Dyslexia: start a discussion


Dyslexic strengths

The first academic paper on dyslexia was published in 1896 in the British Medical Journal by William Pringle Morgan. Dyslexia was ‘discovered’ by psychologists, who, when presented with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, found that despite average or above IQ’s, they had an inability to read and write. These children had shared characteristics.

Read about dyslexia indicators here: BDA indicators

Read about the history of dyslexia here: Dyslexia Archive

Astoundingly, the existence of dyslexia is still debated and unlike other abstract social constructs, there seems to be a great resistance to even accepting its existence; let alone that there may be strengths attached to it. Why?

  • Is it because dyslexia is medical in origin but educational in treatment?
  • Is it because dyslexia is abstract and there is still no Universally accepted definition of it?
  • Perhaps it’s because dyslexia is so strongly associated with reading failure, yet dyslexics can be taught to read. (Yes, they can!)

Presentation of dyslexia is thought to be 50% down to genetics and 50% the result of the environment (see Morton and Frith Framework below, 1993).

Morton and Frith

Outside of school, dyslexics can be brilliant, bold, creative; when free of the expectations of reading and writing.

The modern concept of disability is that it is created by the environment. Early identification and support is key, if children ‘at risk’ are to succeed.

  • What is dyslexia anyway?

Like most abstract things, it’s only once you start to engage with dyslexia, and you have direct experience of it, that it becomes tangible and real.

When my son started to experience failure at school, I quickly engaged with dyslexia, with that came the realisation that in this current pressure-cooker education system of accelerated progress and ability groups, more children are failing and more children are displaying dyslexic-type difficulties.

I was, and still am, a slow processor. I couldn’t catch a ball, tie my laces, ride a bike. My mum re-taught me handwriting just before I started Secondary School, it was illegible before then.

This was the pre-curriculum days; all I remember doing in Primary school was writing poetry and reciting times tables. I have always been an avid reader and don’t remember being taught to read, only that I used to have a small card to move under the words as I read. Perhaps in the current system, I would be identified as being dyslexic?

Can you start to engage with dyslexia as a construct or concept?

  • Can you start to look at those children experiencing failure and appreciate that some of them may be dyslexic?

For signs of dyslexia in the classroom, read previous post: Dyslexia in class

‘All men, by nature, desire to know’, Aristotle.

In my experience, dyslexic children love to learn and to feel smart. Start to align yourself with their unique perspective and watch them shine with a megawatt intensity. Small adjustments: seating, pencil grip, use of a notebook, movement breaks; can have a huge impact.

Talk to the child, what works for them?

  • Simple activities such as the Alphabet Arc, can cement that illusive understanding that letters have names and sounds (the Alphabetic Principle).

see tips on the Alphabet Arc: Practical tips alphabet names.

  • Use those spelling strategies that help dyslexic learners to tap into the way they need to learn, leading to self awareness (metacognition). see here spelling and memory
  • Make learning as experiential as possible, let them talk, and when writing, give them the words to help them: less is more! (a few openers or conjunctions with a supporting visual, some tricky spellings with syllables written in different colours).
  • If reading is a difficulty, don’t crowd them but support reading instruction with paired and shared reading, as well as explicit instruction, to build engagement and enjoyment of reading.
  • Most importantly, give them a sense of ‘can do’, know that they will be more tired than their classmates and that they DO have to work harder to achieve less – how demoralising!

For more thoughts on reading, see previous post: reading and the PSC

It is likely that dyslexia will look different in every school; take the opportunity to have a discussion around this. What is the demographic of your community; jobs, beliefs, the nature of your relationship with them. What is the attitude of your Senior Leadership Team to dyslexia, your TA’s, Teachers,  Board of Governors, external professionals, any additional service providers, including sport and after school clubs?

Start to be aware of dyslexia and you won’t have to work to notice dyslexic strengths; they come naturally with an awareness of dyslexia.

Find Resources from the BDA here:

Dyslexia Awareness Week

Information from the BDA for educators here:

Practical Information

If you would like to have a discussion about dyslexia this year, here are some ideas:

Dyslexia discussion


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