Specific Learning Difficulties, (SpLDs): the Chinese Menu Model.

Specific Learning Difficulties tend to be separated into a few distinct diagnoses, for example: –

  • Dyslexia – problems with literacy.
  • Dyspraxia – co-ordination difficulties.
  • Dyscalculia – problems with number.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder – concentration and focus weaknesses.
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder – difficulties with communication and interaction.

Factors to be aware of when children are diagnosed with a SpLD :-

  1. When a child is diagnosed with one SpLD, for example dyslexia, they are likely to experience additional SpLDs, for example, dyscalculia. 
  1. Certain underlying weaknesses are common across most SpLDs, for example, a weak memory: –

Children with SpLDs will experience memory problems for different reasons: –

  • The child may experience problems with concentration and attention. When the teacher is delivering instructions, the child may not be listening because they are distracted by, for example, the noise of other children’s pens or the teacher’s shoes squeaking. 
  • The child may experience a sensory processing issue and not retain information because: the classroom feels too hot, their tie too tight, their jumper too scratchy, their chair too hard or the light too bright.
  • The child cannot understand what the adult is saying and therefore doesn’t remember information. The teacher may be talking too quickly and so meaning is lost, (slow processing), or the child cannot understand the vocabulary the teacher is using and her sentences are too long and complex, (a language weakness)
  1. The diagnosis of the different SpLDs will change over time: –

The child may be diagnosed as having a language problem and delayed speech before starting school. Their poor understanding of the different speech sounds leads to a slower development of literacy in KS1 and they are diagnosed as dyslexic. In KS2, as a result of their literacy difficulties, classroom work is very effortful and the child finds it difficult to focus to the required level, so is diagnosed with an attention deficit. 

  1. The effect of the SpLD on the child will depend on their personality and how much support they receive: – 
  • The child may be very popular, with peers and teachers sympathetic to their needs.
  • They may have alternative talents to boost their self-confidence: sport, drama, dance, music and art, in addition to any individual interests.
  • Their family is supportive and proactive, helping the child to find solutions to the problems they encounter.
  • The child’s school may make excellent provision for pupils with SpLDs, with all staff trained and knowledgeable.
  1. The child’s diagnosis will depend on the professionals involved: – 

Speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists and specialist teachers will all assess the child from a different perspective and may make different diagnoses.

Problems may occur when adults make assumptions about what the child’s SpLD diagnosis means, failing to realise that every child presents differently. 

‘He can’t be dyspraxic; he’s in the school football team.’

‘She’s not attention deficit; she can concentrate when she feels like it.’

‘He’s not dyslexic, just lazy. He can read really well.’

‘Strange that she doesn’t have any problems at school, only at home.’

It may be easier to compare a child’s SpLD with a Chinese meal, in which smaller portions of different types of food make up the whole. For example: –

Child ‘A’ may have: a poor working memory, slow processing, be excellent at Drama and Maths, prefers to word process their work, panics when asked to read aloud, is very disorganised and has social interaction difficulties = Medium portions of egg fried rice, sweet and sour spare ribs and dumplings; small portions of prawn crackers and crispy seaweed, but a large portion of chicken chow mein.

Child ‘B’ has slow processing, a reasonable working memory, is very popular, doesn’t know her times tables and cannot tell the time, but can read Music, enjoys Spanish and History, but has untidy presentation = Medium portion of egg fried rice; small portions of noodles, dumplings, sweet and sour sauce and crispy seaweed, with supersized portions of beef chop suey and prawn crackers.

Key point – All children are individual.

Children and Sensory Overload

Sensory processing refers to the ability to register information through our senses, (sound, sight, taste and so on), to filter the information we receive and to make appropriate responses.

Most individuals are able to sort such information effectively and will only take on-board anything relevant. However, some children are over sensitive to stimuli, experience a difficulty filtering the input and quickly become overloaded. They may have an extreme reaction to the flood of sensory information they receive: light hurts their eyes because it’s too bright; their tie feels so tight, they think they’re being choked; the food they’re offered looks sloppy and makes them gag; the smell in the changing rooms is so overpowering, they think they’ll faint. The child’s reaction to these strong feelings may be extreme: – 

  • If they exhibit a fight response, they become irritable, challenge others, hit out, shout or use inappropriate language.
  • A freeze response will include constantly checking everything, being uncommunicative, appearing tense and ready to bolt.
  • A flee response includes running away, feeling ill and insisting they must go home or devising increasingly desperate avoidance strategies.

While everyone will be able to recall moments of sheer panic when they have behaved like this, perhaps when facing a dental or hospital appointment, job interview or giving a presentation to a large group; as adults we are able to rationalise our feelings and control our anxiety. Children do not have the maturity to be able to do this. It is exhausting for the child to be continually on such a high level of alert, just waiting for an ear-splitting noise, to be blinded by bright lights or nauseated by an overpowering smell. They will have little headroom left for any other activity and, unfortunately, this will include learning. 

The first approach to dealing with sensory overload is to try to avoid it: –

  • Identify any triggers for the child, for example, hot, noisy, brightly lit shops at busy times of the day: try to shop on line or at quieter times.
  • Some children are hypersensitive to smell, so avoid using heady perfumes, scented hair products and strong-smelling washing powder.
  • Learn to recognise the warning signs of imminent sensory overload: the child may begin to behave in certain, predictable ways. When you notice this happening, remove as much sensory input as possible and take child to a quiet place where they can calm down: a tent in their room, a swing in the garden, a favourite tree to climb into. Provide soothing activities, perhaps drawing, colouring, listening to music or a story CD, and allow them plenty of time to relax.
  • Provide regular sensory breaks during the day to help the child to self-calm. Repetitive physical movement, for example, bouncing on a trampoline or kicking a ball against a wall can be particularly helpful.
  • The physical action of chewing soothes and helps with self-regulation: use chewie toys or chewing gum. 
  • Teach calming breathing techniques and practise them daily. 
  • Ensure the child has adequate water, food and sleep. Even mild feelings of hunger, tiredness and thirst will affect their ability to cope.

A second approach would be to make accommodations: –

  • Try to discover why certain articles of clothing bother the child. Solutions might include: fleece hoodies to cut down on noise and visual input, seamless bamboo socks and loose-fitting jogging bottoms for comfort, labels removed to reduce irritation, wearing slippers or gumboots rather than having bare feet when it is cold.
  • Use ear defenders, noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs to help with loud or unpleasant noise, such as vacuum cleaners, busy playtimes, fire alarms or hand dryers.
  • Put generous amounts of conditioner on the child’s hair to help with brushing. Try a few different hairbrushes to give the child a choice, then agree how many brush strokes will be used. 
  • Some children find a vibrating toothbrush calming. Try to avoid toothpaste with a strong smell or taste, using non-mint flavours and non-foaming products instead. 
  • Some children feel pain when another person brushes past them, so give advanced warning before touching the child.
  • Use sunglasses or coloured lenses, sun visors, ski-ing goggles, peaked caps and dimmer switches to help the child cope with bright light. ⠀

Many of the children who experience sensory difficulties in childhood, will have fewer problems as they grow older and increasingly able to self-regulate. In the same way that children learn to walk or are toilet trained over different time scales, the sensory systems of children mature at individual rates. 

Girls and Sport

The benefits of playing sport include: –

Physical exercise has been shown to improve memory function, concentration and to increase problem-solving ability. 

  • Promotion of a healthy lifestyle. 

Playing sport develops an individual’s strength, fitness, balance and co-ordination. Girls who play sport will understand the value of living healthily: a good diet, adequate sleep and avoiding alcohol and drugs. 

  • Improved ability to deal with pressure.  

Sport involves deadlines, competition and pressure. When girls play sports, they learn to cope with such challenging situations. 

  • Learning about teamwork. 

Being part of a team will teach girls to co-operate with their peers and to respect the opinions of others. 

  • The development of skills of organisation, time management and self-discipline.

To be successful in sport, preparation is key. The more you prepare, the more successful you will be. Sport requires good time management and organisation, as well as commitment and self-discipline. 

  • Improved body confidence. 

Girls who play sports will appreciate their bodies, regardless of size or shape. Sport stresses girls’ physical talents. 

  • Membership of a different friendship group. 

Being a member of a group is one of the best ways to promote wellbeing. When girls belong to several groups, peers from their school or local neighbourhood, from a church group or a sports team, they will have a wider circle of friends to draw upon when relationships end or change.  

  • Higher levels of confidence. 

Playing sport teaches girls how to appear confident. Even when you are not confident, you have to fool the opposition into thinking you are.

  • The acceptance of errors.

Through playing sport, girls will experience a trial-and-error method of learning, and appreciate mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. 

  • The development of persistence.

Sport encourages girls to develop a good work ethic; teaching that hard work and practice are part of a successful performance. 

  • The acceptance of failure.

In every sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Girls who play sport will learn to win graciously and to accept defeat without losing a sense of proportion. 

According to a survey by ‘Women in Sport’, (March 2022), more than 1 million girls who thought of themselves as sporty at primary school, lose interest in physical activity as teenagers.

One of the main reasons for the high dropout rate is because some teenage girls will feel a need to conform to stereotypical gender roles. Boys see their images on television as sportsmen, they see men on the sports pages of newspapers and know from their family and their friends that they are expected to participate in sport. Girls do not receive the same positive reinforcement. Although perceptions are gradually changing, historically speaking women have always been told that sport is not for them.

  • At the first modern Olympics in 1896, women were prohibited from participating.In the Games of 1900, 2% of the athletes were female. By the 1964 Olympics, 14% of the athletes were female. In 2021 in Tokyo, female athlete numbers were almost equal to those of men at nearly 49%.
  • Until 2007 male players at Wimbledon received more prize money than women players.
  • In December 1921, women’s football in England was banned by the FA. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1971. 
  • The average wage of a Premier League male footballer is just over £60,000 a week. Players in the Women’s Super League (the top league in women’s football in the country), earn an average salary of £26,000 a year. 
  • In 1976, the MCC allowed the England Women’s cricket team to play at Lords. This was the first time that female cricketers had been allowed to play at the ground. (The annual schoolboys’ match between Eton and Harrow has been played at Lords since 1822.)

A second reason why teenagers, (both girls and boys), stop participating in sport is that they no longer see sport as being the fun it was at primary school. Children play sport because it’s fun, and they give up because it’s not fun anymore. When we accept that sport benefits young people in so many ways, those parents and schools who feel a need to constantly challenge and stretch their young athletes should re-consider their position. Should they be pressurising and hot-housing children or thinking carefully about how sport boosts young people’s health, happiness and confidence? Not many children will become top professional athletes, but with the right approach, substantial numbers will carry on playing sport for fun for the rest of their lives. It’s time to bring back the joy.

‘Oh, girls, they wanna have fun. Oh, girls just wanna have,

that’s all they really want, is some fun.’

(Cindi Lauper)

Set books and the pupil with dyslexia

Reading in the classroom can prove problematic when the reading material is beyond the pupils’ ability level. Children with dyslexia will be among those who experience the most difficulty with reading accuracy and fluency. 

A pupil’s ‘reading age’ defines their reading ability in terms of the performance expected from an individual of a certain age. A thirteen-year-old might be a good reader and have the reading age of a sixteen-year-old; or be a weaker reader and have a reading age equivalent to that expected from an eight-year-old.

Texts for GCSE English Literature are set at a reading age of approximately fifteen years and seven months, and yet the average reading age of students sitting their GCSEs is ten years and seven months.  

Jane Eyre is a popular English text for 11 to 16-year-olds, but has a readability level suitable for pupils who read at a 17 to 20-year-old’s level. The first page of Jane Eyre contains potentially unfamiliar words: shrubbery, sombre, penetrating, chidings, humbled, consciousness, inferiority, reclined, dispensed, endeavouring, earnest, disposition and sprightly. In addition to unfamiliar words and vocabulary that is difficult to decode, (sound out phonetically), the text contains complex and long sentences, with several on the first page extending to over fifty words. 

Pupils with dyslexia often have a good vocabulary, but poor decoding skills. They will spend so long trying to sound out an unfamiliar word, that they lose the overview of the passage. Their problems will be compounded by other typical dyslexic weaknesses, such as a poor working memory or the slow processing of information.

One of the aims when introducing pupils to classics such as Jane Eyre, is to expose children to great works of literature with contemporary themes. One of the main themes of Jane Eyre is Jane’s on-going resilience in the face of adversity – a very modern issue often discussed in schools.

‘The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.’

(Jane Eyre.)

However, English teachers will need to differentiate such important texts carefully to ensure that the pupils’ reading experience is positive, rather than demotivating and tedious.

English set books: –

Ten ways to help the weaker reader at home.

  1. Borrow films, DVDs and videos of the book from the school library, public library or download them from the internet. Films and DVDs give an overview of the story and show how the different sections fit together.
  2. Similarly, visit the theatre to see a play based on the book. A dramatic performance can bring the book to life. Visual images are invaluable for many weaker readers: it really is a case of a picture painting a thousand words.
  3. The public library, local bookshops or Amazon will have comic books or manga versions of the original, and their attractive illustrations and minimal text will help the child to follow the action of the story.
  4. Download a copy of the book onto a Kindle or computer. Use the text to speech facility to read the text aloud.
  5. Borrow copies of the book that have been simplified for non-English speakers. Penguin, Macmillan, Collins and Oxford University Press all published abridged versions of set English texts for pupils who don’t have English as their first language. These books are perfect for the dyslexic or weaker reader. The book will follow the original story, but the language used is simplified and the sentences are shorter. Many of the books have accompanying CDs.
  6. Easy Classics, Oxford Reading Tree and Goodreads all publish versions of classic novels simplified for younger readers, and therefore also useful for the slower reader. 
  7. Share the reading with your child: you read a paragraph, then they read a paragraph. This will help the child to progress steadily through the book; in addition to giving the opportunity to hear how unfamiliar vocabulary is pronounced. (If you’re uncertain of how to pronounce a word, type the word into your phone!) 

It may be useful to read any dialogue as if in a play: you take one part and the child takes the other, then the text is heard as a conversation.

8. Look up unfamiliar vocabulary as you read. If it is a word that is unlikely to be repeated, simply explain its meaning. If it is a word that occurs regularly in the book, make a note of it, so the child can refer back as required.

9. Take a sheet of A4 paper and create an annotated picture of each character as a reminder of the part they play in the story, and how the character links with others. Or make a comic strip summary of each chapter using three or four simple sketches to represent the sequence of events of the chapter.

10. If the pupil is experiencing a real problem with reading texts quickly and accurately, ask the school about the possibility of having a reader in those situations where the child is working under time restraints, such as in exams.

ADHD – a woman’s problem.

We were in the same class from the age of four to sixteen.

Guess who was diagnosed at eight

And who was diagnosed at nearly thirty?

You’re right, the latter was me – the she.’

(‘She’s bright but she talks too much.’ – Natalie Jayne Clark)

During childhood, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is more frequently diagnosed in boys than girls. This is thought to be because boys are likely to ‘act out’ in school, and their problems cause more disruption in the classroom. On the other hand, girls are believed to internalise their attentional difficulties, drift away and daydream without causing too much of a problem to anyone else.

Research suggests that between 50 – 70% of adult females with ADHD remain undiagnosed. 

Symptoms of ADHD in women:

  • Over reacting emotionally, with an aversion to being teased or criticised, in addition to a reputation for being moody. 
  • Constantly making careless mistakes, for example, collecting parking fines and tickets for the same offences. 
  • Losing, forgetting or misplacing possessions, regardless of the item’s importance: glasses, car keys, house keys and bank cards.
  • Impatience with any sort of delay, for example, when queuing or having to listen to, what the woman considers to be, unnecessary or irrelevant information.
  • Engagement with tasks is variable. The woman will hyper-focus if an activity interests her, but procrastinate over anything she perceives to be boring. 
  • The woman will have a constant sense of her underperformance, wishing she could do the things that others do so easily: enjoy a steady personal relationship, maintain a rewarding career rather than job hop, be socially adept, multi-task, concentrate and be well organised. 

Common misdiagnoses for women with ADHD include: mood disorder, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep issues, bipolar disorder, stress, obsessive-compulsive traits or depression. These misdiagnoses may result in the woman being given inappropriate medication or treatment. 

Particular problems of diagnosing ADHD in women include: –

  1. Diagnostic criteria for ADHD describe symptoms observed in childhood and adolescence. Very few women will receive a diagnosis in childhood and will not match the diagnostic criteria as an adult.
  2. Women may try to compensate for their ADHD symptoms through overwork, often to the detriment of their physical and mental health. They will be in danger of becoming people pleasers, work alcoholics or perfectionists. 
  3. The constant mental activity that is a common symptom of ADHD, could be interpreted as mental restlessness and diagnosed as anxiety.
  4. The problems with relaxation and sleep associated with ADHD, may be diagnosed as stress or depression. 
  5. The individual can appear unmotivated and tired, but then be easily lifted by something they find interesting. Irritable when bored and over excited when engaged, this behaviour could lead to a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.
  6. Little is known about the emotional implications for women of experiencing ADHD, but these will include irritability, mood instability and problems with emotional regulation. These emotional symptoms are different and separate to the hormonal changes that are linked with women’s menstrual cycle. 

While a holistic approach, (diet, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, etc), should always be the first treatment suggested for women experiencing ADHD, it is estimated that 75% of adults will get positive results from medication. 

However, as many women report changes in their ADHD symptoms at different times in their menstrual cycle, in addition to during the perimenopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal period of their lives, increased research is needed into the reaction of different individuals to ADHD medication, in order for women to receive the support they so desperately need.

‘Society’s perceptions and expectations of our genders are vastly, vastly different.

Not to mention the gender data gap. The lack of knowledge about the condition affects everybody.’

(‘She’s bright but she talks too much.’ Natalie Jayne Clark)

Neurodiversity – Spiky Profiles

When an individual has an Educational Psychologist’s assessment, the psychologist analyses their performance in a variety of areas. A generic assessment would cover verbal and visual-spatial ability, working memory and processing speed. Verbal ability relates to the individual’s skill when using and understanding language. Visual-spatial ability refers to the skills necessary to interpret charts, graphs, diagrams, and judge where objects are in space. Working memory refers to the ability to hold and manipulate information mentally. Processing speed refers to the speed at which an individual is able to receive, understand and respond to information.

The scores for each area are taken from an amalgamation of results from several sub-tests, which are then presented as a ‘standard score’ for that particular skill. 

The average standard score would be 100, although statistically any score between 85 and 115 would be considered to be the average ability range for the general population.

Neurotypical individuals will have standard scores that vary according to their personal characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, but most scores will be around the same level. For example: 106 for verbal ability, 104 for visual spatial, 97 for working memory and 100 for processing speed. If these scores were presented in the form of a line graph, the graph would appear to undulate, but only slightly. 

However, the profile of neurodiverse individuals, (those who experience such specific learning differences as dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia or dyspraxia), will appear as ‘spiky’. These individuals may excel in some areas, but struggle in others; hence the term ‘specific‘ learning difficulties. For example, the individual might achieve a standard score of 94 for verbal ability, 122 for visual spatial, 65 for working memory and 111 for processing speed. They may achieve differing results for the individual sub-tests within the separate areas, with excellent scores in some of the tests, but much lower scores for others. If these individuals’ scores were presented in line graph form, they would appear as a series of mountains and valleys: some scores being very high, while others are very low.

This mismatch between their different skill sets may result in neurodiverse children being accused of laziness in school: they appear to master some things easily, but inexplicably fail at others. Unsympathetic school staff may assume this failure is due to a lack of effort, when in reality, any failure is the result of the specific skill set that the child is using at that moment. Is it a strength or a weakness? The child may be unaware of the discrepancies between their different abilities and accept the idea that they are idle or stupid, with many of the children playing to the labels they are given.

Neurodiverse children tend to cope better at primary school, albeit at a level below their potential, but will experience more of a problem at secondary school. Secondary school teaching methods tend to be designed with the neurotypical individual in mind, so there is the danger that the neurodiverse pupils may switch off from learning, fall behind and lose motivation. This situation is not inevitable, and when alerted to these pupils’ problems, good schools and teachers can succeed in making secondary education more welcoming for the neurodiverse pupil. 

‘A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.’

(Eeyore)

Spelling and the child with dyslexia

Learning to spell accurately is one of the many challenges faced by the individual with dyslexia. If a child’s ability to spell doesn’t develop in line with that of their peers, the danger exists of a mismatch between the standard of their written work and their underlying ability. This may result in teaching staff underestimating the child’s academic potential.

Supporting the dyslexic child with their spelling.

  1. Have the child’s hearing checked. Many young children suffer from an intermittent hearing loss such as glue ear. This may affect their grasp of basic phonics; for example, ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ will all sound the same to a child with a heavy cold. 
  2. Before a child can master spelling, they need to know the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that the letters represent. They need to be able to hear sounds within a word and to link those sounds to the appropriate letters. English spelling rules can seem complex, but if a child’s spelling is phonetically accurate, for example, wud/would, shud/should, their written work will be understood.
  3. Revising spellings for a weekly test will not help the child with dyslexia develop spelling skills. Constant repetition and over-learning of basics are essential. It makes sense to target those words that the child writes most frequently, for example, keywords or topic vocabulary, rather than words the child will rarely use. 
  4. It is particularly useful to be able to spell keywords. These are the small words that are frequently used in written work: come, they, their, said, who, and so on. Sixteen of these keywords make up approximately half of the words in written texts. 
  5. Multi-sensory learning, (learning that involves several senses), is likely to be the most successful approach for children with dyslexia. The ‘Look, say, cover, write, check’ method of revising spellings would be a simple example of multi-sensory learning. 
  6. Spelling programmes for dyslexics need to be structured and sequential, with constant overlearning and revision. 
  7. Learning a few basic spelling rules is helpful, for example, ‘i before e, except after c’. Do not try to teach an excessive number of rules as they can be complicated, and most children with dyslexia have poor memories. 
  8. Work out which approaches help the individual child. Children with dyslexia will all have their own preferences for remembering spellings: mnemonics, looking for words within words, tapping out syllables, learning about word origins, sorting words into families or focusing on suffixes and prefixes. Tracing words whilst saying the letters, spelling games on the computer and building the words with magnetic letters are all approaches worth trying. 
  9. For severe spelling problems, voice recognition software is one answer. However, it is useful for the child to be able to recognise the correct word when given a choice: generous exposure to the printed word may help with this.
  10. Spelling is only one element of writing, and it would be a pity if a child’s potential was restricted because of their poor secretarial skills. With appropriate coping strategies and accommodations within school, weak spelling need not curtail the individual’s overall achievement.

Homework and the child with dyslexia.

For pupils with dyslexia, homework can be a frustrating experience. It is not just the homework itself that may be challenging, or the child’s levels of literacy, but also their difficulties with organisation and concentration. 

As all academic work requires their full concentration, the child with dyslexia has to work far harder than their peers. They are unable to complete work to an appropriate standard on automatic pilot. Accurate reading, spelling and writing all demand effort. It is easy to understand how a child exhausted after a gruelling day at school, would resent continuing that pressure into the home environment. 

How to help: –

  1. The class teacher needs to be aware of struggles with homework, (in addition to any excessive amounts of homework being given by other teachers). The purpose of homework is to practise something that the children are already familiar with. They should not be set work that is beyond their capability or which takes too long to complete. Simple solutions would be to avoid giving homework for homework’s sake, setting smaller amounts of work, and/or allowing pupils extra time to complete the work.
  2. All children need time to play and relax. Children with dyslexia find it difficult to maintain concentration for long periods and tire quickly, so a ‘little and often’ approach to homework is preferable.
  3. Visual supports are essential. Large whiteboards are the perfect solution for tracking homework, with homework set written on the board, then erased when completed. Lists, post-it notes, calendars, timetables or ‘to do / done’ lists will all help the disorganised child.
  4. Support a hesitant reader, a tired child or a slow writer by reading questions to them or copying out sums into their books for them to complete. 
  5. If your child has difficulty writing homework down at school or remembering tasks, liaise with the teacher to see if homework can be provided on a worksheet or accessed via the school’s website.
  6. You are a parent, not a teacher. Do not try to teach them at home. If they ask for help, give it. If they do not, leave well alone.
  7. Do not give the child extra homework over the weekends. For children with dyslexia, it is essential they have generous down time to enjoy their own hobbies or simply relax and do nothing.
  8. Create a suitable working space for them away from distractions.
  9. Make use of IT. IT is a boon for a child with dyslexia. They can word process their work rather than laboriously copy everything out by hand, and use the spellcheck facility. Use text-to-speech software to read longer pieces of text or to proof read their own work. Use their mobile phone to take photos of important information, set reminders for deadlines or record voice messages.
  10. Be an advocate for your child. Not every teacher will be aware of the range of different problems pupils with dyslexia can experience. They may be confused by children whose underachievement appears to be due to carelessness or a lack of effort. All teachers need to have an understanding of dyslexia in order to avoid misinterpreting these children’s behaviour. It is a teacher’s responsibility to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning for every pupil within their class. Children with dyslexia will then be able to enjoy the same feelings of success as their peers. 

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) in Childhood

Developmental Language Disorder, (previously known as Specific Language Impairment), is a communication difficulty. The disorder is thought to have a genetic link, and it is usual for several members of the same family to experience similar problems. Current research estimates that between 3% and 10% of school children experience a DLD. 

A DLD will give the child a difficulty with receptive and / or expressive language. Receptive language refers to an individual’s capacity to understand spoken and written language. Expressive language refers to their ability to use language to convey meaning.

When a child has a receptive language problem, they: –

  • experience difficulties following a conversation, particularly if the content of the conversation is unfamiliar and people are talking quickly.
  • have a problem with understanding instructions and directions, particularly when the instruction has several parts: ‘Please could you go upstairs to Chloe’s room, and see if you can find her navy blue socks in the left hand side drawer of the wardrobe. If they’re not there, have a look on the top shelf of the airing cupboard.’
  • appear to lack interest when books are read to them.

When a child has an expressive language problem, they: –

  • have a restricted vocabulary. Their speech may seem immature for their age.
  • talk less than their peers. They will not volunteer conversation easily, particularly with people outside the family.
  • experience word finding problems. This will make their conversation seem hesitant and disjointed. 
  • mis-use words that are similar or sound similar.
  • use grammar and tenses inappropriately.

When looking at the difficulties a child with a language disorder experiences, it is easy to see how the child’s difficulties could be interpreted differently. For example: –

  • As a slow processing or working memory difficulty. The child doesn’t seem to retain or process information given verbally and is constantly asking for repetition.
  • As an attention weakness because the child so often seems ‘away with the fairies.’ Perhaps the conversation is moving too quickly for them to follow, or they have given up trying because it is tiring to concentrate so hard.
  • As naughtiness. The child may be slow to get down to work because they are uncertain of what they’re meant to be doing. They may use avoidance tactics: going to the toilet, sharpening pencils, talking to their peers to check what they are working on or copying the work of others.
  • As a social communication weakness. When the child does not quite understand what is being said, they may respond inappropriately.
  • As shyness. If the child is uncertain of what is being discussed in class, they will be unwilling to answer questions or volunteer an opinion. This behaviour may be interpreted as shyness.

How to help.

  1. Make sure you have the child’s attention before you begin to speak. Say their name before talking to them, asking questions or giving instructions.
  2. Ensure the child is given enough time to speak without being interrupted or hurried. 
  3. Adapt your conversation so that your speech is slower and your sentences are shorter.
  4. Tell the child that you are happy to repeat instructions, (without comment or criticism.)
  5. Use body language to emphasise essential information.
  6. Double check that the child has understood what has been said, by asking them to repeat instructions in their own words. 
  7. Encourage the children to speak up if they are confused or uncertain. (See point 4.)
  8. Do not give important instructions if the child is involved in another activity, and their attention focused elsewhere.
  9. If instructions are complex, provide a written list for the older child to follow. Simplify and ‘chunk’ directions for the younger child.
  10. Use visuals: gestures, diagrams, pictures, videos or role play to help the child understand and retain information. 

It is important that any language problems are identified at an early age, as such difficulties will affect a child’s speaking, listening and literacy skills and therefore, have a knock-on impact on their performance in the classroom.

September

September – a new opportunity to identify barriers to pupils’ achievement.

It is important that children who experience difficulties in school are identified and offered appropriate support before any problems become entrenched. It is understandable that teaching staff become accustomed to pupils’ different personalities and foibles over the school year and, as a result, may fail to recognise the indicators of underlying difficulties. The start of the new school year in September provides the opportunity for a new class team to bring fresh pairs of eyes to examine the children’s behaviour.

The behaviour of children who have ‘flown under the radar’: –

  1. Unusually high levels of dependency.

Some pupils seem to need continual reassurance that they are completing the task correctly, that they have understood the adult’s directions, that they are doing the same thing as the other pupils and so on. They may become anxious or distressed when they don’t know what to do or can’t follow instructions.

2. An inability to articulate their ideas.

The pupil may find it hard to express themselves clearly and succinctly: perhaps because they lack the necessary vocabulary or because they are unable to organise and structure their thoughts.

3. A limited attention span.

The child may have a real difficulty with maintaining attention: listening to instructions, focussing during discussions, sitting still at story time or concentrating during Assembly. They may distract others by talking, fidgeting and wandering around the room. Others appear lost in their own little world.

4. A poor level of general literacy. 

The child’s spelling may be weak, their reading hesitant and handwriting untidy. They often find it hard to understand or use class texts, and will copy others or cheat rather than ask for help.

5. Challenging behaviour.

The pupil may be difficult to deal with in lessons: cheeky to adults, arguing with peers, often off task or causing low level disruption. They may take on the role of class clown.

6. Poor organisational skills.

The child will forget their cookery ingredients, maths equipment, reading book and sports kit. Homework will be forgotten or not handed in. The pupil will appear to have little idea of class routine or what lesson is next.

7. An unusually negative self-image.

The pupil may never be happy with anything they do; they reject offers of help and continually put themselves down. They can be solitary children because of their negativity.

8. Withdrawal in the classroom.

The child may withdraw into themselves, be reluctant to join in with the usual classroom activities, and become distressed if they feel forced to participate. 

9. Poor presentation of work.

Work may be scrappy and poorly presented. Handwriting may be illegible and drawings immature. Maps, diagrams and charts will appear not to have been planned with care or any attention to detail. 

10. Problems with number work.

The child will not have a grasp of basic number bonds and times tables. Wordy problems will present a particular difficulty: the child simply cannot understand what they are being asked to do.