I received a message from a parent and with her permission, I have documented recommendations below for other parents. I hope you find it useful. The names of the parent and child have been altered to protect confidentiality.

‘Hi Natalie, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d love your advice on dyslexia. I’m concerned about Milly who is 6.5 years old and she has just started year 1. She is a bright and curious child but is struggling with reading. It is like all the right ingredients going into the oven but no cake ever comes out! My eldest could read chapter books by this stage but Milly is still on CVC words with limited sight vocabulary despite lots of practice. How do I tell whether she’s just making slow progress of whether there is an underlying difficulty such as dyslexia? What assessment processes do schools have for this? Jane, concerned mother.’

My response was a follows:

Thanks for your message Jane. I’d be glad to help you. Firstly, well done for being such an observant parent and giving your child lots of reading guidance at a young age. It is important to note that all children develop at different rates especially up the age 8, but I commend you on noticing a possible ‘red flag’. It sounds like you know your daughter very well.

I particularly like your cake analogy. Your situation is very common, where the child is brought up in the same home environment, receive the same support a sibling had, but for some reason the outcome is totally different. From what you have indicated, Milly may not receiving and/or processing the information in the brain from the outside world ‘correctly or efficiently’. During a child’s development, the brain is continuously making new connections. At times, due to a number of factors, the brain makes what I like to call, ‘odd’ connections. The good news is, that the brain can change and ‘new’ connections can be made. It just involves the right strategies to get the brain ‘reconnected’ to operate in a more efficient way.

So what is dyslexia? Dysleixa is a neurological condition that affects the development of literacy skills. It is characterised by difficulties with processing sound, rapid naming, working memory and processing of information. Dyslexia affects approximately 10% of the population.
So what do I do?

  1. It is very important that Milly’s confidence stays in tact. Avoid pushing her to do something she may not be able to do. We want to avoid her feeling like a failure and thinking something is wrong with her. Continue with what reading she can do and provide plenty of encouragement, praise and support. Keep reading to her daily.
  2. It is important we look into how the brain is receiving and interpreting information. If all sensory channels, such as the vision, auditory and movement channels are not working 100%, then a child will experience difficulties in one or more areas. As they get older, they become more noticeable. These must be addressed first.
  3. The next area to look into is her ability to manipulate and understand sounds in words, her processing speed, working memory and speed of retrieval. These areas will be looked at during an assessment.
  4. Early intervention is key. If you are concerned, don’t dismiss your feelings. Parents intuition is usually spot on. It is worth looking into an assessment and specialist literacy tuition now. Ensure you engage a specialist literacy tutor as they have unique training in using different methods and strategies. You are more likely to see progress with a specialist tutor than a ‘normal’ tutor.
  5. In regards to getting an assessment, it depends on the school your child is at. Speak to the class teacher or the Learning Support Coordinator to see what the process is. It can take a while. The other option is to seek a private educational psychologist. Keep in mind, a formal diagnosis cannot be made until she is 8 years old.  At the Learning Centre, I’d be more than happy to arrange an assessment to identify the gaps in her learning and whether an underlying learning difficulty may be present.

I hope this helps Jane and let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you and Milly.

Natalie Nicholls
Education Consultant
Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties Specialist Teacher