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Michelle Wickenden looks at how to read the signs of dyslexia in young children

Children of primary school age often show clear signs of a specific learning difficulty (SpLD), such as dyslexia. If left unnoticed, and without appropriate intervention, these difficulties can cause feelings of isolation, which in turn may lead to a lack of confidence and low self-esteem both at school and later on in life. Although intervention for dyslexia often takes place later in a child’s schooling, support is available even for children at Key Stage 1. This article will outline common signs of dyslexia and how to spot key traits early in a child’s life.

Dyslexia is believed to affect around ten per cent of the population and we know that the earlier we can detect it, the better the support we can provide. Until recently, dyslexia was thought to affect many more males than females, though recent research suggests greater parity between the sexes.

In simple terms, there is broad agreement that dyslexia is a genetic condition that creates differences in the way information is processed, stored and retrieved. It has nothing to do with intelligence, just the ways in which people learn.

Common indicators of dyslexia

Many of those with dyslexia have problems with long- and/or short-term memory, information processing speed and time perception (for example, the time it takes to complete a task is often over or underestimated). They can lack organisational skills and can also experience problems with sequencing (for example when throwing or catching) and dexterity issues. Indeed, children with dyslexia are often referred to as being clumsy.
Common early processing symptoms that are often noticeable can include mixing up letters within words, and words within sentences, while reading and/or writing. Dyslexic learners may also have difficulty with spelling and can show signs of severe frustration and become extremely emotional about exams. This is often related to short-term memory problems; for example, if a child forgets how to spell a word just a few hours after memorising it, then how are they expected to remember entire passages of text for exams in a highly pressured environment?

Dyslexic children may have a tendency to zone-out, lose track of time and suffer severe mood swings. It is common to be labelled with a behavioural problem at school due to a short attention span.

Support is available even for young children with dyslexia.Dyslexic learners often have a high IQ, yet may not test well academically, especially in written exams. They may also lash out, hide or cover-up weaknesses with ingenious coping strategies that both educators and parents need to be able to spot. For example, some dyslexics may confuse left and right but will remember that they are right handed, which jogs their memory. They may also use their fingers to count, and have good vocabulary but be unable to write the words down. They can therefore become flustered when asked to stand up in the classroom to read aloud or recite a timetable.

Where literacy difficulties are identified, you should always take into account the quality of the teaching received; difficulties with reading may be the result of the nature of the teaching rather than inherent learning difficulties, though some children may have difficulties arising from both.
Understanding a child’s preferred learning style, be it visual, kinaesthetic and/or auditory, is extremely important, as this ensures that information is received, learnt and retained, thereby improving the child’s confidence, skills and self-belief.

Dyslexia is not only about literacy, although weaknesses in literacy are often the most visible sign. Dyslexic learners can also exhibit a number of other difficulties, not directly related to learning. They can be more prone to ear infections, more sensitive to foods, additives, and chemical products, they can be extra deep or light sleepers, and they can have an unusually high or low tolerance to pain.

People with dyslexia can be emotionally sensitive and they may be a perfectionist by nature. Poor time-keeping is a common problem and they can find it difficult to estimate how long a task will take to complete. These kinds of issues can be exacerbated by confusion, pressure of time, emotional stress and poor health.

Creativity in action

Dyslexia also tends to bring with it certain characteristics as to how the brain functions. A dyslexic learner can be particularly strong at thinking outside the box; many of those with dyslexia are very creative and excel in subjects such as art, engineering and drama. Dyslexics can also make great designers, inventors, entrepreneurs and musicians.

Dyslexics often combine visual and kinaesthetic learning styles; they tend to learn something and make it stick by actually completely the task, rather than just reading about it. Therefore, a multi-sensory environment is often “prescribed” in primary education, which can be effective.

However, a lot of educators are not aware that assistive technology is also available – even for key stages 1 and 2. Children need not wait until secondary school to have specialist software at their fingertips. Indeed, because the traits associated with specific learning difficulties often present themselves at a more obvious level at key stages 1 and 2 assistive technology support can be very effective for younger children.

There is much that can be done to support the dyslexic learner, and early (and appropriate) intervention is widely believed to lead to better outcomes for the pupil concerned. If you think that your child may have dyslexia, you should talk to his his/her school. There are also many dyslexia associations nationally and locally that can provide information and advice and point you in the right direction for additional support.

Famous dyslexics

A link between dyslexia and creativity is widely recognised, and the list of successful, high-achieving dyslexics is seemingly endless. Here are just a few household names who have, or are believed to have had, dyslexia:

  • Albert Einstein (theoretical physicist)
  • John Lennon (musician, songwriter)
  • Sir Winston Churchill (Prime Minister)
  • Keira Knightley (actor)
  • Tom Cruise (actor)
  • Jamie Oliver (TV chef)
  • Robbie Williams (singer)
  • Sir Richard Branson (businessman)
  • Guy Ritchie (film director)
  • Sir Steve Redgrave (five times Olympic champion).

Further information

Michelle Wickenden is from assistive technology training provider e-Quality Learning:

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