Time to fly

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you have come!

This blog is a bit of reflection on how far my daughter has come. I used to be afraid of the future. She struggled so much I couldn’t look forward to where she would be in the years ahead. But now I see how far she has travelled and how far she can go. I can see her strengths fighting to be seen and I can see her coming out of her cocoon and spreading her wings. My daughter still has so many challenges in front of her and there are still many hurdles to her success but I have hope. I can see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Just a glimmer of it.

My daughter has working memory and processing speed issues, severe social and general anxiety, Moderate Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. At the beginning of year 3 when she was assessed she was already years behind and had spent 6 months at a psychologist for her anxiety. By then school was such a dark place for her she would vomit, scream and cry before and after school. She had significant self esteem issues and was a good example of learned helplessness. She had given up. She couldn’t spell anything and reading was something she hated and feared. She would barely speak to teachers or strangers.

She has now just finished a year of high school. It has been a challenge but she has surpassed my expectations in every aspect. My goal was just to manage to hand things in, cope with the organisational aspects, make a few friends and control her anxiety. She had an extra challenge of the death of her grandfather early in Term 1 when she was still finding her feet.

She has impressed teachers with her creative thinking, her hard work ethic, her speeches and her writing. She has achieved grades higher than we could have imagined often getting A’s and B’s for assessments. Even in examinations she has often gone well despite all her difficulties. I’m not afraid of this years school report. I know it will be positive. The high school teachers almost universally (there are always a few) can see how much she tries and appreciate her strengths. Her half yearly report was a positive experience for her. I’ve already had a phone all from the year coordinator congratulating her on a wonderful year. She has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The learning support teacher mentioned how pleased he has been to see her personality come out and how confident she has become.

She has the most wonderful friends who appreciate her quirks, her strengths and support her when she is struggling. They have given her the confidence to be her unique self. They have helped turn on the light inside of her. They have turned up to see her drama performances, hugged her when her grandfather died and laughed with her when she has made mistakes. For the first time she feels like she belongs. For a teen belonging is what it is all about.

My daughter now reads for pleasure and keeps on her bookshelf every book she has read like a trophy. She spends her afternoons locked in her room writing stories. All those stories locked in her head are now finding their voice on a page. On the weekend she enthusiastically complete her English ho work. A narrative with symbolism written with creativity and passion. Her creative writing is better than anything I could ever do and always amazes me. She wrote a poem for her grandfather’s funeral that made everyone cry.

On Saturday my daughter stood a metre from a group of strangers and her best friend and recited a Shakespeare sonnet without seeing it. She was nervous and had to wait through a dozen other kids for her turn. My husband lent over and said “How is she going to do it?”. All the other kids were nervous too. She is the youngest in her High School NIDA class. But she stood up and read it. Any mistakes she covered and to me it sounded perfect. She also performed in a pair a long scene from Shakespeare. This is a child who in year 3 could not read or talk in front of anyone.

A Dyslexic kid with social anxiety reading Shakespeare in front of an audience is an amazing achievement. It is a testament to what can be achieved with the right intervention and support. It has certainly not been easy and I’m exhausted and emotional writing this. But I’m so proud of how hard she has worked to get to this point. There have been many setbacks. Her anxiety and learned helplessness hold her back more than her learning difficulties do at times. This year their have been many achievements. There have been far more tears of joy than sadness. There have been so many moments of wow this year that I can now see the path ahead filled with hope.

It is so important to have the highest expectations of our kids. They will do amazing things. They will find their strengths. My daughter has found her feet and now she will fly!

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Recovering from Reading Recovery

I read about the new Reading Recovery research with great skepticism. I have learnt a great deal in the last 5 years since my daughter struggled to learn to read. I have read literacy research until I wore my eyes out and gone to numerous professional developments. Most of all I have learnt from my daughter’s amazing specialist literacy tutor. I have’t been to one professional development where the strategies being taught were ones already being used by our tutor. She was our saviour when Reading Recovery failed spectacularly.

Being our first child and an ex high school teacher I trusted the professional advice of the primary teachers even though alarm bells rang early and things didn’t really make sense. The signs were all there. She struggled to learn the 200 sight words she was suppose to memorise. She flung the PM readers across the room. In my mind I questioned instinctively the value of learning sight words when she didn’t even know how to sound out base sounds. I questioned the value of repetitive and boring PM readers.

I was relieved a little when she was placed in a special reading group. The Reading Recovery teacher was lovely and encouraged her a gave her lots of attention. In first class her reading seemed to make some progress. So I set aside the parental worry at the back of my mind. I regret to this day I did not act sooner.

She started Year 2 fresh from a year of Reading Recovery on a respectful level 20 of PM readers. But unfortunately running records are not the best indicator of an early readers ability to read. A smart child like my daughter had an awesome ability to guess. Reading recovery had taught her this was acceptable. A few mistakes were even let through…”Close enough is good enough!” At home my daughter could finish a sentence without even turning a page and often be correct. This is most certainly NOT a good strategy. This is not reading. It took us years to undo guessing.

We started year 2 with an air of positivity. The year 2 teacher promised me that her reading wasn’t that bad. My daughter, having greater insight than the rest of us, was already displaying some level of school anxiety and avoidance. She knew she couldn’t read. She was a master of camouflage. Mid way through year 2 concerns escalated and anxiety soared. Reading became more difficult. Reliance on multi-cueing strategies taught in reading recovery quickly showed their deficiencies. Her reading totally stalled. Teachers told me “we don’t understand she seems really bright.”

In Year 2 under new NSW government funding we had the arrival of another of my daughter’s saviours. A new learning support teacher who had training in explicit and systematic phonics instruction. She tested her phonics. She could not even sound out the entire alphabet let alone decode words. The school counsellor undertook psychometric tests which showed she was above average in verbal comprehension but had difficulties in processing speed and working memory.

I started googling what it all meant and this lead me down a path to recovery for my daughter. Her anxiety had escalated so much that I delayed assessment or tutoring because it would have failed. She spent 6 months seeing a psychologist. She was so afraid of school and reading by then that we had vomiting, sickness and frequent tears. I would sit down every afternoon and have a cup of tea and calm myself as I never knew what she would be like when I picked her up from school. I became afraid of the school bell too!

I started as best I could to explicitly and systematically teach her phonics after school. She was so broken and so anxious that often even with me she would break down and cry. The Nessy learning program gave her back some of her confidence but my skills at that time teaching phonics were inadequate. Teaching reading requires a skilled teacher. She ended the school year on PM level 22. A year of virtually no progress in reading.

At the beginning of year 3 she started with her specialist literacy tutor the day before she undertook an assessment for Dyslexia. Her assessment showed at age 8 ½ she had a reading age of 7 and a spelling age of less than 5. I reinforced skills at home daily guided by the tutor which meant progress in reading was fairly rapid considering we pretty much started from zero. We reinforced phonics learnt using decodable readers which she enjoyed immensely. Suddenly she was actually reading and could decipher the squiggles on a page. The learned helplessness and fear of books took far longer to overcome.

On a positive note my daughter’s school now teaches synthetic phonics from day 1 of kindergarten. The Learning Support teacher introduced Multilit as an intervention which is evidenced based and follows the scientific criteria of a reading intervention program.

Science has repeatedly shown what is needed in early reading instruction. We also have a great understanding of what characteristics a good reading intervention should include. Reading Recovery does not meet the criteria of a good intervention program.

Phonemic awareness is the ability identify the sounds in spoken words. It is like phonics with a blindfold on. Good remediation for reading difficulties will include an assessment of phonemic awareness and appropriate intervention. “Phoneme awareness instruction, when linked to systematic decoding and spelling instruction, is a key to preventing reading failure in children who come to school without these prerequisite skills.” Moats (2010)

Phonics is the alphabetic code of the English language. It is the relationship between speech sounds and how we represent them in writing using letters of the alphabet. Phonics should be taught systematically and explicitly to automaticity and mastery. This is particularly important for children with Dyslexia who will often need a much more intensive approach to the teaching of phonics. “Current research tells us unequivocally that struggling learners benefit: When the structure of spoken and written language, beginning with phonemes, is represented for them explicitly, sequentially, directly and systematically in the context of a comprehensive reading program” Birsh and Ghassemi 2010

Fluency is achieved when children have gained enough mastery and automaticity of phonics and high frequency words that their reading seems effortless. When children have fluency issues they may fail to comprehend the text and not enjoy reading. Decodable readers, are matched to the phonemes they have been taught, enabling faster recognition of words, which in turn reduces the amount of mental energy required to decode the text. This facilitates the building of automaticity and fluency. struggling readers.”

Reading vocabulary is children’s bank of known words that they can use in writing or reading. Knowing the meaning of words is essential for comprehension. The ability to read a word is essentially meaningless without understanding the word. Early exposure to conversations with adults and being read to is of paramount importance to developing a rich bank of spoken vocabulary.

Comprehension is the extraction of meaning from text and is the end point for reading. It requires a set of complex foundational skills as discussed. Any deficit in any of these skills will hinder comprehension. A child who cannot read at a word or sentence level or a child will poor vocabulary will have impaired comprehension. A child without adequate fluency, poor working memory or attentional issues may lose the meaning of the text.

Reading recovery is based on the principles of “Balanced Literacy” and sprinkles in phonics in context. It is not an explicit or systematic approach to the teaching of phonological awareness. Science has shown repeatedly that a deficit in phonics and/or phonemic awareness (which make up phonological awareness) are the biggest predictor of reading failure.

Research on Reading Recovery has certainly been mixed and there has been much criticism of the research undertaken by Reading Recovery. This is what the experts have to say; “In this open letter, more than 30 international reading researchers expressed concerns about the continued use of Reading Recovery. These experts urged policy makers, educational leaders, researchers, and federal research organizations to acknowledge the weaknesses of Reading Recovery. They concluded, “Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind.”

“While research distributed by the developers of Reading Recovery indicates a positive effect of the program, analyses by independent researchers have found serious problems with these conclusions. Studies conducted by researchers associated with Reading Recovery typically exclude 25-40% of the poorest performing students from the data analysis.”

“The lack of efficacy of Reading Recovery with the poorest readers is not surprising given the research base that highlights the importance of explicit teaching of phonics for this group. Reading Recovery teaches phonics, but the instruction is not sufficiently explicit. A common finding in research on Reading Recovery is that those students who do not respond are weak in phonological awareness (Snow et al., 1998; Tunmer & Chapman, in press b).”

“Reading Recovery has not met the needs of these lowest performing students. Most significantly, its excessive costs can make it more difficult for a school to provide help for all students in need, especially those who are behind in the upper grades.”

https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/read.rr.ltr.experts.htm

In 2016 NSW education dumped Reading Recovery’s $55 million a year specific funding after they commissioned a 2015 research review which found it had limited efficacy, especially considering its huge cost. The report concluded “While the current findings reveal short-term positive effects of RR on reading outcomes for the lowest performing students, they do not support the effectiveness of the intervention on other aspects of literacy achievement or the longer-term sustainability through the early years of school. One possible explanation that is asserted strongly by RR critics is that RR does not provide sufficient tuition in phonics and phonemic awareness to effectively remediate literacy performance among struggling readers (Center et al. 1995; Chapman & Tunmer 2011; Greaney 2011; Moats 2007; Reynolds & Wheldall 2007; Tunmer & Chapman 2003; Tunmer et al. 2013). Center et al. (1995) argue that “while Reading Recovery stresses the importance of using all sources of information available to access meaningful text, it may not provide enough systematic instruction in the metalinguistic skills of phonemic awareness, phonological recoding, and syntactic awareness for students to acquire these processes” (p. 244). The lengthy examination of the research is certainly worth a read here. https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au/images/stories/PDF/Reading_recovery_evaluation_FA_AA.pdf

I think the biggest indicator of the true nature of Reading Recovery is to look at the spectacular failure of New Zealand literacy in recent years, the home of reading Recovery, where the principles on which it is founded dominate the teaching of reading. New Zealand literacy and Reading Recovery are based on a constructivist approach to literacy teaching encouraging a multi-cues approach to the teaching of reading. Phonics takes a backseat and is taught (if at all) in context and not explicitly or systematically. A detailed analysis of the failure of Reading Recovery and the teaching of reading in New Zealand is given in this 2013 article in the Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin. https://www.ldaustralia.org/BULLETIN_NOV13-RR.pdf.

Since this article was written in 2013 New Zealand has continued to be a poor performer in reading despite millions being poured into improving literacy. New Zealand according to the latest PIRLS result in 2016 is now ranked 33, making it the poorest performing country in the English-language world. In 1970 they were ranked first. Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery and the constructivist approach to literacy has been the dominant ideology in New Zealand for decades seeing a steady decline in literacy.

This article by literacy and teaching training experts at Massey University, New Zealand examines the failure of New Zealand literacy. Massey University has also undertaken research into Reading Recovery. “The problem with literacy outcomes doesn’t lie with teachers, but with teaching. As a country, we continue to rely on an approach to literacy instruction that was discredited by scientific research over 30 years ago. Our teachers have been trained and provided with teaching resources that are out of step with contemporary research, and with literacy teaching practices in other countries. Britain, for example, has made significant improvements in literacy learning outcomes since the introduction of systematic phonics instruction towards the first decade of this century.“

“Reading Recovery was introduced in the 1980s to lower the number of children experiencing literacy learning difficulties. This programme has not achieved this major goal. The Reading Recovery website claims that the programme acts as an insurance against reading failure. This is not true, as successive PIRLS results have shown since 2001.” http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=FFBE6235-9CB5-4742-97C0-E1AA4ED407B5

Certainly Reading Recovery does give a boost to those children whose failure is due to lack of exposure to a rich language environment. Hattie has shown any intervention or teaching strategy is certainly going to have an affect more than no intervention. This is particularly true for children who may have come from a neglected environment. A true examination of Reading Recovery would be to compare it to an explicit and systematic phonics intervention program.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well” Louisa Moats https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Teaching%20Reading%20is%20Rocket%20Science%20-%20Moats.pdf

Reading Recovery fails too many children. As admin of Dyslexia Support Australia we get many parent members who join our group bemused at the failure of their children fresh out of Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery is an expensive program that has not adapted to research in the last 30 years that shows what struggling learners need for reading success. Reading Recovery wastes valuable intervention dollars and time.We know how important early and appropriate intensive intervention is for struggling readers. We can do much, much better than Reading Recovery.

Reading to children is not enough!

“If every parent, or carer …read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to children in their care, we could eliminate illiteracy within one generation.”

This is one of Mem Fox’s favourite bylines. Every time she is interviewed she likes to declare how she is going to solve illiteracy. Unfortunately she is wrong!

The first time I saw this quote was on a poster in our school library. My daughter had just been diagnosed with Dyslexia. I was already filled with enough parental guilt for not intervening in her schooling earlier. I really didn’t at that point to need any more guilt. It made me so sad and so angry. For a few years I had been asking teachers questions. They would answer …”she seems so bright!” “We don’t know why!” “Don’t worry she will get it.” “Do you read to her?”

Now I know better. I know I did do all the right things to give my daughter the best chance to read. But my daughter has Dyslexia and she did not receive the instruction she needed in school to teach her to read. I know that reading to your child is foundational to learning to read. But I also know that for most children it is not enough and they need to be taught explicitly how to read.

Yes I did read to my daughter more than any parent I know. She was my first child. I left my job as a teacher and spent all my energy playing with my child, talking to my child, singing to my child and reading to her.

From the moment she was born we read to her. We knew her favourite books off by heart. I remember her screaming in the car once so from the front I recited the entire “Each Peach Pear Plum” which was a definite favourite. Books were always how we settled her before every sleep, calmed her when upset and comforted when she was ill.

I remember being part of a government survey when she was a toddler and one question asked whether I read to my daughter 10 minutes a day. I laughed. The lady must have thought I was crazy as I was thinking it was more like hours. It was the thing she wanted to do most. Even before she could walk she would crawl over and grab books out of her book box for us to read. She never seemed to have enough.

I thought that once she learnt to walk she would not want to be read to so much. Instead she would toddle behind me demanding to be read to! One of her first sentences etched in my mind was “Read dis book yep!” All her grandparents, Aunties and Uncles read to her enthusiastically too. They include doctors, teachers a lawyer and even an author.

We owned about 6 or more Mem Fox books. I could recite to you “Time for bed” even now a decade after I read it to my child over and over every night before bed. My husband’s favourite was “Where is the green sheep?” He used to make up silly names for all the characters and would ask my daughter to point out the “Carmen Miranda sheep” and the “Ned Kelly sheep”.

Before school she spent 2 1/2 years at the local preschool. The year before school she had the most amazing preschool teacher 3 days a week who used to teach kindergarten. She read books to the children, did amazing activities, sang songs, played with rhymes.

So my daughter went to school primed to learn to read. She couldn’t have had a better foundation of oral language. In fact her preschool teachers commented about how good her vocabulary was. In her assessments later, when we were looking for answers, she was shown to have verbal comprehension and vocabulary well above average. She loved a complex story early.

In kindergarten we started reading her Harry Potter. Sometimes she’d be wriggling and I would accuse her of not listening. She would then recite to me the last line or tell me what the story line was for the last 10 minutes. At the same age her sister was still enjoying picture books being read to her.

So when she didn’t learn to read we were shocked. She so looked forward to learning to read books because she had always loved books so much. She struggled, she cried and threw predictive readers across the room. She began to hate and fear school. Eventually in year 3 we found out she had Dyslexia and at the age 8 1/2 she had a spelling age of less than 5 and a reading age of 7. After we employed a structured literacy tutor and she spent many hours with me at home reinforcing explicit phonics lessons she learnt to read. But that’s another story.

I know Mem Fox is a passionate advocate of whole language. A methodology of teaching that has been proven time and time again to be not an effective strategy to teach children to read. Her views are from a position of power but are based on significant ignorance. With power and influence comes a great responsibility because the myths you are spreading are doing damage. Kids are being left behind and families are being blamed for their children’s failure.

My understanding is not only supported by research evidence but by the thousands of parent stories I have heard in Dyslexia Support Australia. Parents over and over again tell how they were blamed for their child struggling to learn to read. They discuss in great detail how they always read to their child from day one, yet they did not learn to read. We have teachers in our support group who join when their own child struggles to learn to read. We have parents with multiple children but only one struggled.

I’m not discounting the importance of reading to children in the early development of oral language. It is an essential foundation for later reading acquisition. But well trained teachers can bridge the gap that some children bring to school with them. My child had no oral language gap. My child had no disadvantage other than a disability that could have been overcome without the heartbreak through early evidenced based intervention. Reading 3 books a day to children will not eradicate illiteracy. Training our teachers in systematic and explicit phonics instruction, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension will.

The cutie in the photos is my daughter being read to!

Fighting the good fight – Advocacy and SPELD NSW

Volunteer advocacy is a hard and thankless job at times and it is easy to lose motivation. I’ve been verbally abused quite often and my life seems to revolve around the same frustrating issues. The abuse sometimes seems to outweigh the thanks. But then there are the inspirational moments when a family is helped or a hug is given by a random stranger who I helped but can’t remember. Sometimes the stories of struggling children tug at my heart so much that I am brought to tears. Sometimes the nights are sleepless with the frustration of advocating for change in an education system that is slow to embrace change.

My daughter’s own struggles and successes give me the strength to keep fighting the good fight. I went into advocacy because as a high school teacher I realised that unlike my daughter many children didn’t have a parent with the knowledge skill or drive that I have. Many parents also struggle with illiteracy and have terrible memories of their own schooling. In life and in advocacy I’m a bit like a tornado. I plough my way through just about anything armed with a mountain of evidence. I have the knowledge of the school system and learning difficulties both from a parent and teaching perspective.

I am an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia (DSA) an evidenced based support group, which not only supports families and people affected by Dyslexia, but also strongly advocates for evidenced based literacy instruction for all children. Associated with DSA I have a twitter account and 2 facebook pages aimed at Dyslexia and Dyscalculia awareness. I have been admin of DSA for about 4 years though it seems so much longer!

Through my volunteer work as DSA admin I got involved with all the other Dyslexia advocates and admins across the country. This driven group of angry mums started the Australian charity Code Read Dyslexia Network. I am a founding member and ardent supporter but I am not directly involved in the brilliant work that the board of Code Read Dyslexia Network are doing in raising Dyslexia awareness and driving the push for explicit phonics instruction in Australia. See my blog on Code Read Dyslexia Network here. https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/code-read-dyslexia-network/

Last year I hit a personal roadblock and became a little tired of advocacy. I lost my way a little. This was no doubt compounded by watching my father deteriorate due to the ravages of dementia. At times I actually questioned the point of all the work I do. After my father died in March, George Perry, the new Executive officer of SPELD NSW, and I chatted about the possibility of joining SPELD NSW board. I am not sure whose idea it was but never the less a seed was planted. An opportunity to really make an impact.

George and I met at a Light it Red for Dyslexia event 2 years ago. As a successful dyslexic and with a child with learning difficulties she was keen to learn as much as she could. She also turned out later to be a great choice to drive SPELD NSW forward. George, who has a Law degree, is an example of what can be achieved by people with learning difficulties if given the right support and opportunities.

In back of my mind was the pride my father always had in the volunteer work I do. He brought me up to be the tornado force I am. He brought me up to have a strong opinion but to always back that opinion up with facts. He brought me up to have a strong social conscious and always look after those who were unable to look after themselves. As Regional Director of Probation and Parole Service he had seen the best and worst of people but never lost his faith in humanity. He saw first hand the damage illiteracy does and its long lasting impact on individuals. Many of the children he spoke to in his retirement, as the Official Ministerial visitor to Juvenile Correction facilities, talked about their schooling struggles. The high rates of illiteracy in incarcerated populations are certainly well researched.

So I joined the Board of Directors of SPELD NSW. The Board is made up of a wide range of individuals with expertise in Business, Education, Law, Finance and Marketing. Some have been personally affected by Learning Difficulties and others just have a great personal drive to help people and families affected by learning difficulties. The chairman of SPELD NSW has been a specialist tutor for many years and sees the devastating affects when kids struggle.

After every board meeting at SPELD NSW and every interaction I become inspired to help as many people as I can and drive for change in education. Inspired by the dedication of volunteers and staff at SPELD NSW my drive has been reinvigorated. I feel my skills, experience and knowledge in the area of learning difficulties are valued and appreciated at SPELD NSW. I think at SPELD NSW I might really be able to make a difference. Even my rusty accountancy skills are valued somewhat ,though I don’t find budgetary meetings too invigorating.

It was very exciting to be involved in the SPELD NSW move to new premises in Parramatta, the geographical heart of Sydney. It was certainly inspiring to see the contagious enthusiasm of the executive officer and her dreams for the new space and what it can help SPELD NSW achieve. In house professional development, parent seminars and SPELD NSW as a place to go for learning difficulties in NSW! Hopefully another 50 years of helping families!

A word on SPELD NSW from the SPELD NSW website. “The name SPELD NSW stands for The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of New South Wales. SPELD NSW is a Public Benevolent Institution whose mission is to provide advice and services to children and adults with specific learning difficulties and those who teach, work with and care for them. SPELD NSW is one of the National Federation of SPELD Associations, AUSPELD. It is an incorporated not-for-profit association of parents and professionals committed to advancing the education and well-being of children and adults with Specific Learning Difficulties. SPELD NSW Inc. is a Registered Charity with ACNC.

Yvonne Stewart of Mosman was a Primary school teacher. She started SPELD NSW in 1968. When other States and Territories started SPELD Associations, she created AUSPELD the National Federation for SPELD Associations. She worked tirelessly for over 22 years, most of the time it was run from her home. She and the Committee members went to schools, performed advocacy and helped many parents. In those days it was by letters and phone.

Today, we continue that valuable work.

Big thanks go to all our Members, Committee, Staff and Volunteers past and present who have all helped SPELD NSW remain useful and relevant for our community.”

How to help?

If you have time to spare SPELD NSW certainly has the need for volunteers with any sort of time or commitment. I have done a range of things including move furniture, contact shelves, review the website and pack decodable readers! Please contact George Perry at SPELD NSW to volunteer. https://speldnsw.org.au/volunteer-with-speld-nsw/

SPELD NSW also relies on membership and donations so please join or donate if you can. Every cent is spent wisely! https://speldnsw.org.au/membership/

 

Riding the Dyslexic Unicorn to the land of myths!

Sorting the Dyslexic Myths from the facts

I am a very research orientated and like to stick to the facts! So let’s address some common Dyslexia Myths. 

This was a hard blog to write. It is quite the epic blog. I needed up leaving out a few Myth so there may be a part 2. When I asked our members to give me some myths I didn’t expect to be inundated with such a huge amount of heartbreaking comments. The quotes are comments that parents have been told by friends, relatives, professionals and teachers! I do hate to say it but the majority of these comments are from teachers. 

Some are laughable. 

Some are heartbreaking. 

Some are downright unprofessional. 

  1. Myth: Children with Dyslexia can not learn phonics. It confuses them. Dyslexia needs a different kind of instruction

“Went to the library and told the librarian that I was looking for Dandelion or Fitzroy readers as my son is dyslexic and she said “whatever you do DO NOT teach him phonics. It is just too confusing for them”.”

“This was a comment from a teacher to one of my colleagues (a speechie) a few years ago who was teaching a child phonics in therapy: “Can you stop telling her to sound things out, it’s confusing her in our reading recovery sessions”… She also suggested to the child’s mother to stop doing speech and just focus on reading recovery, luckily she didn’t listen.”

Facts: 

This is a common misconception. Often children with Dyslexia have not received adequate phonics instruction and that is why phonics has failed.  Another reason why people thinks it fails is because people dont develop phonemic awareness along with it. Kilpatrick talks extensively about this and the PA must be trained to advanced level alongside phonics. Advanced PA meaning getting to the stage of phoneme substitution and deletion.This is a failure of instruction and not the child. Children with Dyslexia need intensive explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Phonics instruction is effective for children with Dyslexia, however, children with Dyslexia will generally need a more intensive approach. This is a  well established scientific fact supported by Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), AUSPELD, Australian Dyslexia Association and reputable  International Dyslexia Associations.

“LDA supports approaches to reading instruction that adopt an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading and are consistent with the scientific evidence as to how children learn to read and how best to teach them. This approach is important for all children, but is particularly important for children who have difficulty in learning to read. Programs that follow an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading include as an integral part of the teaching program specific instruction in phonology (phonological and phonemic awareness), sound-symbol associations (letter-sound correspondences), as well as syllable structures, morphology, syntax and semantics (the structure, use and meaning of words) as a basis for developing accurate and fluent reading and reading comprehension.” https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/LDA%20Position%20Statement%20with%20references.pdf

  1. Myth: Dyslexics are just not that smart. 

“In Prep, I was told I was a helicopter mum, that my son was one step above dumb and not to have such high expectations of him, he will get what ever he gets. I have 25 kids in this class and yours is just slower so stop trying to make him out to be something he is not, are you qualified to understand his education??? He can not possibly be smart when he can not read or write!!!!                                                                                  Turns out he is gifted 2E with dyslexia and dysgraphia.”

“Well, I guess he’s not very smart..?”

“what do you mean he has an above average IQ if he can’t read and write then he can’t have.”

“She is really smart, no way she can be dyslexic. She is really verbal, how can she struggle with reading. spelling, writing.”

Facts: 

I.Q. Is not related to reading ability. Dyslexia occurs across the spectrum of I.Q. Levels. “These results converge with behavioral evidence indicating that, regardless of IQ, poor readers have similar kinds of reading difficulties in relation to phonological processing.” Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov;Epub 2011 Oct 17. The brain basis of the phonological deficit in dyslexia is independent of IQ. Tanaka H

 

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is a visual issue or visual processing issue

“Do you want me to print her work on blue paper?” “maybe you should get some of those coloured glasses.”

“Oh you can get them rose coloured glasses to fix that….”

Facts:

Visual comments are the biggest headache for us in our support group. Seeing a behavioural optometrist or Irlen screener seems to be often the first place people go. Including myself I must admit. But I did my research and was smart enough to walk away when the behavioural optometrist couldn’t answer some simple questions about how she accounted for processing speed in her tracking testing! Recommending Irlen or behavioural optometry steers parents away from evidenced based remediation.

“Research has shown that vision problems do not cause dyslexia and vision 

problems are not more common in dyslexics.24 Eye and vision problems including high refractive errors, poor vision, nystagmus, abnormal pursuits or saccadic eye movements, difficulties with “crossing the midline” of the visual field, CI, AI, strabismus, amblyopia, reduced stereopsis, binocular instability, or a magnocellular deficit do not cause or increase the severity of dyslexia. No consistent relationship has been demonstrated between visual perception and academic performance or reading ability. Dyslexia is no more frequent in children with significant eye movement disorders than in the general population.25” https://www.aao.org/pediatric-center-detail/learning-disabilities

See my blog on Irlen Syndrome https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/

See my fact sheet on Vision and reading difficulties https://www.dropbox.com/s/vwobf5ljr1ais5f/Vision%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is a boy thing. He’s just a boy. 

“he’s just a boy they take longer to learn”

“His teacher said he isn’t dyslexic (principal in primary school). He is a boy! He is young! He will get it in his own time! He daydreams too much! I have no issues with him he is very well behaved (yes but he can’t read??)”

“he is a boy. They don’t start reading until they are about 8-9”

“He is so well behaved, so he doesn’t have a learning issue.”

Facts:

Research shows Dyslexia is distributed quite evenly between male and females. There may be slightly more males affected than females. More males tend to be diagnosed as they exhibit secondary behaviours which lead to referral. Girls in general tend to shrink and hide whereas boys will act out their frustration.  “A range of data now indicate that although there are somewhat more boys, significant numbers of girls struggle to read. (Flynn & Rahbar 1994, Shaywitz et al. 1990).” Shaywitz 2007

As for accepting the idea that boys learn to read slower or it is ok that they are not learning to read….We need to take a look at ourselves as a society. There is a general scientific consensus that aptitude for literacy and numeracy is not gendered but a gap exists early due to parental and societal attitudes. Children tend to meet the standard that we set for them. We need to expect all children can read because evidence shows only the most disabled can not learn to read. 

“Research shows that many teachers hold views of boys as “troublesome” and under-achieving, whereas they see girls as “compliant” and high-achieving (Jones & Myhill, 2004). These different perceptions of boys’ and girls’ behavior and abilities from a young age can affect their achievement (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999).” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tell-me-story/201308/the-gender-gap-in-reading

  1. Myth: Children with dyslexia read backwards and reverse letters

“Are you sure he’s dyslexic? He hasn’t writing his letters back to front for a while now” 

“Yeah, people with dyslexia see the words printed backwards/letters all jumbled up.”

Facts: 

Letter reversals are quite developmentally normal until around age 8. They persist sometimes in children with Dyslexia as they are the mistakes of beginning readers which can also exist in children who struggle to learn to read. These errors tend to disappear with appropriate remediation. My Dyslexic child had far less problems with this than her sister. 

“This outcome speaks against the widespread view that reversals in the production of individual letters are a good predictor of future reading problems.” “Educators and clinicians, therefore, should not assume that reversal errors in writing are indicative of dyslexia.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4309997/#!po=10.2941

  1. Myth: Dyslexic children are just lazy. They just need to work harder and pay more attention.

“Sight words/magic words well everyone else can learn them this way, you just need to work harder with him.” 

“He just needs to find motivation and try harder, then he’ll do enough work to pass”

“She doesn’t have a problem – she can do it when she tries hard enough.”         

“What is dyslexia anyway? An excuse to be lazy?”

Facts: 

Children with Dyslexia are often working much harder than other students to produce less work. Dyslexia causes problems with sequencing and organising information so it is difficult for children with dyslexia to work out the purpose of the task and organise their thoughts. Dyslexia makes reading slow, tiring and inaccurate making the question or information difficult to understand and comprehend.

“The dyslexics were using 4.6 times as much area of the brain to do the same language task as the controls,” said Richards, a professor of radiology. “This means their brains were working a lot harder and using more energy than the normal children.” ‘Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area.’ Schwarz (1999) Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from http://www.washington.edu/news/1999/10/04/dyslexic-children-use-nearly-five-times-the-brain-area/

Inattention, lack of focus, poor motivation can all be the result of secondary learned helplessness and anxiety that have developed due to constant failure at tasks. “3Children and adolescents with learning disabilities have high rates of mental health problems and behavioural difficulties.” Allington-Smith 2006

  1. Myth: We don’t use the word Dyslexia anymore

Facts:

Teachers and health care practitioners are under the misinformed impression that the term dyslexia is no longer used and has been removed from the DSM-5. This is categorically incorrect. The extensive 2013 revision of the DSM has most certainly not dropped the term dyslexia but has made the term more formalised as it is specifically stated in the section on specific learning disabilities (disorders). 

“DSM-5 includes dyslexia as a Specific Reading Disorder – “Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities”.(p.67, DSM-5) (APA), 2013 

Please see my blog “The Dirty D word” for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/the-dirty-d-word-2/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia can’t be properly diagnosed

Facts:

Whilst the term dyslexia is used inappropriately by promoters of reading products it has a clearly defined diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and can be adequately identified by well trained and experienced professionals.

The following criteria is used for a diagnosis by an educational psychologist;

“A.      A persistent difficulty learning academic skills for at least 6 months despite intervention. In regard to dyslexia the areas of persistent weakness may include;

-Inaccurate and slow reading.

-Difficulty with word decoding.

-Difficulty with the comprehension of text.

-Spelling Difficulties.

-Difficulties with grammar, punctuation and other writing skills. 

B.       The areas of weakness or skill impairment are significantly below the expectation and impede academic progress. 

C.       Learning difficulties may not be apparent until the demands of school are in excess of the student’s progress.

D.       The academic and learning difficulties do not occur because of other issues such intellectual, hearing, vision, mental health or due to inadequate instruction. ”

Summarised from The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, American Psychiatriac Association (APA), 2013. 

“Science has moved forward at a rapid pace so that we now possess the data to reliably define dyslexia … For the student, the knowledge that he is dyslexic is empowering … [It provides him] with self-understanding and self-awareness of what he has and what he needs to do in order to succeed.” Sally Shaywitz (2017)

  1. Dyslexia doesn’t exist it is all “ disteachia”

Facts:

Whilst there is a percentage of children who have failed to read due to inadequate instruction dyslexia is a recognised and diagnosable condition as per the myth examined above. Dyslexia is reading difficulties that persist despite adequate evidenced based intervention. “There has been over 30 years of documented, scientific evidence and research proving the existence of dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning disabilities to affect children.” http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/dyslexics/learn-about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/debunking-common-myths-about-dyslexia

“Experts in the field have reached a substantial degree of consensus about what is meant by the term and how it should be defined in a clinical context. Dyslexia is widely viewed as a severe reading difficulty that persists despite high-quality evidence-based instruction. This is enshrined in documents such as the Rose Report in the UK, and the Australian Dyslexia Working Party report.” Wheldall, Castles and Nayton, (2014) 

Please see my blog “The Dirty D word” for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/the-dirty-d-word-2/

  1. Myth: Your child will never learn to read. But that is OK!!! They can do a trade or sport or colour in daisy wheels.

The colouring in of daisy wheels was actually the experience of our daughter’s tutor who didn’t learn to read a word until year 5. Diagnosed at 18 after failing her A levels she went on to get a Masters from Cambridge in Psychology and Education.  

“The physiatrist who tested my son and found him to be highly gifted at 5 went on to tell me at 6 that now she had diagnosed dyslexia, Dyscalculia and dysgraphia he would never reach the full potential of his IQ and I would have to modify my expectations of him…”

“Forget about being academic just concentrate on sport.”

“Yours boys are so cute , don’t worry about the Dyslexia they will get great wives “

“Hello, he’s dyslexic! He better get used to being a failure! At least he’s not like (insert name of a child with severe cognitive issues here).”

“He is such a delight don’t worry”

“He’s never going to be a rocket scientist…ironic considering how many dyslexic people become scientists.”

“Take her home and love her… she will never succeed at school”… told by a behavioural optometrist”

“You (parent) expect too much. Your child isn’t a genius, so don’t expect him to be.”

Facts:

We must change systematic acceptance that a certain percentage of kids can not learn to read or succeed. We must have the highest expectations of all children. Placing children in the too hard basket and writing them off as unteachable is unforgivable. Telling a parent that that need to lower their expectations is absolutely unprofessional and hurtful.

The great majority of children can learn to read. The exceptions are only the most profoundly disabled. “Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well.”  “Scientists now estimate that fully 95 percent of all children can be taught to read. Yet, in spite of all our knowledge, statistics reveal an alarming prevalence of struggling and poor readers that is not limited to any one segment of society.” 1999 https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Teaching%20Reading%20is%20Rocket%20Science%20-%20Moats.pdf

We must accept that Australia’s high rate of illiteracy is down to decades of poor literacy instruction based on ideologies rather than science. “Mr Boulton said that According to Reid Lyon and James Wendorf, 95% of the children that are struggling with reading are instructional casualties.” http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=55&n_issueNumber=53

Whether being dyslexic comes with strengths remains a controversial issue that is under researched. There is some limited research that supports improved visual spatial processing strengths in individuals with dyslexia.  People with dyslexia are certainly overrepresented in the arts and the business world but it remains to be seen whether dyslexia confers any extra benefits. It may be that faced with difficulties at school forces the individual to develop a level of resilience to failure and other coping mechanisms that allow them to thrive as entrepreneurs. Children may also seek refuge in the arts and creativity when confronted with the stress of the classroom. 

All children have strengths. The most important thing is that your child finds their strengths and utilises those strengths to help overcome their weaknesses.

Please see my blog post for further detail Dyslexia and the journey to the magical world of reading https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/dyslexia-and-the-journey-to-the-magical-world-of-reading/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia doesn’t qualify for learning support

“dyslexia isn’t funded so we can’t help.”

Facts:

Dyslexia is not specifically funded in any State or Territory under specialist disability funding support. All schools get some funding for children with special needs. Children with dyslexia can access this general learning and support funding. This unfortunately is not specific so will depend on the extent of difficulties, the school and the priorities of the principal. Learning support funding criteria will differ in each Sate and territory. Policies will also differ in Catholic education and private sectors.

“The Australian Government provides substantial funding to education authorities to help meet the educational needs of all students, including those with disability. This funding, provided through the Australian Education Act 2013, also helps schools meet their obligations under the Disability Standards for Education 2005.” Australian Government Department of Education and Training, Students with Disability, 2005

“Students who experience difficulties in basic areas of learning and behaviour are supported through Learning and Support in their local school. Students in primary, secondary and central schools may receive additional assistance in literacy, numeracy, language and behaviour. Students do not need a formal diagnosis of disability to access support through these resources.” Disability Support, NSW Department of Education and Communities.

  1. Myth: I have not taught any dyslexics before!

This is a common response from teachers when told by a parent of a Dyslexia diagnosis. 

“When first got diagnosed we had a meeting with the school Team support teacher for special needs. We asked “we’ll this is all new to us, what have u done for other dyslexic kids in the school?” Her response was ” yeh I think we had ‘a kid’ here ONCE with dyslexia, don’t worry he eventually got it & could read, it just took him till grade 5, really u just need to stop worrying”……………really 1 kid, you’ve been here for 20years & there’s nearly 300 kids at this school, really??????. Yes” 

Facts:

Because dyslexia occurs across a continuum and varies in definition the percentage of people affected is often debatable. Some consensus is that it affects around 10 % of the population with around 3-5% experiencing a significant impact.  Based on statistics you would expect to find 2 to 3 children in every classroom with dyslexia. Many of those are not being identified.  

Please see more blog teaching Dyslexia sorting through the facts for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/teaching-dyslexia-sorting-through-the-facts/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is not recognised as a disability

Parents get told this all the time by teachers and principals. Far too often this is discussed in the support group.

Facts:

Dyslexia is a disability recognised under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 Act. These acts are federal legislation so cover every educational institution in Australia in the public and private sector. The DDA also covers discrimination of the basis of disability in all areas of Australian life including the workplace. 

Unfortunately many schools are unaware that dyslexia is a disability and therefore fail to adequately meet their legal obligations under the DDA and Disability Standards. 

“The definition of ‘disability’ in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is sufficiently broad as to include dyslexia within the meaning of that term as outlined in recommendation 1.  Dyslexia would therefore be covered by the provisions of both the DDA and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 made under that Act.” Australian Government response to recommendations of the Dyslexia Working Party Report (2012)

Please see also the Dyslexia and the law Fact Sheet https://www.dropbox.com/s/1sci4cews929j57/Dyslexia%20and%20the%20law%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

  1. Myth: They can’t read because you didn’t read to them enough. 

“It’s such a shame when that happens. Some people just don’t realise the importance of reading & talking to their children from a young age.”

“it’s really important that your kids are exposed to language even if you have to read to them” or “kids should be exposed to language and the written word from a young age”… oh right, thanks, haven’t thought if that. Parents of dyslexics have probably had to read more out loud, do more work around language than any other parent. “

“Vice principal – “honestly you work a lot do you think maybe if you quit and just read to him more that would help ?”

“It’s because you didn’t read to them when they were little.”

“Have you tried reading to him each night?”

There were countless comments like these. Everyone shows a distinct lack of understanding how children learn to read and absolute unprofessionalism blaming a child lack of progress on the parent. The primary goal of primary school is to teach kids to read. This is the school’s responsibility. It is it’s reason for existence!

Facts: 

I can guarantee every parent in our support group has read a lot to their children. They are concerned enough to be in the group looking for answers. I read to both my children from birth. One easily learnt to read and the other didn’t. For the dyslexic child we were reading things to her like Harry Potter from kindergarten. She always loved language and complex stories. Whereas our non dyslexic child liked picture books for a long time. We still read to both our kids every night and the youngest is 11.

Certainly reading to children does impact oral language including phonemic awareness and vocabulary and it is certainly an essential foundation but it won’t teach a child to read.

“The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

Please see my blog on learning read is not a natural process for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/phonics-check-myth-buster-2-learning-to-read-is-a-natural-process-and-advocating-just-a-phonics-approach-destroys-a-childrens-love-of-books/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is rare

“I’ve never taught a dyslexic child before.”

“I’ve taught one Dyslexic child before.”

“what’s Dyslexia? I’ll go home an google tonight “

“I’ve been teaching 20 years and I’ve never had a dyslexic child before….”

Facts:

Because dyslexia occurs across a continuum and varies in definition the percentage of people affected is often debatable. Some consensus is that it affects around 10 % of the population with around 3-5% experiencing a significant impact. Based on statistics you would expect to find 2 to 3 children in every classroom with dyslexia. Many of those are not being identified. 

We get a lot of teachers joining our support group looking for ways to help a student they have in their class. Sometimes we get 20 a day. Learning support teachers, librarians, principals and some of these are teachers who are stumped because their own child just got diagnosed. 

Are we are happy they are seeking help? Most certainly!

Are we shocked that they don’t know what to do? No!

Are we sad that a volunteer support group is the place to go to find answers? A little. 

We would love to see all teachers adequately trained in

  • Identifying kids at risk of reading failure
  • Basics of Dyslexia
  • Accommodations and learning adjustments for children with Dyslexia
  • Evidenced based reading instruction 
  • Legal obligations under Disability legislation 
  1. Your child will grow out of it

“He will grow out of it. It’s a phase he’s going through 

“I had that but I grew out of it”

Facts:

Dyslexia is a neurological disability that affects the language system and the development of literacy skills. It is defined as a specific learning disorder, more specifically a reading disorder. It is characterised by problems with spelling, accurate or fluent word recognition, working memory, processing speed, rapid automatic naming, reading comprehension, phonological decoding and weak phonemic awareness.  

Dyslexia is not curable and is a lifelong disability. It can be remediated with appropriate interventions but some difficulties may still persist and need to be managed adequately.

  1. Myth: Just wait and see as some kids just take longer to learn to read.

“Comments from the gp when trying to get a referral for speech therapy – well no 6 year old can spell or read well, parents need to help them more and not waste our time.”

“There’s no need for private tutoring. He’s not in yr 11 /12 yet. Wait till then – friend.”

“The teacher aide tells me he seems to know his sight words and honestly his such and adorable little boy just give him time.“

“He will “get it” eventually, it will just “click”.”

Facts:

Early intervention is absolutely essential to ensure the reading and learning gap does not continue to widen and prevent the development of secondary mental health issues. 

Initial failure predicts future failure!

  • 90% of poor readers in first grade are poor readers in fourth grade (Juel, 1988)
  • 74% of children who are poor readers in the third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade (Francis etal., 1996)
  • Many children with difficulty in learning to read develop a negative self concept within their first two years of schooling (Chapman, Tunmer, & Prochnow, 2000)

Importance of sticking to the facts 

Comments of a parent “How I feel when I hear these comments? Shocked, frustrated, annoyed, angry, upset to say the least.” Think about the impact on these parents and kids before you spread a myth or shatter the parent. Parents are fragile. This is their beautiful smart child that you are saying things about. The parents are fighting with all their energy to do the best for their child so you should give them the respect to do your research or say nothing! Myths also delay effective remediation and early intervention is essential.

This one may seem like a comedy sketch but unfortunately it is not….but I will leave it with you….gave a few of us a good laugh. Laughing because otherwise we would cry!

“My daughter was lying in her hospital bed the other night & overheard a phone conversation. She sent me a text & relayed one side of the conversation:

” No, he has dyslexia. It’s an eye condition. Yes, they have special eyes. They can’t see words or letters at all. …… I know…. strange isn’t it? They open a book & its pages look blank. Their eyes can see everything except words. Yes….. special eyes….. I don’t know what causes it. I actually heard that there are dyslexic authors. I don’t see how they could write….. well maybe they write but they can see the words they write on the page……. unless they just get someone else to write it for them.”