One in every ten children is dyslexic and many more struggle with reading and writing. Early intervention and a structured multi-sensory teaching programme can make all the difference. As a qualified teacher and member of the British Dyslexia Association, I have taught countless children to read and will help your child to become a confident and competent reader as well as helping them find ways to improve their writing and spelling.

Contact me today to find out how I can help you and your child.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

How to get schools to listen

"I just can't get them to understand." This is something I hear a lot from parents who have tried to talk to their child's school about their concerns around dyslexia. Schools are busy places and it can be hard sometimes for busy teachers to separate out the 'big' concerns from the 'little' ones. 

So how can you get your voice heard? Well, first, pick your time wisely. First thing in the morning, most teachers are very busy. The sorts of issues they'll need to deal with then are things like what staff are off sick and whether everyone has remembered their P.E kit.

Ask the class teacher if you can have a chat after school then raise your concerns - be sure to take a list. Give concrete examples of where you feel your child is not making adequate progress, e.g perhaps they are still on level 2 reading books whilst their friends are on level 6, and ask the teacher what she is doing to help them make progress. 

Allow the teacher to tell you their take on your child's performance. They may well have already spotted weaknesses and be doing all they can to address them.

Ask about screening. A screening will highlight areas of weakness and dyslexic tendencies. In Wales there is a lot of confusion about whether primary schools will screen. There appears to be no general consensus from the Welsh government or even amongst a lot of the local authorities. I know some schools that screen, if asked, schools that won't and a small number that screen automatically if they have concerns. The class teacher will probably have to consult the SENCO/ALNCO to arrange a screening.

If your school refuses to screen then you can get your own screening test done and take the results into school. When I do a screening, I include a detailed report plus suggestions for reasonable adjustments and specialist support.

Once a screening has been done, and depending on the results, make an appointment with the SENCO. Ask them, in light of the results, what they intend to do to support your child. Can they implement the suggestions in the screening report? Have they got their own ideas? 

Remember, however exasperated you may be with your child's school, try to be positive. Praise and thank the staff for what they have done so far to support your child. Approach the meeting as an opportunity to focus on what you can all do to provide your child with the best support possible.

Many schools, when faced with screening results that confirm that a child has dyslexic traits will put reasonable adjustments in place and offer specialist interventions. For example, additional reading support, use of a computer programme to improve spelling etc.

Some schools won't. And this is when you'll have to quote legislation and take things to a higher level. Dyslexia is covered by the Equality Act, 2010. Schools have a duty to identify, assess and support children with dyslexia. A school must support a child if they know or suspect that a child is dyslexic. So, if they have concerns, it is no defence to say that they haven't screened so don't know. It is also no defence to say that the school doesn't recognise private screening tests or private assessments. In law, they have to do so.

Ask for a meeting with the headteacher as well as the SENCO. Faced with a parent who knows their rights, most schools will either accept the screening that you have had done or will do their own - which is likely to have similar results to yours. Then they have to act. 

Once you have everything in place, make sure that you have regular review dates - in order to check that what the school said was going to happen has been implemented and to check on your child's progress.

Finally, accept that what your school can offer may not be enough. Budget cuts mean many schools hands are tied when it comes to getting adequate funds. Also, despite their best efforts, some schools may simply lack the expertise to adequately cater for your child's needs.

If this is the case then, if you can, find a specialist tutor in your area. I find schools are generally amenable to allowing pupils out to see me in school hours. The phrase to use when asking a headteacher for permission to take your child out for regular lessons is to request that your child leave school to be 'educated off-site'. Remember, you also have a legal duty under the Children Act to ensure that your child receives a suitable education that matches their needs.

If you cannot afford a regular tutor, then you can teach your child yourself. There are many books available with suggestions on ways to support your child or you can invest in apps or software packages such as Nessy. Little and often is the key to ensuring that your child will retain the information and not get fed up.

Essentially, don't give up. Push the school to support as much as they can and then do whatever else you can to give your child the support they need. Remember, dyslexia doesn't go away but it can be overcome. 

Friday, 22 November 2019

Do all dyslexic children struggle with reading?

Do all dyslexic children struggle with reading? The simple answer is no. Which may come as a surprise to you, unless you happen to live with a child who appears to be reading perfectly well for their age but whose spelling or handwriting lags behind.

I recently screened a child who was clearly very intelligent. His parents had a feeling that their son was dyslexic. It ran in the family. They knew the signs. The school said that in on-line screening tests that they had done, their son had performed well and that they had no concerns. How can he have a problem? They said, he performs to the average in tests. 

Yet each day, his parents observed, was clearly a struggle for their son who had issues with things like remembering instructions and copying off the board and had poor handwriting and spelling. He was also very good at grasping big concepts, had an excellent vocabulary and an encyclopedic knowledge of things like animals.

I did a more in depth screening and found traits of mild dyslexia. When the parents told the school, they were surprised and struggled to accept the results. They couldn't reconcile the child's reading skills and test results with dyslexia.

I can understand why the school was baffled. But the thing is, if a child of above average intelligence is only performing to an average level in literacy then something is wrong. 

I started looking into the whole issue of exceptionally clever children and dyslexia. Some professors call it 'stealth dyslexia' and it's more common than you'd think. Many children with stealth dyslexia are never identified and it is only as adults, either in higher education or beyond, that people realise that dyslexia is the root cause of lots of things they find difficult.

Children with stealth dyslexia will read well. Particularly to themselves and when words are in context e.g in a story. Some, but not all, may struggle to decipher words out of context e.g unrelated words in a list. But it is with spelling and particularly with handwriting that the problems are most evident. They may also struggle with working memory, with sequencing, with time and with organisational skills.

I suppose what this child's experience has shown me, is that if you have any concerns about your child, then act on them. One thing that I have learnt over the years, as a teacher, tutor and parent is that parent's intuition is usually correct and always worth investigating. 

Next time, I'll explore constructive ways that you can help your school to understand your child's needs and practical ways that you can support them at home. 

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about stealth dyslexia then click on this link:

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Schools are failing 80% of dyslexic pupils. Is your child one of them?

At least 8 out of 10 dyslexic pupils aren't being diagnosed or supported by schools. That was the worrying news that I woke up to today. The news is based on a report  published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Differences. The report looked at pupils in England, but I fear a report here in Wales might well reveal similar sobering statistics.

Over the last few years, I have done a number of dyslexia screenings. Many of the parents who come to me have been concerned about their children's progress for some time. In some cases for a number of years. Reasons put forward from the schools as to why these children haven't been screened vary from 'they're not old enough yet' to 'they're not under-performing enough' to, most worryingly, 'we don't have any dyslexia in our school'. 

The situation surrounding dyslexia and schools is frustrating, upsetting and perplexing. It is frustrating for parents who know there is a problem and have to stand back and watch their child fail, upsetting for pupils for whom school is a daily struggle and perplexing because schools and local authorities have a legal duty to try to identify, help and assess children suspected of having dyslexia.

I know that in Wales, there are budget cuts that prevent schools from being able to provide the support that they would like to. At least 10% of all pupils are dyslexic - with an average primary school having around 260 pupils -  that equates to a whole class worth of dyslexic pupils. 

The other issue is a lack of awareness amongst school staff. Even newly qualified teachers still don't learn much about dyslexia when training to teach. Many older teachers will have had no training at all. 

This combination of a lack of money and expertise means that, despite the very best of intentions, many schools continue to fail their dyslexic pupils. 

Another worrying finding in the report, which reflects my experience, is that even though schools are legally obliged to carry out an assessment (if they strongly suspect dyslexia), they frequently don't and those parents that can afford to are having to pay for a private assessment. 

More worrying still is that, even with an assessment, the report found that many schools are failing to provide adequate support and those parents who can afford to are employing tutors, like me, to support their children.

Of course, I see a lot of positives; many of the children that I have screened have taken the report back to school and received additional support. Many have also come to me for lessons which have helped them to reach their potential.

But this doesn't help parents who can't afford extra tuition or private screenings. I keep my prices as low as I can - but I can't reach everyone. That's why I have started doing dyslexia drop in sessions, so that I can at least offer some advice to parents on how best to support their children and advise them on their rights and the school's legal obligations.

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Want to find out more? Here's a link to the BBC article:

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Words Apart. How to triumph over Dyslexia

I discovered a fabulous book shop this week. It's called Turn the Page and it is a children's bookshop in Aberystwyth. It's tiny but crammed full of lots of little gems including a lot of dyslexia friendly books, many of them published by Barrington Stoke.

The owner Mande gave me a fascinating book entitled Words Apart. It's contains accounts from people in Wales with dyslexia or living with someone with dyslexia plus some tips on supporting those with dyslexia. It's all very interesting and inspiring from actor Lloyd Everitt's account of how he memorises his lines using symbols to Catherine Jones's account of how she fought for her son's dyslexia to be recognised.

Catherine's account struck a cord with me as it closely mirrors what I have witnessed in my own dealings with schools. In fact, I was advising a parent on this very subject just last week.

So, this is a brief synopsis of Catherine's journey to get her child's needs addressed. Catherine and the class teacher suspected her child was dyslexic when he was in Year Three. Catherine spoke to the school. Someone from the LEA did a very brief screening online and told her there were 'no real issues'. Catherine wasn't convinced. She took her child to be assessed by a third party. Dyslexia was confirmed. She took the results back to school. The LEA subsequently did a full screening and confirmed that her son was dyslexic.

I have had a number of parents report this to me. When I do a screening, and it suggests dyslexia, schools usually either a) agree or b) do their own screening which confirms my findings.

What was heartening to read in Catherine's account, though, was what happened next, and again, it mirrors my experience. The report contained recommendations for changes in the classroom - simple things like making sure the child was near the board. After some initial hiccups, most of the teachers took the advice on board and ultimately her child flourished.

My experience is the same; some children I have screened have had a lot of classroom adjustments made and have been given loads of additional support. Sometimes lessons with me have been included in their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Sometimes, it has been a bit more of a battle with parents having to meet with the ALNCO/SENCO and headteacher to get something put in place. But ultimately, something positive is achieved.

Of course, some schools are very thorough and are meeting the needs of all the children in the class but the knowledge that 10% of school children are dyslexic and many of them are being neglected by the school system is depressing.

Books like Words Apart  show how hard the battle for diagnosis and support can be but also what a positive effect intervention can have on helping those with dyslexia to reach their potential. It also shows us how creative, tenacious and inventive people with dyslexia can be and that being dyslexic doesn't have to be a barrier to having a happy fulfilled life and to achieving your dreams.

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Why screen for dyslexia?

A lot of people ask me,"What is dyslexia screening?" and "Is it worth doing?" Here's my best explanation.

Dyslexia screening is the first step towards discovering if your child's difficulties may be linked to dyslexia. Whether your child goes to school or is home-educated, if you have concerns about their reading, writing or spelling then a screening will provide answers. 

Typically a screening lasts about half an hour or so. Your child will undertake a series of short tasks covering various aspects of literacy. The results are then collated and a report provided to you which shows your child's areas of strength and weaknesses. Alongside the report, a good screening should provide advice and suggestions for activities to help your child improve their skills.

So, what can you do with the results? Well, the screening results can be used in a number of ways.
  1. Take the screening results into school and share them with the SENCO/ALNCO. I have seen very positive improvements made for children when parents have shared their screening test results with the school.
  2. Small adjustments in the classroom can make all the difference - your screening report will offer suggestions that can be made by class teachers easily and at no extra cost to the school.
  3. Do the suggested activities at home and help your child improve their literacy skills.
  4. If you are home-educating, the screening results helps you target those areas of literacy that your child is struggling with -  to help them reach their true potential.
  5. If you choose to get extra tuition for your child then the screening results will save your tutor time -  and save you money - as she will be able to immediately focus on those particular skills your child needs help to develop.
  6. Finally and very importantly, you will gain a better understanding of your child, their abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
So, there you have it, a wordy explanation but hopefully one that is useful!

I've done numerous dyslexia screenings over the years with varying results - sometimes children's difficulties turn out not to be linked to dyslexia  - but always with positive outcomes for the children concerned, as their needs are identified and they finally get the help they require to succeed.

If you live in Wales, you can contact me for a screening. If you live elsewhere then see my resources page for suggestions of organisations you can contact who offer screenings. If all else fails, look out for dyslexia associations or support groups in your area - they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Contact me today to get your child the help and support they need to succeed.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Turning a can't into a can - help your child to succeed

"I just can't do it". We all say this sometimes but how many times have you heard your child say that? My daughter's teacher recently told the class that they should always have a go at something and that if they can't do it they must think: "I just can't do it yet." In my work with children with dyslexia and dyscalculia, I have learnt to never underestimate the power of positive thought. For children who have been faced day on day with work that they genuinely can't do, it is hard to hang onto the idea that they will be able to one day. My job is to make them believe that this is true.

With children receiving their school reports and test results about now, many of you may read them with a heavy heart. Whilst what my daughter's teacher said was very positive, the reality is that whilst it is likely that all the children in her class will continue to develop competence in their schoolwork, some will undoubtedly need additional support. Children in my daughter's school are lucky; additional learning needs are well supported, but schools vary in resources and expertise and what do you do if the positive thoughts are just words, not backed up by actions? It is heartbreaking to watch your child fall behind, but there are things you can do.

The first step is to talk to the class teacher and express your concerns. Ask for a short meeting after school and if possible get someone to look after your child whilst you talk. Take the report and any test results in with you and ask about those areas where your child appears to be struggling. What does the school plan to do to support your child and help them progress? With the summer holidays looming, do they have suggestions for things you could do at home to help ? Don't forget to make notes.

With the summer holidays coming up, realistically, this is as far as you're likely to get, though, of course, there are a number of other things you can do if you're unhappy with the teacher's response such as talking to the ALNCO (additional learning needs coordinator). Remember, for many children, there will be a new class teacher in September who may have a clearer strategy so it is probably best to wait till the new term before pursuing things further,

The summer holidays, however, do provide a great opportunity for you to make progress on identifying and supporting your child's needs so that you can prepare them as best you can for September. Here are some things you can do:
  1. Follow up on suggestions from the school for activities
  2. Try organising some catch up lessons with a specialist tutor, perhaps towards the end of the holidays. This should boost your child's confidence before going back to school.
  3. Keep a diary with observations of your child's learning and attitude to learning to share with the school
  4. Consider getting a dyslexia or dyscalculia screening done. This will provide you with a profile of your child's strengths and weaknesses plus recommendations as to how you can help them at home and at school
In September, take in your 'evidence' to support the case that your child needs additional support - this could be your diary, work your child has done with you or a tutor and the results of any screening test.

Finally, enjoy the holidays. Give your child space and time to pursue those activities that make them happy and find as many opportunities as you can to boost their self esteem. For children to learn well, they need to feel good about themselves so ensure that they have plenty of fun!

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Tackling Times Tables

Did you ever have that sinking feeling when a teacher asked you a times table question? I remember being rooted to the spot and feeling sick at the prospect of being asked what six times eight was or eight times nine.

For most of the children that I teach, times tables have been a massive problem. Many dyslexics, though by no means all, struggle with numbers too and most have poor working memory which means that learning sequences, such as the number patterns found in times tables, is tricky.

So, what can you do to help them? Well, I think it is important to explain to children why you are asking them to do something - they're far more likely to join in if they know that there is a good reason to do so! In a nutshell, knowing your times tables makes life easier; once you know them, you can count things more quickly e.g count sweets in 2s or 4s or count out money in 5s and 10s - which then gives you more time to do other things. Also, once you know your times tables, you can do division more quickly and easily.

Now comes the practical bit. How can you make times tables stick? First, times table songs are great - there are loads on You Tube and watching a video helps many dyslexics, who tend to think visually, to connect the numbers with pictures, which makes the information more memorable.

Essentially, if you want to teach a child, particularly one with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia or dyscalculia, something that they find hard or are unwilling to tackle, you need to make it interesting.

I recently developed this game which is fast becoming a firm favourite amongst my pupils. It is easy to replicate at home, doesn't take long and can be adapted to suit each individual.

I call it Footstep Tables.

You will need:

1 pair feet
Dice (2 ordinary or one 12 sided)

  • Start by drawing around your child's feet then cut out 12 footprints. 
  • Write one answer to the times table you are practising e.g two times table, on each footprint.
  • Arrange the footprints in sequence order on the floor.
  • Take turns to throw the dice then step on the footprint that shows that multiple and say the sum e.g throw a 5, step on 10 and say 5 times 2 equals 10.
  • The first person to throw a 12 and jump on the right footprint is the winner.

There are variations; if jumping is something your child enjoys then you can spread the footprints out a bit and make jumping successfully from one to another part of the game.

As your child becomes more competent, you can mix the footprints up so that the times table is no longer set out in sequence.

If your child enjoys a puzzle, then ditch the dice and have clue cards e.g this number comes next after 6 (in the two times table).

Always get them to say the sum as they jump onto the number as this reinforces the connection between the two.

Playing this game often, say, once or twice a day, will make a real difference and it makes a change from sitting still.

Have fun and let me know how you get on!

Remember, if your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed. Screening and tuition for dyscalculia and dyslexia available now.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

When the numbers don't add up.

Does your child struggle with maths? No matter how often you teach them the 'basics', does nothing seem to sink in? Is it like they just don't understand numbers? At all? They may well be dyscalculic but a recent study suggests that it is unlikely that anyone at school has noticed. 

According to a study by Queen's University Belfast, a child with dyscalculia, also known as a specific learning difficulty in maths, is 100 times less likely to get their dycalculia recognised than a dyslexic child. 

Parents who have struggled to get their child's dyslexia recognised will appreciate just how significant this is! Sadly, without recognition, children with dyscalculia are unlikely to receive the support they need in school and they need extra support if they are to master numeracy.

The findings may come as no surprise to the many parents struggling to get schools to take their child's persistent difficulties in maths seriously. There appears to be a tacit acceptance in education that some people just 'can't do maths'. Of course, schools vary and for every school that says 'we don't do dyscalculia here' and 'she'll get it in the end', there are schools trying really hard to help those struggling with maths to master the subject. 

So why the startling statistic? Well, in my experience, the biggest problem that children with dyscalculia face is that teachers, in general, lack awareness and training. Dyscalculia isn't just finding maths difficult or being a bit slow to grasp mathematical concepts. It is a lack of understanding of numbers.Teachers will use all the strategies that they have learnt to help children make progress in maths but children with dyscalculia need specialist support. More of the same simply won't work.

Also, for most teachers, dyscalculia simply isn't on their radar so they don't suspect it and therefore don't screen and school educational psychologists don't assess.

But what if you suspect your child is dyscalculic? What can you do? 

  1. Raise your concerns with the class teacher and ALN (Additional Learning Needs) Co-ordinator. Ask if they can screen your child to see if they have any of the signs of dyscalculia.
  2. If they are not willing to screen then seek out a specialist tutor - they should be able to carry out a screening to assess your child's ability. A screening will ascertain the likelihood that your child's maths difficulties are related to dyscalculia. Costs will vary but should be less than £150.
  3. Take the results back to the school. As with dyslexia screenings, I find that if parents take the results into the school, it helps to galvanise the school into action; many schools want to help but, when it comes to dyscalculia, they simply don't know how. A screening report should provide teachers and parents with practical suggestions to support your child.
  4. Ask the school to tell you how they're going to address your child's needs. What adjustments are they going to make for your child in the classroom and how are they going to provide suitable activities to help them develop their mathematical skills?
  5. Schools have limited resources. If you feel that your school isn't able to provide adequately for your child then consider arranging additional lessons with a specialist tutor. 
  6. You might also want to consider a formal dyscalculia assessment. This needs to be done by an Educational Psychologist and will cost around £700.
There are a number of things you can do at home - which I'll cover another time- but essentially, dyscalculia, like dyslexia, does not go away. However, with the right help and support your child can master the basic skills necessary to do maths.

I screen children for dyscalculia from six years and up and, as with the dyslexia screening, many children are genuinely pleased to discover a reason behind their difficulties. As one child said to me: "I'm not stupid after all". No, not stupid at all. 

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed. Screening and tuition for dyscalculia and dyslexia available now.