Dyslexia – an advantage

Two doctors are ‘researching’ what many parents already know in that dyslexia can have advantages to go alongside its disadvantages. They state the brain has poor routing in the intial years – when most children should be learning to read and spell- in order to lay down a better route for other thought process. These are primarily in whole task or out of the box thinking and in the creative arts.

Unfortunately the school system is not set up for dreamers and those with artist or unusual thinking!

While some children survive schooling long enough to find their feet academically or to have the opportunity to display their talented or gifted side, many disengage from education altogether. Many of these children fail at school and it is well documented how many of those in young offenders centres have dyslexia.  It shows why it is imperative that schools screen all children for dyslexia as early as possible.

The introduction of phonic based programmes while helpful for some, can actually hide the early mistakes that a child with dyslexia would otherwise make. Their difficulties in literacy pop up in Year 4 instead of Y1 or 2. The child is then regarded as ‘not as bright’ as previously thought. Or in many cases where the child themselves realises they are struggling to learn the problem often shows up as misbehaviour. The child is disengaging from education as noisily as possible, but instead of screening for dyslexia  the behaviour becomes the excuse for their poor learning.

It is true that early testing might show up some false positives i.e. saying  some children have dysleixa when it might turn out they have more general learning difficulties caused by a lower than average IQ, or no problems at all.  These children will be doing the best they can, but not keeping up. It will not hurt them to have extra support that is suitable for those with dyslexia, so why worry.

The testing might also give some false positives i.e. say a child does not have dyslexia -when in fact they do. These children are usually smart and brighter than average. They are using their intelligence to find their own strategies to learn.  These children are also likely to disengage from learning, but do it by fading into the background, becoming withdrawn and stressed with school. Teachers and parents can be puzzled by a bright, verballyl skillful child who then produces little work, but who has some very plausible excuses.

The brighter the child, the longer they can stay under the radar – some to A level or university – but eventually they will struggle to the point of giving up on education as well.

In Year 4 my own daughter missed the new Literacy Hour for months by asking to go to the toilet – and not coming back!  She was a ‘good’ child and so it was inconcievable to the staff that she might not be back in a few minutes.  Instead she spent the hour crying.  Understandably when I found out I was appalled, but mid rant she said, ‘but you don’t notice when I come straight home and go up to my room and cry.’ I thought she was busy – drawing, playing etc., as she was always so cheerful otherwise.

Does she have a dyslexic advantage? Yes she does, but it was not visible back then.

She can play and compose on the piano and guitar way above the level of the AS qualification she now has, but she cannot read a note of music.  She has 3 A Levels – Drama, English Literature, Psychology and all hard fought for, but it was the accidental AS level Art that made her, the teachers, and her family aware of how talented she is. She is currently studying BA in Contemporary Craft.

But for all of that I would have given anything as a parent to save her from Literacy Hour.

So what of the advantages?

Is it really an advantage to have great ideas, or artistic flair, or be musically talented if you can’t read music, can’t write down your ideas or get anyone to notice you? The answer still has to be YES – only it becomes our responsibility as parents and/or teachers not only to recognise and encourage all children in a wide variety of activities, but to make sure they have no barriers to learning.

Schools need to use simple, quick computer screeners (15 minutes) as a start point or longer profiling systems (45 minutes per child) to identify and support weak areas so they can  become interested and engaged learners,  regardless of their difficulties.

Should we label?

Yes – While this is a constant debate in education circles and goes in and out of fashion, I have yet to met a family who did not want to know if their child had dyslexia or regretted finding out.  I have not met a child disadvantaged in school because they know they have dyslexia. In fact quite the reverse. Children are smarter and tougher than we give them credit for. They will not be phased by knowing they have to work harder than everyone else.  Believe me they already know it – only now they know why. Finding out their problems are not their fault comes as a relief.

Children with dyslexia can learn to read, write, spell or do math.  They just learn a little differently from most others. If they are to succeed then we all need to know how they need to learn. This means screening, assessment, and small step learning geared up so they succeedat every task, rather than be allowed to fail.

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