Updated: Jun 30
You are probably considering this question for one of the following reasons:
1. Specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia run in your family and you have recognised the signs in your child.
2. Your child has been struggling with their literacy and/or numeracy skills for a while, they are not making much progress and their teacher doesn’t know why this is.
3. Someone, perhaps a schoolteacher or a friend, has suggested that your child has a learning difficulty such as dyslexia.
The first step in this process is to have a meeting with the Special Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at your child’s school.
You need to go to the meeting to express your concerns about your child’s progress. Make sure you have written down all the signs that your child is experiencing so that you don’t forget any.
The next steps in the action you take will depend on how this meeting has gone. Many SENCos will take action and start gathering evidence from your child’s teachers about the difficulties they are seeing.
Sometimes they will get in touch with their own specialist teacher support team and arrange for some psychometric testing to be carried out. If they find there are more complex difficulties, then they may arrange for their Educational Psychologist to come in and run their tests to explore the reasons why your child is struggling. This is great and you can wait for the results from this which will give you a way forward.
However, this is the point at which many parents are put off taking any further action.
Sometimes schools will suggest that there isn’t a problem:
that your child’s learning is delayed and they are going to catch up on their own accord (they won’t)
that they have already put programmes in place to help them and you won’t receive anything further (the programmes may not be appropriate but neither the school or you will know that).
There are some factors which you need to understand about their position which may help you to make the decision around arranging your own private diagnostic report:
1. At the present time budgets in schools are extremely tight so some of their decisions are based on funds rather than needs.
2. Local Authorities have tight budgets too for education and so the decision about how often a school can access a specialist teacher or educational psychologist are based on funding too. Schools have to prioritise which pupils see these specialists as the school can only access them so many times per year.
3. Quite often a school SENCo will be genuinely convinced they are doing everything that can be done to help your child – but they are doing this ‘blind’ without any actual evidence that what they are doing will effectively help YOUR child.
Let’s assume that they have taken your concerns on board and they are starting a process to explore your child’s difficulties. At the next meeting, they may suggest a way forward such as putting your child into extra phonic lessons in a small group or putting them in a spelling group to help their spelling.
This is great news, they have taken your concerns seriously and your child is getting extra help. You will most likely go with this for a few months and then review the situation to decide if any progress has been made.
If it has made a large difference, then you will probably be happy for this to continue. If it has not, then you really need to know why your child is struggling (remember that most of the time the SENCo is just throwing standard solutions at your child without knowing if there are underlying issues which need to be addressed first).
There are some factors which aren’t clearly understood by teachers or SENCos in the development of reading and spelling, which means that just doing more reading and spelling will not have any effect on your child’s progress.
Children go through 3 stages:
- A logographic stage
- An alphabetic stage
- An orthographic stage
This is the stage where reading is done by sight as whole words such as cat, dog. Learning is by looking at words and saying what they are, with similar looking words being confused. Spelling is not possible at this point.
This is the ability to work out new words as phonic knowledge develops. To be able to acquire phonic knowledge, a child needs to be able to verbally discriminate between sounds in a word, such as identifying start and end sounds and then being able to break words up into their sounds.
This often starts as being able to identify start sounds and then the end rime in phonically stable words such as cat, mat, hat dog, log and so on.
This helps to develop a sight vocabulary and reading accuracy increases as knowledge does.
Early spelling is by sound and this heavily relies on discriminating speech sounds and then knowing which letters go with those sounds.
Many children have difficulty discriminating the sounds, meaning that just learning the phonic patterns won't benefit them.
Fluent and accurate reading depends on developing a sight vocabulary and being able to apply phonic knowledge to unknown words or identifying the base (root) word and working it out from there. The reader looks at both the shape and the structure of the word.
Correct spelling requires proper instruction as well as reading experience. You need to know the meaning of the word (weather or whether) to get the right spelling and know where it fits into the structure of a sentence (grammar).
Then you look at the word visually and ask yourself ‘does this look right?’ and you may use the different ways you know to make the sounds in the word and rewrite it several times to arrive at one that does look correct.
Decoding a word using phonics helps to develop a sight vocabulary. When a child has seen the same word many times, it is stored as a 'picture' in the brain and recalled without the need to sound it out anymore.
If your child is not developing their phonic knowledge because they can’t discriminate the sounds in the words, then no amount of extra phonics instruction on its own is going to help. This hinders the development of their sight vocabulary.
If your child has weaknesses in their visual memory and can’t tell when a word looks correct, then they will struggle to move onto the orthographic stage without explicit instruction to address this.
There does come a point when many parents are frustrated with the lack of progress their child is making and that is most likely where you are today.
Even if your child’s school has put measures in place to help, it is important to understand that they will not have all the information they need to ensure what they are doing is the most effective support without a full diagnostic assessment.
It is also important to know that a full diagnostic report will explore the underlying difficulties such as phonological awareness (awareness of sounds in words) and visual memory difficulties which are preventing a child from moving through to the final orthographic stage.
The key aim of a diagnostic assessment is to explore your child's learning strengths and weaknesses so that we can understand why they struggle with some aspects of their learning and not others.
Then full recommendations for a course of action which will enable them to make the best progress possible is made.
Debbie Abraham is a specialist assessor who can provide full diagnostic assessments for dyslexia. Contact her here .