Parents: Help Your Child Succeed: Year 9 Dyslexia

What do you do when your child, who is no longer a child, but a young adult, is diagnosed with Dyslexia? This has just happened to a parent I know and it has come as a big shock. Why? Firstly, we are entitled to ask why such a diagnosis has only just been made? Why were the tell-tale signs of Dyslexia not identified by school staff much earlier – in Key Stage 2? In this particular case, the late diagnosis may be because this boy has so far succeeded in school and has been getting quite high marks in tests and exams.

So why now? It seems that in Year 9, the high standard of work required does not allow this kind of problem to be covered up any longer. The stress of pretending is showing through for this pupil. Amazingly, this student has managed to attain high marks so far through school, in spite of a report that identifies – slower than average reading speed, difficulties with tricky words and phonological processing, difficulties with reading comprehension, memory issues, spelling problems and, at text level, problems with planning written work. How all of this has not been identified much earlier is a mystery to me. However, the key question now is what to do about it and how to help this young man, without demotivating him at this vital stage of his education.

One thing is clear. The normal strategies for dealing with tricky words and phonological processing will not work at this late stage. Damage limitation is surely the best approach. So this is my advice to these, and any other parents, with a late diagnosis of Dyslexia.
1. Reading speed: reading lists of words, in phonic categories may help to improve speed by developing the chunking and sight reading skills that should normally have developed by now. These might include words with specific vowel clusters – moon, moose, choose, doom, gloom, or teacher, reach, streak, cheat etc. The aim is to make these root words known instantly by sight. Just a few minutes each day.
2. Ensure also that the tricky words are known instantly by sight. These are words that are not spelled phonically, yet account for a high percentage of words in texts, for example – they, are, their, should, were, be, would, why, was, what, etc. There are at least 200 of these.
3. Reading must always be purposeful. Knowing what we expect from a text helps us to read and understand it better. Are we searching for details? Do we just want the main idea? Are we comparing two different points of view, in order to comment on them? Highlighting key phrases as we read helps us to retain more of the meaning. Asking questions at the end of each paragraph also helps to keep meaning in mind. Teaching young people how to scan for details, how to skim for the gist of a text, or to read intensively when necessary, is helpful.
4. At Year 9 level, vocabulary is key. Recognising the meanings of multi-syllabic words in their contexts, also helps. Consider the variations of: complete, completion, completing, completed, incomplete – all words with similar, yet different meanings depending how they are used in a sentence (noun or verb). Working on groups of related words may help.
5. For writing, spider (or other) diagrams help us to control writing according to our own defined purpose and not deviate off the intended track.

It is also tempting for children to avoid using sophisticated vocabulary because of spelling problems. This boy has been, and still is, one of many ‘safe spellers’ who do not want to risk getting spellings wrong. Yet, not trying to spell longer, more abstract words, has ended up limiting progress even more. Such issues are not helped by teachers marking spellings either right or wrong. All attempted spellings are ‘somewhere along the road to rightness.’ Pupils who are encouraged to see spelling as a long, developmental journey, may be more inclined to take risks with more sophisticated, adult-level vocabulary. It is up to adults to promote the right messages.

Being diagnosed with Dyslexia (or any type of learning difficulty) at Key Stage 3 should be avoidable. But if it does happen, strategies to deal with the issues must be age-appropriate and led by the young people themselves. After all, it is their education that is at stake.

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