Dyslexia Awareness Week – why (and how) to support your dyslexic pupils’ unique skills
Ever wondered how you can best support children with the most common learning difference? Right this way…
- by Katie Griggs
As many as one in five children worldwide have dyslexia, but research conducted by the British Dyslexia Association suggests that 80 per cent of dyslexic children leave school without being properly diagnosed.
This means that right now, education systems around the world are failing children.
With only 20 per cent of dyslexic students identified, a disproportionate majority are being left to ‘muddle through’ without the necessary support and confidence they need to succeed.
On top of this, research suggests that most teachers aren’t aware of ‘dyslexic thinking’ as a concept and have little or no understanding of ‘dyslexic strengths’.
As a result, the way teachers work with dyslexic children is not optimised, and many children never truly understand their full potential, and suffer as a consequence.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning difference, with up to 20 per cent of the population affected by it. It is genetic and runs in families, and has common characteristics that can be identified as early as pre-school.
Dyslexic brains are wired slightly differently, which means they have a unique way of processing information.
They are often naturally curious and highly creative, with an ability to unconventionally connect the dots and think laterally.
This difference results in a pattern of challenges but extraordinary strengths too.
Young dyslexic minds have strengths in areas like creativity, problem solving, empathy and communication, so look out for these qualities.
Many children with dyslexia may struggle with other things such as concentration and following instructions, remembering facts and figures, and elements of literacy, such as reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Dyslexic Thinking has created some of the world’s greatest inventions, brands and art.
From Roald Dahl to Richard Branson, inspiring dyslexic minds have shaped culture and commerce over the last century, with their brilliant qualities and unique strengths.
Dyslexic kids often become experts in the subjects they love because they are inquisitive and curious and use lots of dyslexic thinking skills – such as exploring and questioning – to find out all there is to know about a subject, but at the same time they might struggle to grasp simple skills their peers find easy.
Easy-to-spot strengths include sport, art, music and dancing.
Dyslexic children often struggle with manipulating and holding on to sounds and words, which can make learning to read and spell difficult.
They may have difficulty with verbal memory to follow instructions with multiple steps and struggle with executive function skills, such as organisation, concentration, and sequential tasks.
They may find maths operations difficult and struggle with memorisation and might require more time to process their thoughts and complete tasks.
Often in dyslexic children there is a mismatch in what a learner seems capable of and the written work they produce, and they may not have test scores and grades that reflect how much they have actually learned.
This is often misread in undiagnosed children as laziness or lack of concentration to the great detriment of the child and the ability of the teacher to assist them.
Research suggests that the earlier dyslexia is discovered and supported, the sooner dyslexic kids catch up and keep up, and four in five dyslexics attribute their knowing they were dyslexic to developing the perseverance needed to suceed.
It is clear that the ‘label’ is vital for our own self-understanding, and essential for teachers to be able to provide the necessary assistance the children require to flourish.
How to support dyslexia
- Look for and pay close attention to the dyslexic children in your class, and find out from the parents what they love to do. These usually point to their dyslexic thinking skills, and you can learn about how you can integrate them into the children’s projects and goals.
- Look out for easy-to-spot strengths including sport, art, music and dancing, as well as other common dyslexic skills such as empathy, kindness, imagining, listening and questioning.
- Define dyslexic thinking as a valuable skillset to be proud of.
- Encourage dyslexic children to do what they love and are passionate about at every opportunity. Skill + practice + passion = superpower. Acknowledge their expertise. Dyslexics often don’t realise how good they are at these things, so may not recognise them as their superpowers.
- Build self- esteem with positive praise. Research suggests that we are most motivated to improve when we hear negative and positive comments in a ratio of 1:5. That’s five pieces of praise for every one negative comment. Positive praise is vital for dyslexic children. And even if certain things are challenging, or progress is slow, each small win should be celebrated.
- Make the most of assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech and speech-to-text, spelling and grammar checking, tablets and calculators, and provide supports such as guided notes and copies of presentations. Dyslexic children struggle with spelling, punctuation and grammar so focus on what they’re trying to say and their wonderful ideas first, rather than spelling – that can always be checked later.
- Use a multi-sensory, explicit phonics approach to better help pupils with dyslexia learn to read. Don’t force children to read aloud; instead ask them if they would like to in advance and make it optional in a group setting. Dyslexic learners will take longer to read than others so give them the text ahead of time so they have time to prepare before the lesson.
- Consider different options to complete tasks, both in your classroom and during tests. Dyslexics love to have the big picture, so giving them an overview of your lesson ahead of time will help to them keep on track. Provide accommodations on traditional exams and assessments, such as having the test read aloud, allowing students to dictate their answers, and provide additional time.
- Learn about dyslexia and dyslexic thinking, including how to spot, support and empower the one in five dyslexic kids in your classroom. You can access free video training at tinyurl.com/tp-DyslexiaTraining
- Create supportive structures for fellow teachers, parents and children to share experiences and information. Posters, factsheets and more information is available for free at madebydyslexia.org/teachers
Recently, LinkedIn added dyslexic thinking as a skill, offering their 810+ million global members the option to add it as a skill on their profile. Dyslexic thinking has also been added as a skill on dictionary.com.
This is a huge step forward in the recognition of the incredible strengths dyslexic thinkers bring to the world.
With more tools at our disposal to identify and support dyslexic children than ever, it is not acceptable to let it slip under the radar or to view it two-dimensionally as a learning difficulty.
The best way we can support and empower dyslexic children is to discover their particular strengths, and place as much importance on them as we do on the things they struggle with.
Find out more about Dyslexia Awareness Week and the best teaching resources to use in your classroom.
Kate Griggs is the founder and CEO of global charity Made By Dyslexia and author of dyslexia guide This is Dyslexia (£11.99, Penguin) and children’s book Xtraordinary People: Made By Dyslexia. Katie was also consulted on Matt Hancock’s Dyslexia Bill back in 2021.