Managing multiple learning difficulties

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A teacher discusses one pupil’s attempts to manage multiple learning difficulties

Alex not only had dyslexia, but diagnoses of dyspraxia and ADHD as well. Until the summer term, however, his parents were reluctant to give him medication as they thought it would suppress his personality. Over the years, he had developed many work avoidance techniques and at Year 5, when he finally received his statement, he had a reading and spelling age of below seven.

He was enthusiastic in literacy activities but his impulsive nature led him to shout out or cut across other children, and quite often he would give inappropriate answers in an attempt to amuse his classmates.

His dyspraxia made his movements awkward, and as he raised his hand to answer a question, usually shouting out at the same time, he would invariably knock things off the table unintentionally, then over balance on his chair while he attempted to reach them from the floor.

His spidery writing meant his work was difficult to read; while he had the ideas, the majority of his written work could not be deciphered. When following text on the interactive board he complained that the words jumped out at him or the lines appeared jumbled. Like many dyslexics, he had very poor organisational skills and frequently mislaid PE kits, school books and homework. He often complained of being tired and having headaches.

In class, over the course of the year, we tried a variety of aids to support Alex, such as using a posture cushion to help him balance and a sloping board to give support to his wrist when writing. As a left hander, we also made sure he sat to the left of the table so he didn’t knock into a right handed pupil.

When he was reading, we started to use coloured over lays to place over text so the white background did not appear so startling, and pastel background colours on the interactive board. Any worksheets were printed on cream paper with a large, simple font.
Alex also tried a hand-held keyboard which could be spell-checked when attached to a computer, thus making his drafts easier to read. Sessions of Brain Gym helped him re-focus and gave him a chance to stretch.

All these simple adaptations made a difference to the problems Alex encountered and his self-confidence began to grow, as did his ability to read, spell and achieve.

My reason for writing this is that I am keen, as a classroom teacher, to raise awareness of the problems encountered by so many dyslexic pupils who don’t just have the misfortune to have one learning difficulty, but whose learning is hindered by additional needs as well.

The frustrations they can encounter completing the most simple tasks makes each school day seem twice as long. We cannot cure dyslexia, but we can offer strategies to help pupils cope more easily with daily tasks. Simply understanding the basic drawbacks of having dyspraxia and ADHD, and the difficulties they can cause in the classroom, provides us with opportunities to introduce intervention strategies to improve outcomes.

Making contact with parents and carers, many of whom are at their wits end or simply do not understand why their child appears different when it comes to learning, can provide them with great comfort, as can putting them in contact with appropriate agencies who can offer further support.

While he still has his moments, Alex has continued to make good progress, but with a short attention span and memory problems he has to work hard to retain what he has learnt. He recently commented in class that he felt like his brain was wired up the wrong way. If only it were that simple.

This article was first published in issue 49 (November/December 2010) of SEN Magazine

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