Jacqui Flisher from A New Way is a local dyslexia expert based near Lambourn. She works with children and adults who have a different way of thinking and learning, whether it be described as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia or dysgraphia.
An Introduction to the issues surrounding dyslexia
Q. What is dyslexia?
A. Dyslexia is just a different way of thinking and learning. Dyslexics do not think with the sounds of words, but instead turn their words into picture or images. They also tend to be ‘bigger picture thinkers’, so when asked to do something, they need a beginning, middle and end in order to fully understand what is required. Every dyslexic is unique, some are good at art, engineering, architecture and design. They are also very good at getting other people to do tasks for them (tasks often associated with writing or reading). Stress can play a big part in their lives, especially when put under pressure or taken out of their comfort zone, as unlike their non-dyslexic counterparts, they cannot ‘park’ their emotions. Dyslexia is not a learning disability, it is just a different way of thinking and learning, which in years to come will be appreciated and honoured.
Q. How many people are dyslexic?
A. Experts reckon that at least 10% of the population are dyslexic, but I think that the figure is much higher than this, in my estimation 25 – 30% is nearer the mark. Dyslexia is not all about reading, writing and spelling, some people may be Reading Dyslexics, whilst others have issues with Auditory Processing. There are many other facets to dyslexia, such as Dyscalculia – being dyslexic in maths; Dyspraxia – the clumsy form of dyslexia; Dysgraphia – problems with handwriting. Dyspraxia and Dysgraphia tend to go together, as it is all about motor control.
Q. Is dyslexia hereditary?
A. If both parents are dyslexic, then there is a very high chance that any offspring will inherit the dyslexia gene. If a family member is dyslexic, then children have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene. If one or both parents are dyslexic, their sons have a 75% chance of inheriting the gene and their daughters have a 25% chance. I have a factsheet that explains more about this, so would be happy to e-mail this to anyone who wants a copy.
Q. What should parents do if they think their child is dyslexic?
A. First thing is not to panic – if unsure, then come to my monthly free advice session at the Hungerford Library (2nd Saturday in the month). If that’s not convenient I am happy for parents to contact me by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone on 07787 127771. I have a whole range of factsheets that I can e-mail to people with useful advice.
Q. How do children get assessed?
A. In an ideal world their school should do it, but even if they do then I find that it takes an age to get it organised and when they do it does not seem to be a thorough test, taking 40 – 50 minutes. My full diagnostic assessment takes 3 – 3 1/2 hours. It is very thorough and if the child gets tired halfway through I will split the assessment over two days. Assessments are often viewed as being expensive, but I can arrange split payments if that helps and also provide training for the child and the parent to help them address problems with spelling, reading, mathematics etc as part of the package.
Q. Is it a problem giving a child the label of dyslexia?
A. West Berkshire Council are very loathed to use the ‘D’ word as they say this will label a child but in my experience it is much better to have a diagnosis so that a child can get the help they need.
Q. What are the benefits of being assessed for dyslexia?
A. If someone is dyslexic, a formal assessment helps them understand that they are not stupid, they just find school work difficult because most schools do not teach them in the way they learn. 99% of the time having a dyslexic diagnosis has been beneficial to children and adults, but it is important that the family and school do not convey any messages to the child that being dyslexic means being stupid.
A formal assessment, depending on the results, can also have benefit of entitling a dyslexic individual to: 25% extra time in examinations, supervised rest breaks of 10 – 15 minutes per hour, being allowed to use a word processor, or for those considered to be severely dyslexic, then the possibility of a reader or a scribe.
It also has to be remembered that tests do not diagnose, people do, which is why a dyslexia specialist needs to carry and score the tests, as it how the results are interpreted that is important, not just the test scores.
Q. How do you find out if a school will provide what your dyslexic child needs?
A. Talk to the school SENCO – Special Education Needs Co-ordinator and see what help the schools offers. If school is only offering limited help, this is never going to be enough, so a private tutor offering 1:1 would be the best option. Not just any private tutor but someone who specialises in dyslexia with appropriate qualifications and resources. Again I can advise.
Q. What can parents do who can’t afford a private diagnosis or private tutor?
A. Schools should get extra money for pupils with special needs, so the school saying they can’t afford it is not really a good enough excuse. Again talk to the SENCO and be a pushy parent. Don’t give up!
Q. What will make the biggest difference for dyslexic children at school?
A. We need more teachers to be aware of dyslexia. They don’t have to be experts but just be able to recognise the signs so a child can be referred for help (like your local GP recognising the symptoms of a tropical disease and referring you to a specialist). I recommend that people write to their local MP and ask them to ask the minister responsible for teacher training (Michael Gove) if the awareness of dyslexia can be improved in teacher training
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to parents of a child with dyslexia?
A. Let your child know that you love them and that you 100% believe in them. No matter how hard they may struggle, encourage them to be proud of the things they can do. With the right type of help, any child or adult can overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Lack of self-confidence is the biggest barrier for dyslexics, whether they are children or adults.
Q. What is the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)? And what is the current controversy with DSA?
A. The DSA is funding that students with special needs can get when they start university to buy a laptop to run specialist software to help them study. The government wants to cut this funding so please sign the e-petition link below and also write to your local MP and ask him to get Mr Willetts to answer why he feels the need to make cuts this very vital service. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/63748
If you have any questions about any of the ‘dys’ syndromes Jacqui runs a free monthly advice session at the Hungerford Library (2nd Saturday in the month) or she is happy for anyone to contact her on email@example.com or 07787 127771