According to national statistics, 10% of the UK population is dyslexic. However, the condition can often be misdiagnosed or overlooked, especially where children with other special needs are concerned. Here is an overview on how to spot the signs, work in partnership with professionals and get support for a child or young person with dyslexia.
Who notices dyslexia first – teachers or parents?
Often it is the staff in school who raise concerns. Teachers pick on little clues during phonics screening, spelling tests, or through other observations and regular conversations with the child. Some parents notice that their child is having difficulty with reading and ask the school to consider dyslexia. Parents who have dyslexia themselves are more likely to pick up on early signs due to their own experience.
Can signs be misconstrued?
Yes, without a good understanding of the traits of dyslexia, signs can often be misread. Dyslexia may be attributed to children whose difficulty stems from other sources. This has been especially true during the pandemic. Parents or teachers who notice a child falling behind may worry that the child is dyslexic. In fact, these children may just need stronger support in specific areas after being away from school for so long. It is important to be aware that not every problem in reading and writing points to dyslexia. There could be other underlying conditions at play, such as developmental language disorder or a general learning disability.
On the other hand, dyslexia can be overlooked, especially when a child has already been diagnosed with another condition. If, for example, a child is autistic, we should not attribute all their difficulties to autism – they may be dyslexic as well, and it might be their dyslexia rather than their autism which poses barriers to learning.
What if my child’s first language is not English?
Learning in a new language can be hard, but schools need to be very vigilant regarding children with English as an additional language and not automatically assume that language is the only barrier to learning. In any case, support must be put in place.
What specific characteristics should we pay attention to?
While dyslexia has overlapping traits with other conditions, there are some specific tell-tale signs staff and parents can look out for. For instance, many young children mix up their b and d when they learn to read and write, but children with dyslexia may continue to do so in later school years. Other signs include speaking or writing slowly, poor standard of written work compared with oral ability, creating anagrams of words (e.g. tired for tried), making slow reading progress, finding it difficult to blend letters together, confusing place value in numbers (e.g. writing 15 instead of 51), and struggling with reading from a white background, compared to a coloured background.
Dyslexic children may also try to avoid certain activities like spelling tests and written work, or tire easily due to the extreme effort they put in to decode and recognise words when they read.
You can find some useful dyslexia checklists here.
Once a parent or a teacher notices a difficulty, what are the next steps?
Teachers will consult the Sheffield Support Grid and together with the SENCo start a review process and begin putting support in place. This is called SEN Support. They will try different interventions to see which have the most impact. The review process may be lengthy, but it is important to stress that support is needs-based and not diagnosis-dependent. Measures should be implemented as soon as difficulties occur.
Meanwhile, staff and parents should be sensitive to the child’s feelings. Schools may make reasonable adjustments, such as changing how spellings are marked or not asking a child to read in front of the class. Many dyslexic people report feeling anxious or self-conscious about their disability, which is important for adults to be aware of from the start.
Who will assess my child?
An initial assessment is usually carried out by the SENCo, after asking the parents for permission. They would use various assessment tools such as the Dyslexia Portfolio, British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS), York Assessment for Reading Comprehension (YARC) or RAVEN’s to check for traits associated with dyslexia. The SENCO will also ask the class teacher how the child is doing in class.
What are the assessments checking for?
Dyslexia has more to it than difficulties in reading and writing. The person doing the assessment will look at the child’s thought processes – how they work out a solution to a problem, their working memory and their ability to organise ideas both verbally and in writing. The results will inform the choice of methods for helping the child; not every dyslexic pupil benefits from strategies like sitting closer to the board or using coloured paper. For some, pre-learning is the way forward: sitting with a teaching assistant a few minutes before the lesson to prepare for what will be done in class.
The effectiveness of the strategies depends on each student’s individual strengths and difficulties. For example, some dyslexic people struggle with putting their thoughts in writing, but using a recording device as a middle step – that is, dictating their answers and then transferring them onto paper – helps them organise their ideas. Recognising dyslexia and using the right strategies can turn a child’s learning experience around.
What should I do if I feel that my child’s needs are not being recognised or met?
The first step is to speak to the school’s SENCo about your concerns. The school can then work with you and look at what support can be put in place. If the school needs external support, they can contact their locality SENCo to ask for advice. SENCos can also contact Fusion SEND Hub and get a consultant teacher in SEND to work with the child and carry out specific assessments. From these assessments the consultant teacher will be able to offer strategies for the school and the family.
Parents seeking external advice may want to contact a private provider for an assessment. They can then present the report to the school and discuss further measures.
If issues with school persist, SSENDIAS can help mediate and resolve problems. Their service is free of charge.
Does my child need an official diagnosis to get help in school exams?
No. An official diagnosis is not needed to get help in exams like SATS, GCSEs and A-levels, and a diagnosis of dyslexia does not mean that a student automatically qualifies for help.
Extra help in exams is known as “access arrangements” and can include things like extra time, a reader, a scribe or a laptop. Any kind of access arrangement must reflect the student’s normal way of working. For example, a student would only be allowed to use a laptop in exams if they normally use one in class.
For some types of access arrangements, a student must undergo a formal assessment before the school can apply for them. These assessments might measure things like reading speed, writing speed, spelling accuracy, or cognitive processing speed. They must be carried out by a specialist assessor and should be arranged by the school.
More information about access arrangements
What about help at university?
If your child is considering university, they will be expected to provide documentary evidence of their dyslexia to access support. You should contact the disability service at the universities your child is considering well in advance of the start of the academic year to check what evidence they require. The university may also provide funding in full or part for a full diagnostic assessment report which can then also be used to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance.
How can parents support dyslexic children at home?
Continuity is key. Parents should work in partnership with the school and use the strategies at home that work well in the classroom – for example visual timetables, lists, pre-learning etc. – and vice versa: teachers can learn from parents about what helps the child at home and incorporate these techniques in class.
Remember that dyslexic children often need more time to process the information on the page or what is being asked of them. Try to allocate more time for schoolwork. For instance, if your child has been given a book for half-term reading, you can help by reading it together and explaining it to them in preparation for the next half-term. However, beware not to overload your child and always be conscious of their mental health.
Should I support my child by engaging a private tutor?
Tutors, if they do not overstretch the family budget, can be a good option, as long as they follow the methods used in school. The last thing you want is to create confusion and send the child mixed messages. Collaboration between professionals and a holistic approach to the child’s progress and wellbeing are essential.
We would like to thank Cheryl Gaughan, Assistant Head at Talbot Specialist School and Director of Fusion SEND Hub, for invaluable information.
Information about Dyslexia
British Dyslexia Organisation
Parent Champions guide for families
Rates for private tuition are around £30-40 per hour. Families are not expected to engage private tutors to complement school lessons.
- If you are considering private tutoring, look for experienced teachers with a Diploma in SpLD (Specific Learning Difficulty).
- Look for PATOSS-approved teachers on patoss-dyslexia.org
- The British Dyslexia Association has a list of accredited tutors; email email@example.com with your county and postcode to request it.
Private screening and assessments
There are several providers in Sheffield who offer private dyslexia screening and assessments. You can find them on the Local Offer website if you type “dyslexia” into the search box. Basic screening starts at £80, while an official diagnosis done by a specialist can cost up to £585.
Information, advice and support
Sheffield SENDIAS provide free and impartial information, advice and support to parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Yorkshire Rose Dyslexia are a volunteer-led organisation that offers a free parent support helpline and Whatsapp group as well as a tutor/assessor directory.