Demystifying Dyslexia in the Classroom

While it may not be surprising that people have lots of misconceptions about dyslexia, what may shock some people is the fact that teachers are not exempt from this. Despite the fact it is believed to affect 1 in 10 of the UK population, some teachers admit to being under the impression that it is nothing more than a difficulty with reading, writing and spelling before they encounter it in the classroom. Knowledge of the issues relating to memory and organisation come later, or perhaps are only apparent through an individual’s personal experience of the condition.

This might be hard for people to comprehend, but we mustn’t be too hard on teachers. The remit of Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development is vast. Even if this wasn’t true, there is no escaping the fact that every child is different and so the presentation of dyslexia and the methods that alleviate the related difficulties will differ as a result. The good news is this correct assumption is now commonplace, whereas forty years ago those who had dyslexia would be labelled as stupid. While this is not the case, the impact on the intelligence argument still lingers; but not because teachers believe the students affected are unintelligent. Since referrals made by teachers can only be carried forward by senior staff members, it is them who decide what action is in the best interests of the child. If the teacher disagrees, their hands are still tied. So it is often much harder to help a child than they originally envisaged. Similarly, if parents and children are unwilling to acknowledge dyslexia then there is only so far teachers can go to help children.

This is more complicated by the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach is not practical. Dyslexia being seen as an issue only concerning letters is an outdated but prevalent myth. In demystifying it, teachers realise that someone with dyslexia needs work differentiated not just because they have dyslexia, but because dyslexia creates unique issues for them that will need to be addressed. Alternatively, they could have other difficulties that are unrelated to it, or the coping strategies they have found, means that it goes unidentified. It all just depends. No two people with dyslexia are the same. Scratch that. No two people are the same.

Teachers know this, but they don’t know what they don’t know until they encounter a particular child, circumstance or environment. So it’s a constant learning process for them in the classroom just as it should be for pupils, though it need not – and indeed should not – be a battle.

Gemma Bryant

Dyslexia: the fifth member of our family

On Saturday 21st November,  myself and my husband were honoured to be asked to speak at the Dyslexia Scotland members day and AGM about the impact that dyslexia has on our family.

I have had something of an education throughout my ten year marriage, and fifteen year relationship, with my dyslexic partner. From believing that dyslexia was simply a difficulty with reading or writing, which could be ‘solved’ by extra time, or the right support, to understanding that it affects and infiltrates, both positively and negatively, every single aspect of a person’s life.

Paul was/is a master of disguise, a proud man who didn’t really believe in asking for  help. He had managed to build such a sophisticated and intricate web around himself that, in the early days, I didn’t really see any impact relating to his dyslexia on our relationship or family life.

As time went on, however, and our family grew, the mask started to slip a little. When our beloved son arrived Paul’s timekeeping became an issue, or that extra hour he needed in the office to finish a piece of work meant he missed bath or bedtime. Those early days of family life were hard on Paul, he was frightened of losing control and letting go of the frameworks that enabled him to cope and manage his dyslexia, but also wanted to be the best father and husband he knew how to be.

Dyslexia had reared its head and it became apparent that it required our full attention.  So, we evolved, we grew, we talked and we adapted our life accordingly. Maybe he would have to miss a few bedtimes and bath times, maybe trying to read bedtime stories late at night in dim light would not be a pleasurable experience for now and maybe we all have to show a little more understanding and compassion for each member of the family and do what is right for us. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in this life after all.

After our beautiful daughter arrived in the world, the need to be more organised threatened to overwhelm us again. Sleep deprivation, colic and Paul undertaking a diploma all contributed to the utter chaos we found ourselves in.  Again, the need to re-group, adapt, talk, laugh and find a new way around was the only way forward for us.

This year our son started school and needs help with his homework.  Paul has learned to ask for help too.  Our family probably doesn’t look like any other. There are a lot of laughs, a lot of noise, a decent amount of chaos and a whole heap of love.

Paul is the soul of our family. He is who he is because of his dyslexia. Paul describes dyslexia as ‘the fifth member of our family’ and I think that description is spot-on. Like any member, it can be demanding, unreasonable, unrelenting, but it also has the capacity to bring great  joy, love and fulfilment into our lives.

Dyslexia cannot, and refuses to be, ignored. Our lives don’t look the way we imagined they would ten years ago, but one thing is for sure we are all better, stronger, more compassionate individuals because dyslexia has touched our family and, honestly, we wouldn’t be without it.