I think my child is dyslexic – what should I do?
To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week, John Floyd (MA PGCE), Headmaster of Bruern Abbey School in Oxfordshire, shares his advice for any parent who thinks their child may be dyslexic and is looking for guidance.
Try not to panic
Your child could be having a bad day/week/term or not get on with a particular teacher. Also, dyslexia is not an Armageddon issue – it is estimated to affect around 10% of the population, including some of the most high-achieving people you can think of, such as Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson and Keira Knightley. Indeed, when Julie Logan of London’s Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs in 2017 she found that 35% of them were dyslexic; the future job market looks increasingly pro-dyslexia. A 2018 study, by the accountancy firm Ernst & Young and the charity Made by Dyslexia, reported that dyslexics have a unique set of skills that will be vital to the workforce of the future. Steve Varley, EY’s UK chairman, said the report showed that “dyslexic individuals already have some of the skills that will be in high demand in the future; among them, creativity, complex problem solving and programming.”
Talk to your child’s teachers
Speak to your child’s current school and ask them to be entirely frank with you in return. The Dyslexia Research Trust defines dyslexia as “a specific difficulty with learning to read, spell or write (or any combination of these) in someone whose oral and non-verbal intelligence is at least average, health is normal and receives adequate teaching.” Ask ideally more than one teacher if they feel there is a disconnect as is outlined above.
If the school feels there is merit in it or your instincts as a parent are unassuaged, seek out some form of assessment to try and decipher the likeliness and extent of any learning difficulty. Highlighting a specific difficulty really means finding a gap between measurable potential current attainment. Most school SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) are trained specialist assessors, so while they are not de facto qualified educational psychologists they will be able to use screening toolkits to assess your child in-house.
Get a professional opinion
If the initial assessments and discussions highlight grounds for genuine enquiry, my advice would be to get an educational psychologist to assess your child. An educational psychologist will be able to see how big a disparity there is between your child’s potential and how they are currently performing. They will also make some suggestions as to what the cause might be and what could be done to better support your child.
Beware of your child’s context
As a parent, you have got to be very aware of the environment that your child is in. One child’s “literacy issues” in a highly academic, fast-paced school may not be seen as a problem in a more inclusive educational setting.
Think very carefully before you jump to a new school. Educational psychologists’ reports often read in a forensic way and when parents get the report they sometimes start to flap. As a first step, it’s much better to work with your child’s current school. They know your child, their strengths and weaknesses and keeping the same friendship group, the same teachers and the same commute at this stage is often preferable to changing schools. But go back to the school in a year’s time and ask: “How are we doing now?” If a child’s self-esteem is going down or if their literacy or numeracy skills are continuing to flatline or go backwards, then it might be time to choose a new school.
Bruern Abbey is the only preparatory school in the country to have as its main purpose the preparation of boys with learning difficulties for Common Entrance and other entrance examinations to mainstream independent senior schools.
Find out more at www.bruernabbey.org.