This week (4th-10th October) recognises Dyslexia Awareness Week. MFON spoke to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) to find out where parents can turn to for support and how they can collaboratively work with schools to support their child.

What is dyslexia?

Research tells us that dyslexia stems from differences in the way that the brain processes certain sorts of information, particularly, it is thought, language-based information. The key point here is that it is these physiological differences in the brain that lead to the challenges that dyslexic individuals experience – it is not lack of ability, poor parenting or poor education. There is an underlying cause. We are really only just starting to understand a bit more about the brain and the complex nature of how it works, so there is a lot more research to be done on this area.

Dyslexia and other conditions

It is not unusual for dyslexia to co-occur with other SpLDs such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), developmental co-ordination disorder (commonly known as dyspraxia), autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), dyscalculia (difficulty with maths) or speech, language and communication difficulties.

Personal story

Leighton Denny MBE, British Dyslexia Association Ambassador, shares her early memories of her dyslexia diagnosis:

At 14 years old I left school in Bradford with no qualifications and undiagnosed dyslexia – meaning I had been constantly told I was stupid, and I had completely disengaged with education. If it hadn’t been for my dad getting a second job to pay for a tutor who spotted my dyslexia, I don’t know what my future might have been … as it was, my first job was as a forklift truck driver, because it didn’t have written exams. But, as my confidence in myself grew, I started my first business and that’s when I found that dyslexia was actually a real strength.

‘I have no doubt I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dyslexic thinking. I find I can see things more clearly and perhaps less traditionally than other people – I say I “think out of the bottle”. Yet those years at school mean I sometimes still feel stupid and guilty about things like silly spelling mistakes. I don’t want any child to go through what I did at school and I don’t want any parent to have to make huge sacrifices to get basic support. If you can, it’s always best to work collaboratively with your child’s school but never forget you and your child have a right to dyslexia support and never be afraid to exercise that.

Collaborating with schools

Teachers often have very little training on dyslexia or, indeed, other SpLDs and are under enormous pressure.

It is very important that, if you would like to discuss your child, their needs and your concerns, approach this interaction in a calm, considered and assertive (not aggressive) manner.

1. Make an appointment with all concerned – Head, SENCO, teacher, TA and, if possible, the governor responsible for SEND. This ensures that everyone knows about your concerns.

2. Allow enough time within this appointment (minimum one hour) – This allows enough time to discuss matters properly.

3. Create an agenda and share it with all before the meeting – If necessary, make some notes for yourself that contain the key points that you want to get across and why. It is always good to be able to identify specific examples relating to your concerns. It is also only fair to share the agenda with everyone involved before the meeting, so they can investigate your concerns thoroughly before you meet.

4. Take a friend or relative who knows you well who can take notes and provide emotional support – Talking about our children or listening to other people say negative things about them is always going to be emotional. It is important to have emotional support in these meetings from someone who knows you well enough that they can step in and take over for a minute if your emotions start to get the better of you.

5. Take notes – This is really important. If you do need to progress your case, you need to have a record of what was discussed. Again, take someone with you, if possible, to do this so that you can concentrate on the conversation.

6. Agree action points and set a time frame for these – Essentially, you want this meeting to lead to some actions. Make sure these are noted and who is responsible for them and the time frame by which they are going to be completed.

7. Agree a date for another meeting to review progress of action points – It is important to continue to have this dialogue with your child’s school and check in with what progress has been made and what else might need to be done. So, before ending the meeting, agree another date for a future meeting.

8. Share notes and action points after meeting with everyone – Again, this is only fair. The notes should simply represent a record of what was said, by whom and what was agreed. Make sure that you share these with all concerned to act as a reminder.

9. Confirm date of review meeting – Make sure the date of the next meeting is confirmed with everyone, so it is in their diaries well in advance.

10. Gain a positive outcome – Hopefully, by following this approach, you will find that your concerns are taken seriously and support strategies are implemented effectively for the benefit of not just your child, but all concerned, which at the end of the day is the outcome everyone wants to achieve.

Never forget they are your child, you are their parent, and you know your child better than anyone.

On occasion, you may believe that school practices such as tests and exams are having a detrimental impact on your child. It is worth remembering that every schoolteacher owes a pupil a duty of care. The school has to do what is reasonably practical to ensure it cares for its pupils, as any reasonable parent would do.

The school should recognise and address signs such as:

  • Anxiety/low mood.
  • Stress/panic attacks.
  • Phobias.
  • Eating/self-harming behaviours.

For further information, visit https://reclaimingschools.org/2018/03/18/protecting-children-from-primary-school-tests/

Further resources

About the British Dyslexia Association

The British Dyslexia Association is the leading national charity representing the dyslexia community and works to ensure recognition for dyslexia in all sectors of society and the equality of opportunity for all individuals who are dyslexic. The British Dyslexia Association receives no Government funding: www.bdadyslexia.org.uk

MFON would like to thank BDA for sharing its resources to support this article.