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The Parent Bench: Helping children with learning disabilities

Review columnist answers readers questions about raising kids
Anne Revell is a special education, behaviour and parenting consultant who is a part-time Revelstoke resident. (Contributed)

Hi Anne: I suspect my child may be dyslexic. He is seven years old. How can I tell, what signs should I be looking for?

Many parents and teachers come to me with the feeling that they are noticing a difference in the way a child is learning and coping in the classroom.

If a child is dyslexic the earlier the teachers and parents are aware of the situation the better they can support the child.

Without support a child can find learning to read and write very difficult which can lead to low self esteem, behaviour issues, and loss of ability to fulfill their potential.

I have also had children brought to me for a dyslexia assessment who are struggling with learning to read and write but are not in fact dyslexic but are just “young” within their school year. They just need a little support to catch up and ensure they are not left behind.

To be sure you should seek an assessment by a professional. Your school should be able to give you some contact details. Some schools use a “dyslexia screening test” which is a short test to help identify children who have some of the typical characteristics of dyslexia but a “screening test” will not help identify the underlying causes for dyslexia or how to support the child.

Dyslexia is a complex “learning difficulty.” Typically a child will struggle to identify and remember the shape and sound of letters and numbers. They may be very intelligent and have a high IQ but be slower processing information.

They may have good long term memory and remember events from last week but cannot remember an instruction that has just been given.

Understanding the range of difficulties your child experiences and the range of strengths your child has is key to knowing how best to help your child. A dyslexic assessment will usually be conducted by a specialist over one or two sessions. The range of tests will cover visual, auditory and kinesthetic awareness and acuity.

The tests will be both diagnostic; where the assessor watches the child to see how they are completing a particular activity, what strategies they use and if they are displaying any anxiety.

Other tests will be psychometric or standardised; which means a test which will measure a child’s performance against a “standard group” to give a result - this may be a “reading age” or IQ score.

A typical diagnostic test may be trying to spot the difference in two drawings. The assessor will note how the child approaches the task. Is he reluctant and fidgety, does he try to distract the teacher by chatting about the pictures to avoid the task, does he understand the instruction but then forget what he is doing.

Many observations can be made by an experienced assessor with this one simple test. A typical standardised test may include a reading speed test. The child is given a list of three letter words and a timer is set. He has to read accurately as many as possible in one minute. The assessor will note the number of correctly read words and compare this with a published standard score table to produce a “reading speed” usually expressed as an age comparison.

A child may be seven years six months on the day of the test but produce eight years 10 months.

At the completion of the full assessment the specialist will produce a full report with all the results and explanations of the findings. The report should also conclude with a clear plan of how a teacher and parent can support the child from this point forward. With this information your child is sure to make great progress, be a much happier child and have the power to fulfill their potential.

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Anne Revell is a special education, behaviour and parenting consultant in Revelstoke.