I think my child is dyslexic, what do I do?

Don’t wait! If you think your child might have dyslexia, there is no time to waste, no matter how old or young they are.

Your child is struggling to read, they’re not keeping up with the rest of their class. Maybe their teacher has expressed some concerns, or your parental intuition is tingling. Don’t ignore it!

The earlier you can get your child assessed and take action to help them achieve their full potential, the better.

I noticed my son struggling when he was 6 and had no idea what was going on. At first, I thought he was just bored by his readers, or he was too tired after school to concentrate. He would yawn his way through the little book, and look anywhere but at the page, climbing over the couch or me, he hated it. He loved books. He loved being read to for hours, but reading himself was a huge chore. So was writing. He would complain about his hand hurting after writing a single word, his letters were wibbly-wobbly and all over the place.

Someone suggested he had dysgraphia and so I researched that while his school put him into a Reading Recovery program. Before he turned 7, I began homeschooling him and was able to make progress but found myself constantly frustrated by the two-steps-forward, one-step-backwards results. I noticed all sorts of things that didn’t make sense to me, until, in February 2018, he was assessed as dyslexic. I wish he’d been evaluated sooner and we’d had the knowledge then, that we have now. Hopefully, this article will give you a few of the tools you need to move forward.

Things to look out for…

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to dyslexia. There are also a lot of myths to contend with. However, if your child is showing any of these signs, it’s a good indication that their brain may be wired in a slightly different way than their peers, and investigating further couldn’t hurt.

Before you even go down the route of having a child assessed for any specific learning disorder (SLD), you first want to rule a few things out.

  • Has their vision been tested in the last 6 months (although my son was later found to be dyslexic, turned out he was also profoundly short-sighted).
  • Have their hearing tested, just as with eyes, it’s not always obvious something is wrong.
  • You may want to have them tested for ADHD, but this may end up being part of their dyslexia testing anyway.

Once you’ve ruled out the above and made any necessary accommodations, if you still see things are amiss you can take another look at dyslexia.

Things that are considered possible indicators of dyslexia include…

Before School Age

  • difficulty learning nursery rhymes or using rhyming words
  • has trouble sitting still
  • Likes to listen to stories, but shows no interest in letters or words
  • has difficulty learning to sing the alphabet, or counting in order
  • finds it hard to carry out two instructions
  • forgets names of friends, teacher, colours etc.
  • poor auditory discrimination
  • puts clothes on the wrong way round
  • has difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball, hopping, skipping or tying shoelaces
  • has apparent ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days

School Age

  • slow processing speed: spoken and/or written language
  • poor concentration
  • has difficulty following instructions
  • forgetful of words, names (especially of familiar people)
  • produces messy work or refuses or complains about writing tasks
  • has poor pencil grip or other fine motor control tasks
  • difficulty copying from the board, even when moved closer up
  • poor reading progress, comprehension, hesitant and/or slow at reading
  • does not like to read (but may like being read to)
  • produces phonetic and strange spelling of words
  • misses out words or replaces them with alternative guesses when reading
  • fails to recognise familiar words, even if they’ve just read it on a previous page
  • complains of sore eyes and/or headaches
  • difficulty in learning to tell the time
  • confusion with number order, e.g. units, tens, hundreds
  • continues to use fingers for counting
  • has trouble with sequencing tasks (ability to remember items in a specific order such as months of the year, days of the week, steps in tying shoelaces)
  • performs unevenly from day to day
  • Seems easily distracted, or like they’re not listening
  • Maybe acting like the class clown or are disruptive or withdrawn
  • is excessively tired
  • is tearful before going to school or simply refuses to go
  • prints rather than uses cursive
  • has difficulty with punctuation and/or grammar
  • confuses upper and lower case letters
  • avoids writing tasks

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you can match five or more of these symptoms to your child, you should pursue a full assessment.

Why does testing even matter?

I have two words for you – Early Intervention – There is nothing more important for a child with a learning disorder than getting assessed asap. Getting those interventions into place is essential to helping your child achieve to their fullest potential. Every child has the right to learn in a manner that fits them best, and it’s our responsibility as parents and caregivers to help them get that.

This image is free to use with attribution: “Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire. interactioninstitute.org and madewithangus.com.

Studies have shown that a direct, explicit, structured and systematic approach to language, significantly increases a dyslexics chances of reaching their full learning potential alongside their peers, and has zero adverse effects to non-dyslexic children. Since this educational approach is not yet standardised in schools, early identification means that supports can be put into place to provide your child with such a learning a environment, giving them an equal chance at future success while also preventing many of the social and emotional impacts dyslexia can have on a person.

Well, where do I get an assessment done?

Great question. Let’s start with who can’t give you an assessment.

You can not diagnose your own child. Not even with a checklist you find on the internet. While your child’s teacher might have noticed some of the early signs, they also do not have the training to assess or diagnose your child formally. Neither does your family GP, or your optometrist (and I’ll touch base on that little nugget in a later post). If there is dysgraphia or other possible developmental coordination issues, then an Occupational Therapist would also be an excellent person to talk to, but they aren’t the first step either.

You need to find a professional who uses appropriate research-based screening tools. You are best to start with these options, and I hate to admit it, but it is going to depend a little on your family’s budgetary to which one you go with.

There are a range of standardised assessment tools required to make a clinical diagnosis, whoever you choose, make sure that they have the training and are registered with an authoritative body in your area. For further information, you can contact the following bodies.

Australia:

Australian Health Practitioners Registration Authority or Speech Pathology Australia.  

USA:

International Dyslexia Association or Dyslexia Foundation

UK:

British Dyslexia Association or the Directory of Chartered Psychologists

Testing may involve the following, and you want to make sure your child is getting the best assessment possible:

  • intellectual ability and cognitive skills;
  • expressive and receptive language ability;
  • underlying processing strengths and weaknesses; and,
  • academic achievement across a range of areas and conditions (e.g. timed versus untimed tests).

Can you get testing at school?

No. Teachers are not fully trained, although they may be the first ones to notice amis and advise you to have your child assessed. However, dyslexia awareness, and especially the importance of early identification and action are growing.

Dr. Joseph Torgesen, an NIH reading researcher and author of wrote a detailed article titled “Catch Them Before They Fall: Identification and Assessment to Prevent Reading Failure in Young Children,” on the best ways to assess reading difficulties in Kindergartners and First Graders.

Many Australian schools are now working with the Australian Dyslexia Working Party document, a national action to help identify dyslexia far earlier than ever before. One of the recommendations agreed by the government is that schools can be trained to identify and assess dyslexia and other significant reading difficulties. This will enable schools to be self-sufficient in evaluating children, providing evidence-based instruction, and, where required, to make reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and Disability Standards for Education (2005).

Pros – doesn’t cost families anything

Cons – it can take a very long time to get your child assessed at this time, and they may miss years of crucial early intervention.

Pre-assessments

The Australian Dyslexia Association (ADA) provide a pre-assessment service. You can email them at ada.preassessments@gmail.com. You receive the test via email (I believe they are working on an online version).

Pros – It’s not very expensive, around $120-$150 last I checked. Avoids overtesting and dishing out $1500 for a full assessment if it’s unnecessary.

Cons – Honestly, there isn’t much of downside, especially if you aren’t convinced your child is dyslexic, worst case is you’re out of pocket $120. Either way, you get some peace of mind.

In the UK the British dyslexia association recommends a few possibilities.

Pros – some of these tests are free or relatively inexpensive.

Cons – they can be pretty general questions that aren’t nearly in depth enough.

Speech Pathologist

The Speech Pathology Association of Australia can help you find someone in your area, though, as Corie Viscomi points out in their article “The Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role in Diagnosing Dyslexia” you need to find someone that has had specific training in assessing and treating dyslexia.

Pros – these are university educated professionals with a specific interest in dyslexia and tend to be consistently up-to-date with the latest research. They will also be able to help your child with ongoing instruction that works with their specific way of seeing the world.

Cons – It can be hard to find someone in your area. You need to find someone that both you and your child get along with. It can be expensive, and there are no government rebates.

Psychologist

A psychologist with educational development experience, preferably one that specialises in  Dyslexia, Language-based Dysgraphia or Dyscalculia, such as the ones at SPELD, or through a private practice.

Pros – Thorough! All the bases are covered in this assessment.

Cons – It is expensive. A full assessment from SPELD Australia will cost around $1500. It takes nearly an entire day, and depending on your child, can take two days to get through. There are no government rebates. You may need to go to your closest capital city for testing, which can in itself be an expensive endeavour.

On a personal note – Our family went with SPELD, and we are happy we did. We found the report and the assistance valuable as well as the ongoing learning we’ve done through the organisation. After our son’s assessment we were able to approach a specialised structured language therapist who has done wonders in just two terms.

While earlier diagnosis is better, it’s never too late to have your child, or yourself, assessed. If you think your child might be dyslexic, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have them tested and get those interventions into place.  The RT Hon Matt Hancock, the UK Secretary for Health and Social Care, revealed at the “Made by Dyslexia: Global Summit” in November 2018, that he didn’t find out he was dyslexic until he was at university. In his 20s he went back and relearned to read and spell using phonics, and that, plus the assistive technology he uses every day, has gotten him the prestigious position he holds today.

Dyslexics are just as capable as anyone else to succeed in life, if given the right tools. Early intervention is the greatest gift you could give them. You can find out more about dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association as well as at Learning Difficulties Australia. Once you have started down the dyslexia path, Facebook groups are really great to join, they provide a wealth of support and information. I recommending joining both general groups and ones specific to your country and state.

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