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

Parents: Q&As

Questions parents often ask

The questions below are all real questions from real parents/carers. The answers to these questions have been provided by the Working Group, all of whom are involved professionally with children and young people with dyslexia. Names have been changed so the real children remain anonymous. The working group has organised the questions under headings but there is considerable overlap between headings.

Q. I think my son/daughter might be dyslexic. How do I find out? Do I need an assessment? If so, who will do it?

A. The first step if you think your child may be dyslexic is to approach the school. In the first instance, you should talk to the support for learning co-ordinator who will generally be a member of the school's management team and will be able to gather information to establish if teachers also feel your child may be dyslexic. Assessment is generally carried out over a period of time through a staged process of investigating the difficulties the child is having, and considering how they respond to specific interventions and support. The term 'dyslexia' is used once it has been established that the difficulties are likely to be ongoing and persistent, and the child or young person is likely to need ongoing support.

Q. I've been told my child is probably dyslexic as s/he has been struggling with written work, especially spelling, all through school. Do I have to give my agreement to her/him being assessed?

A. If your son is to get the help he needs, and he understands the process, then it is advisable that he should be assessed. He has a right to know, and assuming that he wishes to know if he is indeed dyslexic, then the best advice is to agree to assessment.

Q. Does my child have to have a diagnosis to know if s/he is dyslexic or not?

A. We usually use the term 'assessment' rather than 'diagnosis' when we are talking about dyslexia. Diagnosis has a medical ring about it, and might suggest there is a cure for dyslexia. As you'll see from other pages in this Toolkit, assessment of dyslexia should be a process rather than a one-off snapshot of your child's performance on one day. However, once your child has gone through the process of identifying signs, putting in specific additional help and support (from the class teachers and maybe also from others), if there is no significant progress or if the signs of dyslexia continue, then more detailed formal assessment may be required. There is no one single test however that will confirm dyslexia.

Though there is no cure for dyslexia, dyslexia being a learning difference, there is much that can be done to help, including the use of technology when appropriate. With the right help, ongoing support and accommodations, your child should be able to achieve to his/her potential.

Q. I have been working closely with the school, and teachers are helpful, but when I ask for an assessment they seem to keep putting me off. I feel I need to know whether the difficulties my child is having are due to dyslexia or not. I also feel my child needs to know. Should I arrange for a private assessment?

A. It is important to establish whether your child has dyslexia but you shouldn't have to spend a lot of money on a private assessment. The school should have recommended that your child goes through a staged process of assessment and intervention. A staged approach requires that a child's needs are monitored over time, and that may be why you feel the school are putting you off. Parents should be included in the staged process so you should talk to the school to find out the stage (or step) your child is at. You'll find explanation of the Staged Process of intervention here.

If you are still not happy, then you have the right to request that your child's needs are assessed, and you should expect that to be done within a reasonable period of time. However, this can be done within the school system, and shouldn't involve taking your child out of school, or paying for it privately if your child is in a local authority school.

If your child has already undergone a private assessment that has been carried out by an appropriately qualified individual, then school staff should accept the findings of the assessment, and these should be considered alongside any assessment information that has already been gathered.

Q. After assessment, I was told that my child has, “Dyslexic-type tendencies”. What does this mean? Is he dyslexic or not?

A. The terms used around the subject of dyslexia are continually changing! Where it previously might have been acceptable to use this terminology in the past, the use of terms such as ‘tendencies’ or 'signs' or 'dyslexic-type' which can be potentially confusing for pupils and parents, are not generally used. The Scottish Government definition should allow for a pupil either being dyslexic or not. To what extent will vary along the continuum, so we are generally now more specific and say what the difficulties are, and if they are severe or mild.

It is important is that areas of difficulty have been identified and are being addressed. Areas of strength will also have been identified and these will be developed to help overcome any difficulties. Support is not about a medical diagnosis or label, but it may be important to your child to know. If you have any doubts or concerns about the results of assessment you can request a meeting at your child’s school to discuss the matter in more detail.

1. Services

Q. What help should John be getting at school? We were told a year ago that he is dyslexic but the school don't seem to be doing anything different.

A. It is likely that John will be getting additional support, but that may be quite unobtrusive if it's happening in the classroom. The support for learning teacher will be aware of John's difficulties and be giving support to him as well as others in the class so John might be quite unaware of the support. However if you suspect that John is not getting the support he needs, then you should discuss this with the school. Ensure that John feels the same way as it could be that the support is available, but John is refusing additional help.

Q. My child is being taken out of class for extra help. I'm worried s/he may be missing other more important work.

A. It is likely that your child is requiring additional work that might prove embarrassing in the classroom. S/he is maybe doing some early phonic (sounds) work that will seem 'babyish' to the other children. Children with dyslexia generally need a phonic approach to learning to read if they are to succeed, and s/he may not have 'caught on' to phonics the first time round. They also need a lot of over learning, something that others in the class may not need. If you are concerned, and especially if your child is unhappy about this, talk to your child's teacher. You need to feel reassured that this is for the best.

2. At home/homework

Q. How can I help at home?

A. Probably the best support at home is to listen to your child, and not force them to work at home if this is distressing for them. Find what your child enjoys and/or is good at, and focus on that for much of the time away from school. Ensure that they have a social life too, and enjoy activities such as swimming, gymnastics, chess or whatever, but there is no benefit in keeping insisting on phonics and spelling work for example as they are probably exhausted with their efforts at this during the school day.

Sometimes, however, children are happy to do some work at home and if so, then this is fine. However, do try to limit this, and agree with the school how much homework is reasonable. Sometimes there will be days when your child is very tired after the efforts of a full day in school, and if so, then don't push them too hard. For the younger child, probably around 20 minutes is enough for homework, and for older children, maybe an hour, but children do need to relax, so try to ensure you build this into their lives.

Read to your child, and use story downloads or DVDs. Have the book available and get your child to follow the story for as long as s/he can, but don't worry when they lose the place. The important thing is to try to ensure that your child gets enjoyment out of books, and they don't associate books with failure! CALL Scotland has produced guidance on how to access downloadable ebooks from the Calibre library for the Kindle free of charge.

Play games. With younger children in particular sound games are good. "I hear with my little ear something beginning with (or ending with) ..........." (sound, not letter). Pelmanism or 'Pairs' with sounds and words 'p' matches with a picture of a pot, 's' with a picture of a snake.

Encourage singing, art and other similar activities if your child enjoys these.

Ensure your child is enjoying the games, and doesn't just feel they are an extension of school work. If they don't want to play, then don't make them, but do ensure you find something that they do enjoy and that they are learning from, even though they won't be aware of it!

Q. My daughter is only ten, and though she is dyslexic, she seems to get a lot of homework. She has her phonics and word attack from the learning support teacher, and also has to do her class homework. Sometimes we are at it for two hours, and she gets really distressed after a while. Is this reasonable?

A. Two hours homework is not reasonable for a primary child. You need to discuss this with your daughter's teacher, and agree a reasonable period of time for homework. It is likely that the teacher has no idea that homework is taking your daughter so long as other children may have the homework done in fifteen minutes or less. Because dyslexic children have struggled all day, they may well be 'switched off' when it is home time, and need a complete break for a while. You do need to talk to the teacher, and if your daughter doesn't finish work in the time you agree, then you write a brief message to the teacher, saying how long you have spent, and assuring the teacher that it was you who stopped the work. Getting distressed because homework is not done is counterproductive and is likely to result in longer term or behavioural problems. It is also likely to induce stress in parents and will cause feelings of resentment on all sides.

Q. I am not happy with what the school is doing. Janet was assessed some time ago and we were told she was dyslexic. She is being badly bullied at school and comes home crying most nights. I am at the end of my tether and feel that educating Janet at home is the only answer. Who can help me?

A. Firstly, taking the decision to home educate your child is not one that should be taken lightly. If you are home educating, your child may lack the social stimulus of having friends to support her. Even though you feel you are taking her away from the bullying situation, you will probably also be taking her away from her non-bullying friends. The school should have an anti-bullying policy, and should be implementing it, so if this is your main reason for home educating, then firstly talk to someone from the school management team, and ask what is being done to ensure their policy is working. It is quite likely the school is unaware of the bullying that is going on.

If however, having discussed and allowed time to ensure action has been taken, and you are still set on home education, then it might be helpful to discuss the implications with other home educators. You can contact an organisation such as Schoolhouse for more information.

You will need to let the local authority know about your decision to home educate, and you'll need to have a curriculum set up that you will work to. This doesn't have to be exactly the same as the school's, but if there is a chance that your child will be going back into school at some point, it is important to ensure that they will be able to keep up with the curricular demands. When you contact your local authority education service, find out their policy, as it is quite possible that someone will visit you within a reasonable time to discuss how you will support your child in the home situation.

You should also look at the Scottish Government guidance on home education to ensure that you are fully aware of all the implications. You'll then be able to make an informed decision, but do consider all the implications seriously before embarking on this. Many parents who home educate do this very successfully, but for others it is not the best decision, so do ensure that you are well informed before you decide finally to take this step.

Q. I have been told my child has dyslexia; should I talk to her about it?

A. It is important to discuss this with your child. How do they feel about having dyslexia? Do they understand what it means? Have they any questions that could be addressed by finding out the answers together?

Q. Since my daughter was assessed as being dyslexic, I feel I need to understand more about dyslexia in order to help her. Who can help me?

A. There may be a dyslexia support group in your area, and if so, this is a good starting point. You can then discuss your child's difficulties with others in a similar situation. To find out about local groups, Dyslexia Scotland may be able to help. Contact their helpline (0344 800 84 84) between 10am - 4.30pm (Monday to Thursday) and 10am - 4pm on Friday. School may also be able to point you in right direction, and may run awareness-raising evenings or be aware of relevant upcoming events in the area.

Q. Our boy is in third year at secondary school. He is very dyslexic. He really lacks confidence, and I'm sure he would benefit from more help.

A. It is important for your son to learn to speak up for himself. When he leaves school, whether he goes to college or not, you won't always be there to speak up for him. He needs to develop skills of self advocacy and self awareness so that he can tell people what he requires in order to cope with the demands of life after school. If he is at college or university, he should be able to apply for accommodations to enable him demonstrate his skills and abilities. If in the world of work, he may require additional software on his computer or other accommodation to help him complete his work in the best possible way. He needs to become aware of his own needs and be able to convey this knowledge to others who can help.

Q. My husband tells me he had real problems learning to read at school, and he's still a poor speller. Can you inherit dyslexia?

A. Yes, heredity is generally considered an important factor. Just because one parent is dyslexic, it doesn't mean that their children will be, but it can certainly be a factor.

Further questions

If there are other questions which are of a general nature, we will be happy to add these to the Q and As on this page. You can email the Working Group at toolkit@dyslexiascotland.org.uk. We regret however, we are unable to answer personal questions here. However if you have something that is troubling you, the Dyslexia Scotland Helpline staff may be able to help. You can access them via the National Helpline at 0344 800 84 84 at the following times:

  • Monday - Thursday 10.00 - 4.30
  • Friday 10.00 - 4.00