A CHILD WITH DYSLEXIA IS UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL – KNOWLEDGE IS KEY TO UNDERSTANDING DYSLEXIA
Having your child diagnosed as being Dyslexic is the first step to being able to help and support your unique and individual child. Finally, both parent and child begins to see why the difficulties in learning are being experienced and, there is often a sense of relief at the first stages of understanding dyslexia.
We know that Dyslexia can be a scary word, can cause stress and worry, and that it is often the lack of knowledge surrounding Dyslexia that causes such feelings. This is why we chatted with Tan Lyn Lee, Jae at Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS). Tan Lyn Lee, Jae is the Educational Psychologist & Registered Psychologist at DAS, during our interview she teaches parents how to identity signs of Dyslexia, guides us in how we can support our child as well as dispelling some common myths associated with Dyslexia.
- What are the first signs of dyslexia and are these usually spotted by the parent or a teacher?
At the preschool age, one of the first signs a child with dyslexia may display would be difficulties in picking up or catching on to rhymes. For example, he would have difficulties identifying that “dock” and “clock” sound the same at the end. Other children might find learning letter names and letter sounds difficult or they may have trouble sequencing the letters of the alphabet correctly.
As they grow older, children with dyslexia in late kindergarten or early primary may also find it difficult to blend sounds together to make a word. Letter and word reversals, such as “b” for “d” or “pit” for “tip”, word
transpositions such as “felt” for “left” or word substitutions such as “house” for “home” when reading and writing are also common signs of dyslexia.
From our experience, both parents and teachers will raise their concerns if they notice the child is having some difficulties in learning. Preschool teachers are also more aware of learning difficulties these days and would advise parents to seek help.
- At what age can a child be diagnosed as dyslexic?
It is possible to make a diagnosis around the age of six or seven, but we consider many different factors before making a diagnosis, especially when it comes to younger children. The factors that we take into consideration include the child’s cognitive abilities, amount of exposure to phonics instruction and the English Language through reading and speaking. It would be preferable that a child has learnt some phonics and is exposed to a good amount of English before any diagnosis is made. Hence, having gone through a year of formal education would be ideal before any diagnosis is done. In addition, there should not be any other physical difficulties that hinder their learning, such as vision and hearing loss. Even partial or temporary loss in these areas may impact a child’s ability to read and write. Nonetheless, it would be important to seek help if he/she finds difficulties with reading basic words like (cat and dog) or common sight words like (the, a he, she) by six or seven years old.
- What are some of the common myths associated with Dyslexia?
MYTH : Smart people cannot have dyslexia or other learning disabilities
FACT : Many dyslexic individuals are very bright and creative who will accomplish amazing things as adults
MYTH : Dyslexia does not exist
FACT : There has been 30 years of documented, scientific evidence and research proving the existence of dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning difficulties affect children.
MYTH : Dyslexia is very uncommon
FACT : In the United States, a research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that dyslexia affects 20%, or 1 in every 5 people. Some people may have mild forms, while others may experience it more severely. Dyslexia is one of the most common cause of reading difficulties in elementary school. Only one in 10 people with dyslexia will qualify for Individualised Education Programs (IEP) and special education which will allow them to get help in reading.
MYTH : Dyslexia can be outgrown.
FACT : Dyslexia is a lifelong issue; however yearly monitoring of phonological skills from first through twelfth grade shows that learning difficulties of dyslexics persist into adulthood. Although many dyslexics learn to read accurately, they may continue to read slowly and not automatically.
- Once a child begins to receive help, how quickly can changes in that child be seen…not just in education but in personality and level of happiness?
I think the changes vary for different children. I have heard parents telling me that their child have made significant improvements in their reading and spelling after attending our classes for only three weeks! However, most children would typically require six months to a year of intervention to see improvements.
Children who receive intervention when they are younger usually show greater and faster improvement as the gap between them and children without dyslexia is not as wide. If the children use the skills and strategies they have learnt at DAS, they would be able to keep up with their peers in literacy. That saying, I believe that improvements in their mood and personality can be almost instantaneous once a child understands that his difficulties are not attributed to his intelligence. At times, family relations can also improve when parents realise the reality of their child’s struggle and that their poor grades are not attributed to laziness or a lack of effort.
- How can parents embrace dyslexia?
I think that it is important for parents to recognise that their child can excel in areas apart from studies. In fact, many of these are advantages that other children do not have. For instance, learners with dyslexia think out of the box and they are able to come up with many creative ideas and solutions to solve problems and invent new things. Parents also need to understand that the difficulties that their children face in school are only temporary and these do not define them as a person. With the development of new technology, many areas in which they struggle in would no longer be a hindrance and the technology could help them stand out with their creative strengths.
- As a parent, if we see the key signs of dyslexia what are the steps we should take to help our child?
Providing children with the appropriate help early is of utmost importance. If a child is struggling to read and write after having a reasonable amount of quality exposure, it is important to adopt more targeted approaches to help them. Enrolling them for literacy programs that use the Orton – Gillingham approach are known to be effective in helping dyslexic children improve in their phonological awareness and reading. Having a child undergo a psycho- educational assessment would also enable parents to better understand the learning profile of their child and their areas of strengths and weaknesses.
- If a child were not to get help soon enough, due to parents lack of understanding, late diagnosis, lack of cash or support, what are the key problems the child will have?
Without proper intervention and diagnosis, many children continue to struggle in school. The effect on their self-esteem and confidence often translate to other areas of their lives and they often fail to reach their full potential.
- What are the common reasons for delay in parents seeking help and support for their child with Dyslexia and what problems can this delay cause to the child?
Having worked in this field for some time, I find that many parents are often quite willing to accept a diagnosis of dyslexia as it helps them understand the reason for their child’s struggles. Very often, parents do not seek help because they do not realise that a problem exists for which there is help available to them. Sometimes, teachers, friends and relatives dissuade parents from seeking help, often telling them that the child will “grow out” of the problem in time or that the child is doing fine. This delay can sometimes have a significant influence on the child’s abilities to cope with their learning as well as their self-esteem.
- How can parents help themselves, and how can they help their child overcome these myths associated with Dyslexia?
As the saying goes, “Knowledge is key”. As such, parents should arm themselves with facts about dyslexia and share with their children that they are unique and special individuals, with their own gifts and talents. Parents should also look into nurturing their talents outside of school to boost their self-esteem and maximise their potential.
- What are some of the best resources available for parents and their children who are dyslexic?
The DAS regularly conducts courses and workshops for parents of children with dyslexia. These include courses about how to use assistive technology as well as using mind maps to help the children in learning. The internet and forums are excellent platforms for exchange of ideas and strategies that have helped other children and having a network of support helps. Websites such as interdys.org/FactSheets.htm and das.org.sg/publications may be good places to begin. There are also many apps that help to support dyslexic children, which may include text to speech readers such as Claroread, Zoomreade and speech to text apps such as DragonDictation.
- We recently attended a Graduation Ceremony organized by DAS where we heard some of the older graduates speaking of their success stories. These success stories were quite emotional, inspiring and interesting, during your time, working with Dyslexia, is there one notable success story that you could share to inspire both parents and dyslexic students?
I recently assessed a young man in Junior College 1 who was first diagnosed to be dyslexic when he was about 11 years old. His mother shared that in order to overcome his difficulties with both English and Chinese literacy, she would work with him to memorise and write compositions in both languages daily over several months. This was in addition to his intensive training sessions for his sports CCA in school which he represented in competitions at the national level. His success was, of course, not without the support of his family. His mother added that although he could have applied for exemption for his Mother Tongue subject in primary and secondary school, she did not want him to adopt an attitude of giving up and take the easier route of dropping the subject. So instead, she supported him in his studies by availing herself daily to help him revise his work. I think that his grit and tenacity to carry on in the face of challenges is very impressive, he persevered on to continue taking Chinese even though it was a challenge to him. I believe that strength of character and resilience are important traits to develop in children and even more so if they have learning difficulties.