Symptoms and treatment options for children with dyslexia
If your child is struggling with reading, spelling and writing, it's possible that he has dyslexia. Read on to find out the symptoms and treatment options.
Are you frustrated and constantly losing your temper because your child just can’t seem to get his spelling, reading and writing right? Is learning becoming an uphill battle for both you and your child? Before you lose your cool, ask yourself if it’s really a case of laziness or could your child be dyslexic? Children with dyslexia are genuinely struggling! They need help so it’s important that you get them assessed if you suspect any such possibility.
To help us better understand dyslexia in children, we spoke to Ms. Geetha Shantha Ram, Director of the MOE-aided DAS Literacy Programme & Staff Professional Development, Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS). Ms. Geetha is also the advisor for Register of Educational Therapists (Asia).
What is dyslexia?
Before we go on to identifying children with dyslexia, we need a proper understanding of what the condition really is. The definition of dyslexia, as guided by the Ministry of Education (MOE), is as follows:
Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition. It is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
As Ms Geetha simply puts it, dyslexia is a specific learning difference which impacts a person’s reading, spelling and writing in spite of quality exposure to language and classroom instructions.
When do children start exhibiting signs of Dyslexia?
While some parents suspect dyslexia when they compare the capacity of their child and his reading capabilities or when comparing one sibling’s abilities with another, the most obvious indication of dyslexia in childrenis when they child struggle with reading.
The signs are based on the age of the child. Familiarity with early warning signs assists in identifying dyslexia in childrenbefore they struggle or fail at literacy. These are some examples of early signs to keep a look out for:
- Late speech or repeated difficulties in pronouncing certain common words
- Difficulties remembering the right names for objects
- Trouble learning the letter names or numbers
- Inability to recognise rhymes might indicate a future reading difficulty
On another note, you might want to take note if your child does not crawl. Crawling is seen as an important developmental milestone in terms of brain development. There are some links between the lack of drawling and dyslexia and poor coordination.
However, there is no proven evidence to support the link between not crawling and dyslexia. There are many children who don’t crawl and are not dyslexic.
A formal psychological assessment is required to confirm if a child has dyslexia and this can be conducted as soon as a child turns six. Early identification leads to early intervention. A 2013 study conducted at the DAS confirmed the findings of several early intervention studies, where students who started intervention early achieved the most in literacy gains.
Do remember that it’s best to wait until the recommended age to get a proper assessment for you will not get an accurate diagnosis if you were to do it earlier. Many parents work themselves into a frenzy when they see their preschoolers mixing up alphabets like /p/ /b/ and /d/, writing their numbers backwards or reading from right to left.
A preschool teacher emphasised that it’s not a cause for concern if you see some instances of this happening as it’s a normal and necessary part of their learning process.
What are the common signs of dyslexia in children?
Ms. Geetha said, “As an educator, I often encounter children who are bright and highly expressive but struggle with what is considered basic tasks like writing one’s own name. With the awareness of signs pointing to dyslexia, teachers, family and friends could avoid delaying support or falsely labelling the child as lazy, unmotivated or unintelligent“.
According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), a learner with dyslexia may have difficulties with some of the following:
- learning to speak
- learning letters and their sounds
- organising written and spoken language
- reading quickly enough to comprehend
- persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
- learning a foreign language
Other signs to look out for include a family history of dyslexia and persistent reversals after the age of seven, and that too, despite support such as handwriting instructions. Some children spend time rereading passages or books with very little comprehension. When engaged in writing activities, the child may verbalise many ideas but struggle to organise them in their writing and use simple words repeatedly due to spelling difficulties.
The child’s difficulty may surface during Physical Education (PE) activities, where they may appear clumsy and struggle with both gross and fine motor coordination. When it comes to following instructions, learners with dyslexia might struggle when several steps or instructions are given at one go.
A more comprehensive list is available on the DAS website.
Treatment options for children with dyslexia
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty so providing educational intervention aimed at equipping a child with knowledge and skills can help them to overcome their learning obstacles. In a 2013 evaluation, DAS was able to demonstrate significant gains in reading and spelling following one year of appropriate remediation. Appropriate intervention is evidence-based programming which centres around language based content, in a multi-sensory learning environment with explicit instructions in language concepts.
Parent and community support for children with dyslexia
The most important thing to note is that intervention is educational rather than clinical.
1. HEAR, SEE, SPEAK AND READ WORDS
Most often, we encourage the development of a reading culture. Even if a child is too young to read, the act of reading to the child has many benefits. The development of listening and oral vocabulary is an important precursor to the development of reading and writing vocabulary. It’s important that parents and teachers point to the words as they read so that children can begin to form more concrete associations between the print and the sounds they hear.
2. Make learning activities multi-sensory
We can aim to engage children through all their senses. Make learning literacy a multi-sensory experience. It is said that we retain only 10% of what we hear and that figure grows every time you include other senses, and you have the potential to retain up to 90% of what you hear, see, say and do.
3. Use technology meaningfully
Whenever possible, use educational technology in a purposeful way to promote student-oriented learning. Technology has the great potential of levelling the playing field for learners with dyslexia and early exposure to the benefits of technology for learning its advantages. Studies conducted at the DAS show that students are motivated and learned more effectively with intentional use of technology.
4. Celebrate success
As the children may be too young to represent themselves and seek out the appropriate guidance, parents can support them by advocating for their needs. Many people and professionals are involved in the support of a child, so parents may engage as many of them as possible to work together to enable their children towards success.
To parents of children with dyslexia
This is Ms. Geetha’s message:
I highly recommend that parents are fully aware of what dyslexia truly is. Being the parent of a child with dyslexia need not be a lonely experience if you get connected to a parent network for support and to stay current with news and developments about dyslexia.
Do explain to the children about dyslexia in ways they can understand and assure them that they have as much potential as other children and most importantly, they are loved for who they are.
If parents are worried and anxious about their children, in defining dyslexia let us not overlook the strengths it offers. A 2004 British study reported that 20% of entrepreneurs are likely to have dyslexia and in a more recent study from the US, the figures have risen to 35%.
Clearly there are dyslexic advantages, so let’s work towards identifying these in children and boosting their skills in appropriate ways!