Pre-school age: Children aged three and four are too young to be diagnosed with dyslexia. However, children who go on to have reading difficulties are more likely to show certain behaviours. For example, pre-schoolers at risk for dyslexia may:
Primary school age: Following the introduction to phonics, reading difficulties become much more apparent. Children with dyslexia will have protracted difficulties with:
Secondary school age: Fundamental difficulties with written language can exert even more influence in secondary school. Children with dyslexia will have difficulties:
Concerns about your child’s reading should first be directed to her classroom teacher. You may also wish to visit your GP to rule out any underlying health issues, such as hearing difficulties. If further support and additional teaching strategies are not having the desired effect, a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) may be helpful. Every school has an appointed SENCO, responsible for supporting children with special educational needs. Together you can organise an educational psychologist or dyslexia specialist to assess your child. This report will identify any areas where further support may be beneficial.
A child has a special educational need if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability. This will be the case if a child (a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning compared to others of the same age or (b) has a disability, which prevents him or her from making use of the mainstream facilities (taken from the SEND Code of Practice, 2015).
Within school, SEN support is responsible for identifying children with special educational needs, making a note of these students in their records, telling parents, and ensuring that the appropriate provisions are made. The majority of children with SEN will have their needs met within school, using a graduated response. This approach has four stages: Assess, Plan, Do and Review.
Assess: An assessment of the child’s needs is formulated based on the views of the child, the family, and the teacher. Included in this overall assessment are the teacher’s assessments and observations, as well those of any external professionals.
Plan: Following an assessment, the student, parent, teacher, and SENCO agree on a plan. This lists any adjustments and interventions put into place for the child, as well as listing clear, achievable outcomes for the child.
Do: As appropriate, pupils and teachers are made aware of the plan. Teachers link the plan to individualised teaching to support the child’s learning
Review: The progress, which has been made since the last assessment is reviewed. If continued support is needed, the process begins again.
Occasionally, parents may believe that a school is not able to meet a child’s individual needs. When a young person is being held back by a learning difficulty or disability, parents may contact the Local Authority and request an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment.
An Education, Health, and Care (EHC) needs assessment, is not just an educational assessment. Health care and social care needs will also be considered. The Local Authority (LA) will seek information from the child’s parents or child herself, teachers, health care professionals, psychologists as well as taking advice and information related to social care. At the end of this process, the LA will decide whether or not to issue an EHC plan. The EHC plan details the provisions made across the relevant agencies and settings.
The causes of dyslexia are still hotly debated. However, most researchers agree that phonological difficulties are present in the majority of children. This means that most children with dyslexia have difficulties with the spoken sounds in language and will, for example, have difficulty breaking a word down into its constituent sounds. While some researchers see the phonological deficit as the primary cause of dyslexia (e.g. Ramus, White, and Frith), others point to a more basic underlying sensory deficit. For example, the temporal sampling hypothesis (Goswami), suggests children with dyslexia have issues with how they process the timing information in spoken language.
Most children with dyslexia have phonological difficulties, however, some do not, and show visual processing or visual attention difficulties instead. A few theories explain these children’s reading impairments, for example, the automaticity hypothesis (Nicolson, Fawcett, and Dean) or the visual theories of dyslexia (e.g. Stein & Fowler). Again, the causes of dyslexia in these children are not well understood.
Dyslexia runs in families, which is largely due to the overlap in genes between family members. Studies comparing identical and non-identical twins suggest that on average, genetic factors can explain about half of the variability in reading ability. Studies have found a number of candidate genes for dyslexia. However, there is no current consensus on the genes involved. It is likely that there are multiple genes, which interact in association with each other, and the environment.
Dr Sarah Huppen is the author of Little Kids, Big Dilemmas.
Goswami, U. (2011). A temporal sampling framework for developmental dyslexia. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 3-10.
Nicolson, R. I., Fawcett, A. J., & Dean, P. (2001). Developmental dyslexia: the cerebellar deficit hypothesis. Trends in neurosciences, 24(9), 508-511.
Ramus, F., White, S., & Frith, U. (2006). Weighing the evidence between competing theories of dyslexia. Developmental Science, 9(3), 265-269.
Stein, J. F., & Fowler, M. S. (1993). Unstable binocular control in dyslexic children. Journal of Research in Reading, 16(1), 30-45.