I have been seriously overwhelmed with how many people have taken the time to view my first post! I think perhaps it really does strike a nerve with lots of people and maybe it’s a topic that many people can relate to because they have experienced it either first hand by being a parent or teacher or pupil or are genuinely interested in. I feel humbled that so many people have taken the time to view my thoughts and hope that together we can make a difference to people’s lives by raising the profile of a learning difficulty that I believe effects many of us without realising it. I also believe that the real difficulties of dyslexia are hidden because dyslexics are intelligent people and hide their true difficulties not intentionally but again without necessarily realising it.
For me in my experience of teaching and managing SEN in primary schools, dyslexia is considered a mild learning difficulty and a difficulty that teachers and schools perceive to have impact in just spelling and reading. In my experience we are at a stage now where schools do recognise dyslexia. The wonderful work Sir Jim Rose carried out in 2008 exploring how pupils with dyslexia were supported and needed to be supported in mainstream schools raised the profile of dyslexia and made schools realise that they had to recognise it!
I see teachers recognise it… Teachers often tell me that pupils in their class are dyslexic. I hear conversations in the staff room between teachers. Great professional conversations that indicate to me that they know what they are looking for on the surface. I hear conversations between staff about pupils who can’t consistently spell or are making slow progress in reading and have lots of ideas verbally but can’t write their ideas onto paper. I watch Teaching assistants work relentlessly with such pupils on a daily basis hammering away at supposed evidenced based effective interventions. I see parents work tirelessly with their pupils at home reading with their child every night and religiously rehearsing the weekly spellings through gritted teeth whilst fighting back tears.
Why then does the pupil still need the same evidence based intervention 3 years later? Why is it that when writing the spellings that have been religiously learnt they cannot be spelt correctly and transferred into their creative writing? Why does reading not seem to be progressing at a steady and regular rate, they can read now but can’t comprehend? Why is the gap not closing? I can pretty much guarantee the gap is not closing. I can guarantee that the gap is not closing because there is a huge misconception about dyslexia as far as teachers and schools are concerned. I think teachers and schools only have half the story!
In a teacher and schools defence it is not their fault, as I have already mentioned they are great at spotting it now. Here is where I think it’s going wrong. Most definitions regarding what constitutes a diagnosis of dyslexia talk of dyslexia as being primarily a difficulty with reading and spelling. You can google and find definitions on the British dyslexia association website and dyslexia action website. Yes it is a difficulty with reading and spelling but this is not all it is. In my experience, having lived it and breathed it for 36 years, having taught pupils with it, stood back and observed them and watched my sons dyslexia emerge, difficulties with reading and spelling are merely the tip of a rather large iceberg… The majority of what we experience on a daily basis are hidden and are deep below in the depths of the water where they cannot be seen and can remain hidden.
Dyslexia is a difficulty with reading and writing, this is proven and cannot be doubted and I do not doubt it, but it is also a difficulty with processing, filing, sorting, ordering, making sense of, understanding and remembering anything to do with language and words and information! Our poor working memories become overloaded so easily and this causes us so much pain! It causes us pain because we are clever, intuitive, emotionally literate, deep thinking and philosophical human beings with perfectionist natures who only want to do our best! Imagine the frustration and effort it takes to keep this embarrassment for not understanding simple things or being able to keep up with our peers causes us! It’s exhausting! As well as being exhausting it is damaging…
This for me is dyslexias biggest impact… The impact of not being able to keep up, not understanding the instruction first time, not being able to spell the simple words, has on a persons confidence and self esteem is untold and can only be imagined by a non-dyslexic. If you were able to see the world through a dyslexics eyes you would see this is what becomes our biggest barrier. Our ability to be confident, our ability to give things a go, our ability to take risks becomes impaired because we are scared and frightened of looking stupid? We develop self-defence mechanisms and barriers to protect ourselves… This takes form in all sorts of guises, literally hiding, acting out, disengagement, complete refusal, distraction, making yourself invisible!
I think, in my personal and professional experience we need to approach supporting dyslexic learners slightly differently. Yep we need to do the intervention stuff, we need to be given opportunities to over learn and we do need to have catch up opportunities because we learn in a different way. However we need to look at what the biggest barriers are and remove these first. If our confidence and self belief is so low we won’t give things a try because we are scared we will not make progress in line with our ability. If we are always playing it safe because we are worried to leave our comfort zone we will not make progress in line with our ability. If we don’t believe in ourselves and believe that we can’t do it because we are stupid and can’t get our brilliant ideas into paper we won’t make progress in line with our ability.
Next time you look out into your class and think ‘I can see the dyslexics’ thats brill. It’s brill that you can see what interventions they need, it’s brill that you see them but do you really SEE them, the person, the intelligent soul who is desperate to please you? Next time you notice a dyslexic learner can you spend just a few moments longer looking and thinking. Just see if you can start to look beneath the surface. If you look and watch just a little longer I think you will see how they feel about themselves as a learner. I think you’ll see how they approach work in a tentative and calculated way and I think you’ll see how fragile they are behind their guise. whatever that may be. I think if you take a little time, by disturbing the surface ever so slightly you will be able to make a huge difference by just understanding them a little more. A little bit can can go a long way. If you give us a little knowing smile that tells us you understand, that you care enough to have looked below, you never know we might take a risk for you and we might push ourselves out of our comfort zone, knowing you are there to catch us and knowing that you have our back.