Dyslexia Friendly Storytelling

child-writing

A couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched this year’s 500 Words competition. 500 Words is a writing competition for children between 5 and 13 years old. Each entrant submits one story of up to 500 words. The three winners in each age category win either their own height in books, the Duchess of Cornwall’s height in books (5’6”), or DJ Chris Evans’ height in books (6’2”).

Entries are judged on

  • originality
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • language

Crucially, entries are not judged on spelling, punctuation or grammar. In fact, the official rules say that entries are judged “without regard” for these potential stumbling blocks for young dyslexic writers.

Entries are also submitted by copying or typing into an online text box. A helpful adult is supposed to do this bit, and to fill out the rest of the online entry form for the child. That removes another potential barrier for children with dyslexia – dodgy handwriting.

Chris Evans started the competition in 2011 while he was a DJ at Radio 2. He had a vision of inspiring a love of reading and writing in all children, regardless of their abilities and challenges. The competition has been a huge success: 800,000 stories have been submitted in the eight years it has been running.

My nieces have provided some of those stories. One of my nieces, Susannah, is dyslexic, like me, and faces the typical struggles with handwriting and spelling. (Her typing skills are very good, though.) This competition gives her a chance to express her creativity without unnecessary barriers.

Many great writers were dyslexic, or are believed to have been. (Dyslexia wasn’t well understood when W B Yeats and F Scott Fitzgerald were around.) There are also successful dyslexic writers today. I’m an author and freelance writer who’s mildly dyslexic. I would love to see more children with dyslexia enjoying writing without feeling intimidated.

If you are between 5 and 13, or you know a budding author who is, here is the link to the 500 Words competition. Entries must be in by 7pm on Friday 8th of March.

Karen Murdarasi

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Dyslexia doesn’t deserve to be devalued

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Having recently read via multiple sources (notably The Times Education Supplement and The Telegraph) that a couple of English councils view dyslexia assessments as ‘scientifically questionable’ and opt not to distinguish between those who are dyslexic and those who find it difficult to read, I was hugely disappointed.  Not least because it raises several problematic questions but it also poses difficulties for those who are affected by this policy. 

While some people may question why I would want to concern myself with a problem confined to a small number of English councils, particular ways of thinking – good and bad – are not limited to or by particular locations.  Although it might not be an issue facing the people of Scotland, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about.  Don’t get me wrong, there are arguments both for and against assessments for dyslexia depending on whether an individual finds the “label” helpful, something I’ve written about previously.  But I think there’s a particular danger in calling a neurological difference questionable.  Although it does not appear to be readily apparent, could the logic that has been applied to arguments against the validity of dyslexia not be applied to other learning differences, neurological or otherwise?  If so, where is the line drawn?  And if not, why has dyslexia been singled out?  

This blog often discusses how dyslexia is much more than a difficulty with reading.  By amalgamating those who have dyslexia with those who find learning to read tricky, one would be potentially damaging the self-esteem of both groups of learners and undermining their struggles thus crushing their desire to learn and obstructing them from fulfilling their potential. By challenging the existence of dyslexia, those with this learning difference could also lose the ability to have something to attribute their need to learn differently, therefore reducing acceptance and legitimising needless stigma.  On a related note, children without access to assessments are being denied a potentially helpful identifier in that label.  The ‘label’ may help them to find others with dyslexia like Jamie Oliver and Holly Willoughby to whom they can aspire. Furthermore, by saying that dyslexia is ‘scientifically questionable’, it risks devaluing not only the needs of those learners, but also those who work to make sure those needs are met; namely, teachers, teaching assistants and additional support needs specialists.  

Ultimately though, what is being said about those who have dyslexia?  That their difficulties should cease to be acknowledged?  Why should educational provision and perhaps even access to specialist support, be dependent on which council a school is affiliated with and therefore become a postcode lottery?  All learners, irrespective of their learning differences, need support and positivity to thrive.  By denying the existence of dyslexia, some people are not being supported, and even more could be denied positive learning environments and experiences, which could only be to the detriment of the people concerned, those who care for and support them and society as a whole. 

Gemma Bryant

Volunteer Blogger