We all crowd round and stare, mouths agape. Our mate Rick had just got a ton of money from the university because he’s got dyslexia. He’s spent it on a computer. Jammy git.
To me, dyslexia was just getting a few letters jumbled up. I associated it with being a bit thick. I was 18 and horribly misinformed.
A decade on, and Rick is now a Year Six teacher. He’s got a degree from a highly respected Russell Group university and a PGCE from the Institute of Education. He is, and always has been, one of most intelligent people I know.
According to the British Dyslexia Association, up to 10% of people in the UK show some signs of the condition. There is no reason why dyslexia should hold any child back if it is identified early and help is available. However, without the correct understanding, children can flounder. There’s still a lot we are getting wrong.
Lessons remain far too dependent on flicking through textbooks and writing down answers, something that can cause dyslexic kids’ confidence to suffer. They can be put off learning in their very few first years of school. When this happens, potential can end up written off (pardon the pun) by both the teachers and the children themselves.
It’s something Sandra experienced as a child. “I do find that people who don’t understand dyslexia just think it is an excuse,” she said. “My brother doesn’t think it exists, and one of my old teachers told my mother I was a lazy student.”
“I wish it had been caught earlier so my academic career would have been more enjoyable and successful.”
“You see it happen so quickly,” recalled one teacher with 30 years’ experience. “If the child isn’t given support early on, all aspects of their learning, such as their confidence, self-belief and interest, can go just like that. The consequences are not purely academic.”
Luckily for Sandra, she eventually got the support she needed at university. “Once I was diagnosed it was like the missing jigsaw piece,” she said. “Simply changing the colour of the paper I used was a solution.”
One of my dearest friends, Jenny, is a social worker. She is also dyslexic.
“I know how dyslexia impacts all dimensions of a child’s life, such as self-esteem, self-care and organisation,” Jenny said. “I try to be mindful of this impact when care planning, rather than isolating dyslexia to something purely academic. I also really push for support and recognition.”
There needs to be more focus on how dyslexia can affect multiple aspects of a child’s life, not just on whether or not they’ll get to the bottom of the page. By approaching dyslexia holistically we can give children the best chance of making the most of their academic careers – not just the knowledge, but also the self-confidence that comes from an enjoyment of learning.
For Lorna, her stuttered start at school still has consequences. “My parents were told I was a slow learner and not to expect much from me,” she said. “As an adult, I feel that with the correct support I could have done so much better.”
“I feel let down to an extent and have struggled with day-to-day tasks all of my life. I can’t tell the time accurately and often get it wrong. No amount of practice can correct this. I don’t know my times tables and I can’t remember simple dance routines.”
If we are going to give children with dyslexia the best chance to flourish and reach their full potential, we need to identify dyslexia early. We must reposition where we place academic value. Teachers need to re-evaluate their reliance on text-based learning outside of literacy lessons. And all of us must keep in mind the implications of the dyslexia in the wider world.
In the end it takes more than the money spent on a computer to get people like Rick to achieve their best.
Names have been changed
Come along to ACAMH’s Dyslexia Conference in Cardiff details here