Starting the Process

Early Level

At the pre-school stage in a child’s development, a great deal of caution should be exercised. Children all develop at different rates and sometimes a child will seemingly be coping fine, but later for no apparent reason will start to stumble and then have significant difficulty. This might be because they have learned to recognise a few words by their appearance or shape, but don’t have the phonic knowledge to decode. Once in school, when the number of words starts to increase, without the phonic knowledge, the child becomes muddled and even the words that were apparently known become problematic. For children who have had the optimum literacy rich environment within an appropriate context of play and fun, difficulties may only become apparent at a later stage. The purpose of making observations and taking action at this early stage is:

  • to ensure we maximise opportunities for literacy learning and development
  • to acknowledge that underdeveloped phonological awareness may be an indication of dyslexia
  • to address concerns at the earliest stage and to collaborate with parents and other caregivers involved in the child’s life and education.

Most of these difficulties can be observed within the context of experiences and outcomes in Curriculum for Excellence. Others can be observed in the routine of the nursery or classroom. It should be noted that we are looking for a pattern or profile of difficulties and not just one or two.

Most young children will exhibit some of the signs of dyslexic difficulties. It is therefore important that we look for a cluster of characteristics which may indicate dyslexia and that we do not jump to conclusions prematurely when pupils show only one or two indications.

Dyslexic difficulties will be at different levels of severity, requiring different levels of response and intervention. Observation and detailed assessment will be required within Curriculum for Excellence to identify specific strengths and development needs before any conclusions can be drawn.

First, Second, Third, Fourth and Senior Levels

There may be a number of reasons why a child or young person may experience difficulties in any of the curriculum levels which may or may not be dyslexia. When starting the process of exploring if dyslexia is a causal factor it is important to  take a child/young person centred approach looking at the Scottish working definition of dyslexia and considering if there is a correlation between this and their difficulties. For example this may include learning to read, write, spell or developing short-term and working memory skills.  (These difficulties may vary in severity from child to child and may seem out of sync with the child’s other abilities – e.g. oral, artistic, creative, emotional).

The Scottish working definition of dyslexia includes a range of associated factors which are highlighted below. You can select each one to see a range of questions linked to curriculum levels which  can help to develop further understanding of areas which the child or young person experience difficulties with in regards to dyslexia. 

Auditory and/visual processing of language-based information

At First and Second Levels does the child seem to have difficulties auditorily in distinguishing sounds/syllables/words and identifying where they heard them in words/sentences?

At Third, Fourth and Senior levels in addition to above this may also be more apparent in foreign language learning.

Does the young person sometimes misread or misunderstand apparently straightforward instructions or text?

What about visual processing? Are there any difficulties in getting letters and words the right way round, following text, copying letters/words?

Phonological awareness

At First and Second Levels does the child seem to have difficulties in sound matching or remembering specific sounds and manipulating them in words, sentences, and understanding how the sound system of language works?

At Third, Fourth and Senior levels in addition to above this difficulty is likely to be much more apparent in the learning of other languages.

Oral language skills and reading fluency

Are there any apparent difficulties with speech production, muddling words or pronouncing words when reading?

Short-term and working memory

At First and Second Levels can the child remember language-related information in particular – such as instructions, letter/sound correspondences, words, tables – and can they hold information while they do other things?

At Third, Fourth and Senior levels in addition to above can the young person remember language-related information in particular – such as instructions, formulae, phone numbers, pin numbers, tables – and can they hold information while they do other things?

Sequencing and directionality

How does the child cope with remembering sequences of instructions/days of the week and getting things in the right order? Do they understand the difference between left and right and remember which is which? Do they easily become disoriented?

Number skills

Is the child able to work with numbers and do simple tasks that require recognition and memory?

Organisational ability

How well can the child organise him/herself? – e.g. planning for gym, getting changed, tidy desk etc?

Additional things to consider

Are there any difficulties with motor skills (fine or gross) and/or co-ordination?  Is handwriting affected?  How does the child cope in the gym?

Consider self esteem, stress levels, behaviour factors, low achievement. Is it possible that problems with motivation to learn are a result of difficulties that could be associated with dyslexia?

In addition, it is important to consider if there could be any other reasons why children are not achieving the desired outcomes or giving the desired responses. Consider for example:

Your teaching:

  • Did I present this in a clear manner?
  • Did I talk too quickly?
  • Did I gain the child’s attention?
  • Did I make assumptions about the child’s prior knowledge?
  • Developmentally was the child ready for this?
  • Did I talk beyond the child’s concentration span?
  • Was the child interrupted or distracted by anything or anyone?

If there are ways in which you can change your language and/or teaching to support the child’s learning, then this is probably the first course of action.

The classroom:

  • When I am talking, are children seated so that they can all see me without having to turn their heads?
  • Is the classroom welcoming?
  • Do the children know how to locate their belongings easily? Do they recognise them?
  • Is there an appropriate place to change shoes and store belongings tidily?
  • Can I make the walls more dyslexia friendly? (Too much visual material can be confusing if a child doesn’t understand what it is about.)
  • Do I consider the social mix of children within groups so that children can feel supported without feeling their abilities are underestimated?
  • Do I encourage a range of metacognitive styles?
  • Are there appropriate consistent daily routines so that the child knows what to expect?

Children with difficulties are often easily disorientated so require consideration to be given to aspects of seating. It is important that they are able to receive attention without having to turn around to see the board or the teacher. Visual impact is also improved when there is clear organisation within the classroom, including the classroom walls.

Read more:

What to look for – CfE levels