SpeakMe

A toolkit for the identification and support
of learners exhibiting literacy difficulties

Other Factors to Consider

For a variety of reasons some children are naturally much more insecure than others at this Early stage. There are many factors that will influence how a child adapts and responds to the learning environment. Inevitably, insecurity will affect the child’s learning, so it is important that the child settles as quickly as possible. If this does not appear to be happening, then close liaison with parents may be required to establish if there are factors that we need to be aware of, and take account of in teaching and supporting the child.

Children who are insecure soon become aware (either consciously or subconsciously) that they are not learning in the same way at the same pace as their peer group, and this may result in the child starting to feel "stupid" or worthless. The child may then exhibit “acting out” behaviours aimed at taking attention away from learning – clowning, “showing off”, annoying other children, or withdrawing and becoming isolated. If children’s behaviour is not diverted to other more constructive tasks and brought under control (preferably self-control) at an early stage, this can become a vicious downward cycle with lack of reward for good progress and behaviour impeding learning. It is important therefore to work with families on achieving success in some aspects of learning so that children see the rewards for their efforts as well as achievement. More detail on the types of behaviour that may be observed are considered under the three headings of Disappearing StrategiesDistracting Strategies and Disruptive Strategies.

When considering dyslexia assessment, it is important to consider why the child is behaving in the way they are as this is not always obvious.  Sometimes, it may be due to the frustrations the child feels when not learning as they feel they should, and seeing a gap between what they can do and what others can achieve seemingly without effort. It is important not to rule out dyslexia because of seemingly “bad behaviour” but to consider learning in a variety of contexts. If the child learns well at some times and not at others, or in some subject areas and not in literacy, and there is no clear reason for this, then consider the possibility of dyslexia.

For children who speak languages other than English at home, the assessment process will require very careful consideration. It is unlikely that dyslexia will be able to be clearly identified at an early age due to the child developing English as an additional language. Consideration will require to be given to the child’s first language as well as English, and this will require assistance from a professional who shares the same language as the child.

In the early years all children who are showing difficulties with emergent literacy will benefit from more focused support. Their development will continue to be monitored in the usual way, and any ongoing difficulties should be noted in order to identify appropriate approaches.

The possibility of dyslexia for children who are in Gaelic medium education will be just as relevant as it is for children in single language environments. However, the fact that the child is learning to operate in two different phonological and written language systems could be a complicating factor, and close investigation should be done before reaching conclusions. This may require focused attention to phonology in both languages. For most children English will be their home language, so consideration needs to be given to English language skills as well as Gaelic. However, the most important factor is to ensure that targeted teaching and support is given to ensure that any gap that exists between the child and his or her peer group is not allowed to grow without close monitoring, liaison with parents and agreed strategies to support the child’s development of literacy skills.

A range of assessments are available in Gaelic and these are noted at the foot of the appropriate Resources section for each level of Curriculum for Excellence.

Additionally Gaelic support material modelled on Sylvia Russell's Phonic Code Cracker material is available to help support children in Gaelic medium education. This can be used to give practice in phonic skills and can be downloaded from the Resources section - 'Downloads - Gaelic Code Cracker - Fuaimean Feumail' at each level of Curriculum for Excellence.

Children who miss a significant amount of schooling or who have not had nursery experience may exhibit signs of literacy difficulties due to missing out on certain stages in the teaching of phonological awareness, phonics teaching or vocabulary assimilation. If this has not been compensated for at home then children may have only limited experience and/or language for the learning environment they find themselves in at school. It will be important to ensure that such factors are taken into account in the observation and assessment process, and steps taken to ensure that children receive appropriate teaching to make up for the missed areas. Thereafter more informed assessment can be made.

Not all children with dyslexia will have obvious difficulties with motor skills, but even slight lack of co-ordination may influence the child’s ability to cope well with handwriting. When motor skills are affected, this often affects self-esteem as the child has difficulty with sports and physical games. Spatial awareness can be a problem resulting in the child being unaware of where on a page to start writing or reading until this skill has been overlearned.

Organisational skills are often weak in children with dyslexia. This may or may not be related to sequencing abilities, but these also are often affected, meaning that the children have difficulty in recognising order in days of the week, months etc. If the children are disorganised, and/or untidy, then it is unlikely that they will endear themselves to teachers or their peers. However strategies for organisation and sequencing can be learned and the sooner the better for the sake of the child’s self-esteem and confidence. 

If there are concerns over elements of physical co-ordination or motor skills development, then referral to an occupational therapist is advised for advice and possible exercises. Referrals can come from a range of different sources, but must always be done with the parent’s consent.

Although not all young children with dyslexia have early speech and language difficulties, there is evidence that many do. Early speech and language difficulties may be indicative of later difficulties in acquiring literacy. Also dyslexia can co-occur with ongoing speech and language problems. Furthermore ongoing language problems may also be associated with reading comprehension difficulties. Practitioners need to be aware of these associations and if there are problems with a child’s speech and language, then early intervention is likely to produce the best outcome for the child.

Children may have difficulty in sounding out words and have problems with phonological awareness. A case history of early development and information about early/ previous/ ongoing input from Speech and Language Therapy is helpful.

Children with dyslexia may be able to say a word but cannot break it down into syllables and/or sounds. They may have difficulty working out the constituent sounds in a word (e.g. they are unable to blend d-o-g to make ‘dog’). For others, their auditory awareness of sounds is impaired, so they are unable to say where in the word a sound comes (e.g. they are not aware that the /b/ sound in ‘boy’ comes at the start). For those children, training in auditory discrimination is vital if they are to be able to learn phonics successfully.

If there are concerns over elements of speech and language development, then referral to a speech and language therapist is advised for advice and appropriate management. Referrals can come from a range of different sources, but must always be done with the parent’s consent.

While dyslexia can affect children from all different types of background and cultures, it is important to take account of those factors. In some cultures such as that of Gypsy/Travellers, oral traditions are much stronger than written. Children may be brought up in homes where there are few, if any, books. Culture will influence the value that families place on reading and writing. Liaison with parents and carers will help establish how literacy is valued and the types of literacy that are important to the family. It is important too to talk to the children about the types of literacy that are valued in their homes. This may help explain any difficulties that children are having but it should not rule out the possibility of dyslexia.

Children may have motor and/or perceptual problems with vision that could cause them to have difficulties in following text and learning to read. Thus, improving vision can have a very positive effect on the child's progress in gaining literacy. Though visual problems are not likely to cause dyslexia, if they are present they will certainly aggravate pre-existing difficulties. Examples of the types of problems that may be present are visual stress/Meares-Irlen Syndrome, poor vergence control, scanning/tracking problems and poor binocular vision. Symptoms of visual problems may include:

  • eye strain under fluorescent or bright lights
  • glare
  • same word may seem different or words may seem to move
  • headaches when reading, watching tv, smart phone, tablet screen, computer monitor
  • patching one eye when reading
  • difficulty tracking along line of print causing hesitant and slow reading.

It is sometimes difficult to assess if a child has any visual difficulty at an early age. However if the child is rubbing his/her eyes a lot, seems to have difficulty in focusing and tires easily when doing close book or computer tasks, then observe if these difficulties are also present when playing other games or listening to a story (without following in book). If the child has these difficulties, then it would be best to seek professional advice from a qualified orthoptist, but report the circumstances under which the child is apparently struggling.

There are clinics at most main hospitals and referral can be made through the student’s GP, educational psychologist or the community paediatrician. Treatment may involve eye exercises and/or the use of colour – either tinted spectacles or the use of a coloured overlay.