When it became apparent, my eldest son was not progressing like the other boys and girls in his class, the word ‘dyslexia’ reared its head. I wanted to understand what this word and its rather mighty ramifications meant.
And so the search began, but rather than developing an understanding, I soon felt confused about what dyslexia was. Most websites were dry, full of jargon and over-complicated descriptions. The information was gloomy and depressing, making me even more anxious about the journey ahead of us.
So here is an explanation, using standard, every day, non-jargon words that us mums and dads can understand!
Dyslexia is a broad term, but in essence, a child who has dyslexia will find learning to read, spell and write tiring and hard. It can impact on learning maths too.
It has nothing to do with intelligence; dyslexics have a different style of thinking and processing information. People with dyslexia often have amazing skills.
School values speedy reading, proper spelling, and clear articulation or expression of knowledge – these are skills that take people with dyslexia a long time to master and so their natural ability may not be apparent.
About 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, it is genetic (not because of poor parenting), and you often find it runs in the family.
Depending on the school, it may only be picked up as the demand for reading and writing becomes greater. Some people discover they have dyslexia when they are much older, for example during GCSEs, A levels or at university – Steven Spielberg was 60!
There are six common (cognitive) abilities that are typically weak in people with dyslexia. It’s these abilities that impact how we learn to read, write and spell (although bear in mind, each person with dyslexia will have their unique profile). Understanding these six areas will help you know how to support your children at home.
The six natural abilities are:
To learn any information, it has to go through your short-term memory first. Dyslexics can have short-term memory difficulties, which means they find it hard to remember symbols, pictures, words or sounds.
A weak short-term memory makes it harder to:
Your working memory is like a mental sticky note – it has the job of keeping information in your mind for a short time so you are able to process things. Working memory is vitally important for developing knowledge and learning new skills, and therefore, progress at school.
A weak working memory makes it harder to:
Dyslexics may have good hearing but struggle to identify and process the sounds that are attached to letter combinations and words. They may also find it difficult to generate or manipulate sounds.
Weak phonological awareness makes it harder to:
Rapid naming is when your brain automatically processes and recognises items from long term memory. This includes seeing a letter or word and attaching the correct sound or name to it. Slow rapid naming skills means learning to read, spell, and write will take a bit longer.
Slow rapid naming makes it harder to:
Visual processing determines how well you can evaluate and interpret visual information. Slow visual processing speeds mean that it takes much longer to scan a letter, number, or picture and work out what it is. Sometimes this difficulty can cause words to move around on the page or you can lose track of the line.
A difficulty with visual processing makes it harder to:
Dyslexics may find it difficult to convert what they see into written form.
This makes it harder to:
Not everyone with dyslexia will struggle with all six characteristics. However, I found understanding these areas could help me see the real reason why some things were taking my sons and daughter a bit longer to grasp. We could then approach learning differently, using their strengths, to develop strategies to overcome the hurdles together.
For more dyslexia insights, and helpful resources to support your child with learning at home, check out my TIPS page here.