Updated: Feb 7
Did you know that you can get a formal dyslexia assessment carried out at the age of 7 in the UK? However, you may not know that many signs of dyslexia show up before then and that screenings can take place from a younger age.
Schools and experienced teachers can carry out a screening for dyslexia.
This is can be a quick and informal process where a teacher can note down whether your child can do certain things such as know the sounds of individual letters of the alphabet and know how letters represent sounds when you start getting two vowels together as you do in words like 'sheep'.
You may also be asked questions such as whether there is any history of dyslexia in the family.
There is not just one type of screening and some are better than others at identifying the possibility of dyslexia. This is because some look at more areas associated with dyslexia than others. You can also use some of the formal psychometric tests to explore one or two areas associated with dyslexia, rather than carrying out a full diagnostic assessment at the outset.
You can use a dyslexia screener from age 5 onwards. This means that it can be used as soon as any problems are suspected rather than waiting a year or so for your child to fall behind.
There are skills that a child has to develop to become a good reader and speller called phonological awareness. It is possible to check whether your child is developing this from early primary. If your child fails their phonic test at the end of Year 1, then it is worth having a look at this.
A screening can be a useful first step to understanding why your child isn't reading or spelling correctly at an early stage in school. It is possible for your school to do this for free.
If they won't, then you can contact a specialist teacher like myself who can carry this out for you and write a report for you detailing the results and recommending a way forward.
A formal assessment for dyslexia is carried out by a specially qualified teacher or an educational psychologist in the UK. This can be carried out when your child is around 7-8 years old. The reason why a child has to be older is so that they have had a chance to develop some maturity, meaning the results are more meaningful and less likely to be incorrect.
A formal assessment takes around 3-4 hours and comprises of different tests that the assessor will ask your child to complete. The assessor will then consider the results of these tests and make a decision about whether the evidence before them shows that your child's results conform to a definition of dyslexia.
The educational psychologist or specialist teacher will make recommendations for specific interventions which will benefit your child. This is a clear advantage of a formal assessment as the type of intervention is not left to your school to decide.
School teachers only receive 1 or 2 days training on specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and therefore they are not best placed to know how to help your child improve their skills.
In my experience, they can only offer more phonics when a child isn't reading or spelling well, using the more of the same methods they have already tried.
A key advantage of having recommendations written by a specialist is that you know what help the school needs to provide, making your meetings with the school SENCo more effective.
Another other clear advantage of a formal assessment is that a dyslexia diagnosis is recognised as a disability under legislation which means that schools have to provide appropriate help to your child so that they are not discriminated against. A screening does not afford this protection.
A screening can be a good place to start as they can be carried out on younger children, meaning that appropriate help can be given earlier. It is known that the earlier you start to help a dyslexic child, the less they will struggle with developing their academic skills.
In fact, I taught a student from the age of 6 and by around 8/9 you would not think she had a reading difficulty.
Of course, you can start to help your child as soon as you recognise signs that they may be dyslexic. If you recognise that they may have some signs of dyslexia then do bring that to the attention of your child's school. You may have to be extremely persistent to obtain help if your child is quite young but it is definitely worth pursuing the school in this respect.
Early warning signs to be aware of are problems with developing spoken language, having glue ear or repeated ear infections and not being able to clap in rhythm to a nursery rhyme. If your child was born prematurely then they may have problems with developing reading skills.
In slightly older children, signs can include the obvious ones of not picking up reading skills because they can't learn the sounds of the letters very easily. They will be the child who gets low scores in their spelling tests even though you have spent ages learning them with your child.They may not be able to write down very much at all, and what they do write might not make sense.
But your child may also not be able to give you their full concentration, they may look blankly at you as they have not taken in what you have said to them and they may lose things very easily.
As a child gets older, there can be clearer signs. Your child may not have been able to learn their times tables, have no idea about how long 5 minutes feels meaning they are always running late. They may be better at verbally explaining something rather than writing it down leading to a mis- match between verbal and written skills. They will have fallen behind at school in reading, spelling and writing.
If you see any of these signs then do make an appointment to see your child's class teacher and SENCo. The earliest their problems are picked up then the earliest they can be helped.
Debbie Abraham is a specialist dyslexia teacher holding an Assessing Practising Certificate who can provide both dyslexia screenings and full diagnostic assessments. She is based in Essex, UK. If you would like to arrange either of these or discuss your requirements further then you can contact here here.