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UPDATED SECTIONS: FEBRUARY 6th 2017 look for the asterix ***

A coach is someone who always makes you do what you don’t want to do,

so you can be who you’ve always wanted to be.

There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.

My daughter has dyslexia.  I’ve known there was something amiss since she was 5 but her school took the policy that “We don’t test until they’re seven” and “Don’t worry”.

Mothers do worry though, and I’m no exception.  I’m also a trained journalist so, instead of listening to her SENCO, I set on my own path of discovery.  I know what has worked for my daughter but I’m no expert.  I’ve written this in the hope that something in here might help your child if you suspect, or know, there is a problem.

When there are problems there are three key people you may end up seeing.

  • An Occupational Therapist
  • An Educational Psychologist
  • A Behavioural Optometrist

Speak to your LDA – Local Dyslexia Association if your school’s SENCO isn’t helpful.

I felt very unsupported by her schools SENCO so I set out on my own.  It has been, and continues to be, a constant process of trial and adjustment.  Here’s what I found.

The first thing to look at is

VISION:

If your child is struggling to read, showing an aversion to trying, or getting mixed up, try this little test.

Bring your index finger up in front of their face at eye level.  Slowly move the finger from right to left and tell them they must watch it.  You should watch their eyes.  The eyes should track the finger smoothly.  If their eyes jump or move away when they’re trying to do this they could have an eye-tracking problem.

Next, check whether they can converge (or cross their eyes).  Start with your finger in that same position but this time move it into the their nose slowly, telling them to watch it the whole time.  Do their eyes cross?  Does one eye travel away or jump, preventing them from crossing?  If yes, they may have a convergence problem.

The reason this matters is that a child that struggles to track will find it hard to read a line of text without losing their place.  They can read individual letters but as soon as they try to follow the line of text their eyes will move off and they’ll lose their place.

If they can’t converge properly they will find that their eyes aren’t working together so they can’t focus on individual words.  If you find either of these issues be patient – children develop this skill at different ages; around 4 or 5 years old in most cases, but understand that they will struggle to read at this stage.  Tell their teacher so that there is a record of the issue and they’re not unduly stressed.

One of the readers of this blog kindly sent me this link which explains it all very well.

https://www.nessy.com/uk/teachers/visual-dyslexia/

Check again at the start of the next term.  If the problem is still there then you may well need to see a behavioural optometrist.  These are not the usual opticians (who’re there to check eyesight and sell glasses) they are trained at understanding the way the eyes need to function.  I warn you, they are expensive.

I have seen two Behavioural Optometrists but have not been satisfied.  The path I took was to try to solve the problem myself.  To do that you need to spend two weeks using the eye-tracking test as an exercise.  You need to make them track right to left ten times, ten times a day i.e. when they get up, when they are eating their breakfast, when they are washing their hands etc.  This exercises the eyes to get them to work together.  It had a marked effect on my daughter and is well worth doing.  One word of warning, once you’ve finished the two weeks, you will need to do regular keep-up sessions, perhaps once a week, just to keep the eyes strong and working together.

There is a computer programme called http://www.engagingeyes.co.uk, which exercises the eyes to get them to converge and track smoothly.  I have just spoken with the developer who is incredibly helpful.  I’d contacted her about Fluency Builder but she advised me to focus, first, on sorting out my daughter’s eye issues.  This is the first conclusive advice I’ve had on the topic.  I have now embarked, again, on daily sessions of Engaging Eyes.  My daughter finds some of it a real struggle but I think that’s because her eyes are still not working together properly.  Basically these are the sorts of exercises a behavioural optometrist will get your child to do anyway but much cheaper than paying for regular visits.

***My daughter finds this programme stressful but is prepared to do it.  The hardest one, for her, is the Target Practise exercise, which works on convergence.  She’s got up to level 13 but doesn’t seem to be able to progress.  I have to bribe her with a sweet for every level she reaches from level 8 and beyond.  The lady who runs the site says this is excellent progress and not to worry.  I can see that ‘fixing’ this problem will take a long time and a lot of patience but is ultimately worth it because it will feed in to sports as well as school.  We have not done enough of these exercises yet to give useful feedback. ***

And now for the most important mantra:

LITTLE AND OFTEN

I can’t stress enough, how important this is with ANY of the interventions I will mention.  Try to work on one or two of these issues every day, but don’t panic if that’s too much.

The second most important mantra is:

PRAISE, SYMPATHY and BRIBES

Use every opportunity, when they put in any effort, to show praise.  It really does make a difference.  Also show that you know it’s hard for them and that you do understand, but that it’s because you love them so much that you are getting them to work.  Promise them that all the effort they put in now will definitely make a difference to their lives.  I have to stroke my daughters feet and legs whilst she’s doing her exercises.  It calms her down and she stops getting emotional; whatever it takes.

The third thing, which I’ve only just realised, is that you must keep a diary of all the work you have been doing with your child.  Why?  Because I didn’t and the result was that the school thought she was ‘doing fine’ but didn’t take into account the amount of extra stimulus I was providing at home to get her to that level.  Keeping a record will ensure that you have the information needed when ‘experts’ are evaluating your child.

READING:

I believe, so fundamentally, in this skill that I decided, at first, to ignore the issues further down this blog, and focus purely on getting her reading to begin with.

I have done extensive research into the reading issues Dyslexics have.  The best explanation that I have read is on http://www.easyread.com.  Take a look.  This website is one of quite a few offering remedial help.  Take a look at their competitors too.  They all seem to use similar techniques to the ones used at specialist schools for Dyslexics like Moon Hall.

The first observation of http://www.easyread.com is that my daughter LOVED doing it.  The second was the approach; not just the approach to teaching how to read, it was the extent of the positivity required to get a child over this most enormous hurdle.  They say you should be using a positive word every 5 words your child manages to read i.e. great, excellent, well done.  I didn’t understand this to begin with but, having taken it on board, it has made a massive difference to my daughter’s willingness to face the challenge.  Having finished the programme she is now able to de-code any word with which she is faced.  She isn’t a fast reader yet, and sometimes she gets lazy again and guesses, but she can read and that is the most important skill I believe you can teach a child at school.  Now that we’ve stopped Easyread she often says “I wish I was still doing Easyread.”  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Other key things to do:

  • Read to your child or play them audio books that are beyond their reading ability.  They need access to this material even if they can’t read it.
  • When you do read to them follow the words with your finger so they get the chance to see them read out.  This will also help support children with eye-tracking issues who feel uncomfortable about having to use a finger to track.  Your parent does it so why not you?
  • Once they are able to read themselves get them to brush their teeth, wash and put on their pyjamas half an hour before their real bedtime so they have 30 minutes to relax with a book, even if they’re only reading one page and you’re reading the next, the positive association is there.  This is the way I got my daughter to become, in her words, a book worm.

***Another useful thing to do is to play TRUGS, the acronym for Teaching Reading Using Games.  These cards aren’t cheap but my daughter LOVES the games and it gives a different approach to getting your child to break down the words and read them fluently.  You can call the number on the website that sells them and the lady who created the games is very happy to discuss what stage you might need.  Aged 8, my daughter, is now on the Stage 3 test game, wants to play it every evening, and is coping admirably.  This is extraordinary given the problems she had with learning to read.***

WRITING:

Her writing was appalling at the beginning of this school year; to put it bluntly, I couldn’t read it.  I insisted the school had to take some blame and demanded they accept she either has a problem or they’re the problem.  They referred her to an Educational Psychologist.

It’s not cheap but it was an excellent thing to do.  We now have an idea of her strengths as well as the challenges she faces.  The Ed. Psych. put her handwriting in the 25 centile.

I have read all the intervention techniques and attempted every one at home; writing slopes, special pencils/pens exercises to help her hand strength.  None of them have worked, partly because she hated me trying to tell her what to do, correcting her hand hold etc.  We would end in huge rows and tears about it.  The Ed. Psych. said she could probably benefit from a computer and should be allowed to dictate her work at times so that she could get her ideas out on paper (her IQ is in the mid-90th centile so handwriting issues are a huge impediment.)

So, I parked the problem and focused instead on

SPELLING:

It is utterly pointless trying to get a dyslexic child to learn spelling by giving them a list of words to memorise and write out then testing them on them.  It doesn’t work; trust me, we did it for 2 and a half years and I’ve done the research.

We completed the Easyread programme then stopped, even though they say that they can sort out spelling if you continue, and started my daughter on http://www.spellingtutor.co.uk two-thirds of the way through Year 3.  It’s been absolutely brilliant.  The programme demands that your child write out sentences and then check to see which words they are getting right then creates a list of the ones they can’t spell from which they work.  Take a look at the website.

Not only has her teacher said to me “Whatever you’re doing is working” but I have seen a marked improvement in her writing as a result too.  It’s very exciting for both of us.  I must warn, however, that there was enormous resistance and tears at the beginning.  It’s important to use both love and praise to get them through this stage.  The thing to keep sight of is that it works.  Once your child can see that they’ll be much happier.  She shows no resistance now and the bonus is that she has a positive growth mentality about all her work.

***Our work on this is more sporadic because there are days when we don’t have pencil and paper to hand or we are just too busy.  That said, she has learned over 50 words since we began.  There are a couple that she’s forgotten again e.g. once, which she started spelling as onec, but at least she knows which letters to use and will ‘get it’ if she stops to think about how it sounds.  If you talk to the woman on the TRUGS website she’ll tell you not to stress over spelling, just focus on getting them reading fluently.***

WRITING:

The Headmaster in the school she is moving to said they don’t teach typing and force children to write.  He says it’s a difficult skill but he still believes it pays dividends.  I’m actually extremely grateful because I had previously given up on the prospect of her being able to write legibly (if the school won’t enforce it then you don’t stand a chance).  Given the regime she will be immersed in I have done further research and finally invested in a programme called http://www.magiclinkhandwriting.com.  She hates it, but that’s been her response to everything at the beginning.  I’ve parked it until she breaks up for the holidays and then I will get her to do the programme intensively to see if we can make her handwriting consistently readable.  I’ll update when I have more to say on the subject.

***This is my least favourite of the programmes I have signed my daughter up to.  It’s hard graft and she doesn’t enjoy it.  The programme is expensive and, whilst it helped initially with getting her to understand she really must hold her pencil properly, it’s just miserable for us to do it at home and I’ve given up for the moment.  I’d rather ask the school to give her extra lessons in handwriting and concentrate on things we can do at home which have a more useful function (after all, this is the last generation for which handwriting is a critical art).***

**FEB 2017  We halted work on spellingtutor because her SENCO has told us that it is vital she learns to type.  Her handwriting is barely legible and littered with errors at the age of 8 so it has become a serious impediment to her grades.  I spoke to an Occupational Therapist to see whether she felt a weekly intervention programme would be a good idea.  Her answer, which was backed up by the SENCO, is that she needs to learn to touch type as soon as possible.  Now I have a definitive answer to this issue I have finally given up on the handwriting and am only focused on getting her to type using TTRS.  We do two sessions a night and she offers little resistence to it because I’ve told her that once she can type accurately and fast enough she will be given a computer to use at school.  The feedback she gets is very positive, we print off reports for her to take into school, and I’m happy that this is the way forward.***

MATHS:

The problem with some dyslexic children is that they can have processing issues.  My daughter is extremely bright but her slow processing speeds mean that, in a classroom where things are being explained for the whole group, she often feels they go too fast and is then left behind.  I believe that the subject this will impact on most is mathematics where it is critical that the foundations are solid before your child moves forward to the next stage.

I have looked at many programmes.  IXL, Squeebles etc.  They all have their benefits.  I’ve finally signed her up to mathswhizz.com and am incredibly pleased with it.  As with the other programmes I like, it tests your child to check where they are and where the gaps exist in their knowledge, then begins a programme of explanation, exercises and tests to help build a solid foundation.  It’s fun and gives your child a real chance to do things at their own pace.  She started below her age group on maths but has caught up and overtaken.

***This is the easiest programme, by far, to work on in the holidays.  I just get her to do one exercise and one test per day.  Since beginning the programme at the end of May my daughter has increased 1 year in maths age i.e. in three months.  That’s great progress which will definitely help her at school.  Her sister, whose maths age is significantly higher than her real age, has also benefitted.  Her maths age has risen half a year in 3 months, with concepts like fractions and percentages solidly explained so that she’s now ‘fluent’ in them.***

**The work with this programme has paid dividends.  Her maths teacher has told me that her understanding of maths concepts is now second to none in her group.  During term time I am focusing on daily eye-exercises and TTRS in order to build the necessary skills as soon as possible.  She will be expected to resume daily Maths Whizz sessions every holiday because it makes such a difference.**

I love this website which gives lots of free advice – http://www.beatingdyslexia.com/dyslexia-treatment.html

SLAVE DRIVER/COACH!

Is what you’re probably thinking by now.  I believe that the key is to judge just how tired your child is and to keep their exercises to 10-15mins each.   Focus at first on getting them to read then work on the other skills, particularly maths because if your child falls behind in this subject they will find it very hard to re-gain the ground.

Why not hire a tutor?  Well, she has extra help at school in English and Maths but the fact remains that working a little bit on these skills every day is always going to be better than doing it once a week (and cheaper!).

I see this stage in my child’s life as brief but critical.  Without early intervention your child risks falling behind and suffering long-term low esteem.  Experts will tell you that self-esteem (which they call self-concept) is critical to achievement.  It has been scientifically proven that the brain is plastic and can be developed; why wait?  Once they have acquired these key skills and learnt coping techniques their self-esteem will soar and your child can become independent.