the huge emotional side of seeing them fall behind in school, watching their self-esteem end up on the floor as they feel useless and inadequate, but you as a parent know they have so much to offer and unbelievable amounts of potential to achieve and succeed."

One of the issues that Tim believes faces parents is that there is not a great deal understanding of a dyslexic child in schools, perhaps due to the lack of initial teacher training in dyslexia awareness. "Dyslexia matters because it can tear a child apart, but with the right support and help it can also open their vast and huge potential in life", he says.

The adult

For many adults with dyslexia, lack of diagnosis at school has meant they struggled through early education and employment. Despite showing signs of dyslexia from a young age, William Ford, part of Birmingham Adult Dyslexia Group, wasn't formally identified as being dyslexic until he was 29 years old. From both his personal and professional experience, early intervention is incredibly important as he believes it causes less trauma and baggage for the person with dyslexia in later life.

One issue that is particularly close to William's heart is the way society is becoming more text-based than ever, with people choosing to email and text rather than pick up the phone. Due to this development, William said that he has struggled to engage with society as much as he would like and that despite dyslexia being recognised as a disability under the Equalities Act 2010, many professional bodies and frontline staff do not understand the implications and ramifications of their failures to implement, engage and apply equality in the workplace or school. It is this lack of appropriate training that William believes needs to be addressed.

For William, everyone has a right to participate in, and engage with, their community but, in his case, a lack of appropriate provision and support created a barrier which prevented him from being able to do this. As he notes, being unable to read published material limits your ability to read up on facts and use these to form your own opinions; "I am forced to rely on everyone else's views and opinions rather than basing my opinions on fact". What's more, as William points out, dyslexia never leaves him. "I don't get time off for good behaviour", he says.

The educator

With the SEN Code of Practice in operation (from 1 September 2014), big changes in the education sector are now upon us. They include the introduction of education, health and care plans for people up to 25 years old, which will, over time, replace statements of SEN and learning difficulty assessments, as well as the new "local offer" from local authorities, where councils will publish what services and opportunities are available for children and young people in their area. As both a teacher and a parent of a child with dyslexia, Liz Loly is not convinced that these reforms will make any real difference to her child or other children – though she hopes to be proved wrong on this.

Building the confidence of children with dyslexia is very important. "I have always felt passionately about helping children with dyslexia", Liz says. "In my first teaching job [in 1999] I had a conversation with the parents of an intelligent eight-year-old boy with dyslexia. I was explaining to them how impressed I was with how hard he worked to overcome his problems and what a confident boy he was. They explained that he actually wasn't confident at all and at home often got very upset about not being able to read and write as well as his peers. This made me so upset that a very able child thought badly of himself because of dyslexia and had no idea how intelligent he actually was."

Several years later, she now finds herself in a similar situation, but she is the parent and her seven-year-old is the child who lacks confidence in all things relating to literacy.

The employer

For Hampshire Constabulary, it was the need to look at how it supports its staff with dyslexia that led to them starting up the Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) Project. They looked at staff across the force and identified the highest areas of risk from within it. One of the positive steps made was the decision to ensure all staff were supported as needed from day one by screening new police officers, special constables, police community support officers, control room staff and police staff investigators for dyslexia.

Staff were screened by being matched up with an assessor who understood their particular area of work and was therefore able to assess what, if anything, they needed in order to be able to carry out their job to their full ability. They carried out this screening by initially training, through the British Dyslexia Association, ten staff members to carry out workplace assessments in 2010. By 2012, the project was such a success that a further 12 members of staff were trained to carry out this work within the force.

Why did this matter though? Staff and supervisors reported that following the launch of the project, they now feel more supported and informed, as well as having improved relations between the different departments. A reduction in stigma surrounding the learning difficulty, as well as better motivated and happier staff, show that it is not just those with dyslexia who benefited from the project, but the whole workforce.

Moving forward

The call for dyslexia awareness training to be part of initial teacher training has come from many different sources recently, including the main UK dyslexia charities. This is clearly something that Liz feels is important, as her experience, as both a parent and a teacher, suggests that there is still a limited understanding in schools of how to help children who are showing signs of dyslexia. Liz has found that many professionals do not understand at what age children can be accurately tested for dyslexia and when they can be helped to overcome their problems.

In general, though, Liz does feel there is more support around now, though it often takes a lot of input from parents to get action so that children get the support they need. "I feel strongly that the system should be set up so that children in need of support receive it regardless of how informed and involved their parents are", says Liz. "Dyslexia matters because everyone deserves the right to achieve their full potential with their confidence intact."

All teachers are teachers of dyslexic children because ten per cent of the population is dyslexic, meaning that on average, three children in a class of 30 have dyslexia. We need lasting change in the education system. Key to this is that a basic level of dyslexia awareness training should be provided in all initial teacher training courses. This does not currently happen and is not a government requirement for teacher training providers.

All teachers should be trained to know how to spot the signs of dyslexia in the classroom, how to teach in a dyslexia friendly way and when to signpost the child on for further specialist intervention and assessment. The Government has recently launched a Review of Special Educational Needs input in Teacher Training and dyslexia charities are providing evidence to the review team, but it is also important for the public to have their say and to help raise awareness of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a hidden disability, so those who know the huge impact it can have on lives need to speak out. This is the way to overcome stigma and lack of understanding. There is an opportunity here to improve the literacy skills and prospects of a fulfilled life for future generations.

Dyslexia Awareness Week

3 to 9 November 2014
The theme of this year's Dyslexia Awareness Week is "Dyslexia Matters..." Downloadable resources for schools, including PowerPoint presentations for school assemblies and posters for display boards, are available (from September 2014) from:

Further information

Dr Kate Saunders is CEO and Emma Abdulaal Media and Communications Officer at the charity the British Dyslexia Association:

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