As an undergraduate teacher I was fortunate to attend a private college for a year where I was taught by passionate and informed lecturers who were experienced in working with children with reading difficulties. They impressed on us the sacred responsibility that we have, as teachers, to ensure that every child under our care is learning to read. One lecturer even invited the parent of a former student to talk to the undergraduate students every year about the devastating impact of their child’s reading difficulties and the frustrations of teachers and schools not understanding how to help or teach reading in a systematic and structured way.
While I was studying my teaching degree, I volunteered at a small independent school and was fortunate to meet a family whose son had been diagnosed with dyslexia. I remember vividly the distress caused by the psychologist who made the diagnosis when she advised the students’ parents that they would have to carefully consider the future jobs their son would be able to do. I remember hearing about how a teacher at a previous school had given him lego and toys during spelling lessons because his difficulties were so pronounced. I remember him writing the ‘f’ word on the board one day and being torn between knowing that word was not ok, but being thrilled that all sounds in the word had been accurately represented and spelled. I began tutoring this little boy in reading and soon discovered a willing, engaged learning who just needed to be taught reading systematically.
Every single teacher is going to encounter students with dyslexia, and yet the vast majority of us aren’t even sure what it is. How is that possible? How is it ok that about 10% of our students can be affected by Dyslexia and yet teachers are left completely in the dark about how to support them? In the days before the internet, it is understandable that you followed the advice of people around you and might not have had access to quality information about Dyslexia. These days, there is simply no reason you can’t be well informed. There are so many organisations and groups dedicated to providing information and support, that it possible for us to share this information with every single teacher we know.
I am fortunate to be a member of a terrific group called Code Read Dyslexia Network. This advocacy organisation was started by vocal and passionate parents seeking a better learning experience for their children. This group is now made up of parents, doctors, teachers, speech therapist and a whole range of other people who are seeking to advocate for students with dyslexia, their parents and their teachers. They meet with whoever will listen to advocate for ALL children in schools to receive systematic, structure teaching in phonics and reading, because the way that we should teach dyslexic students benefits every student walking through our doors. Code Read Dyslexia Network has a fabulous website where you can find out all sorts of information, so I am not going to rehash the awesome Frequently Asked Questions page nor try to replicate the extremely comprehensive fact sheets, but I am going to share a few myth busting pieces of information with you.
Myth Number One
Coloured overlays or glasses fix dyslexia
Fact: Dyslexia is not a visual issue and so is not treated by coloured glasses or overlays. Dyslexia is a pervasive difficulty in learning to read, often caused by phonological and phonemic processing challenges.
Myth Number Two
Children with Dyslexia have a low IQ
Fact: Children with dyslexia have average or above intelligence. Many people with dyslexia go on to be very successful business people and accomplish great things. Think Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs.
Myth Number Three
“We didn’t have Dyslexia in my day. It isn’t a real thing now”
Fact: There have always been people effected by dyslexia in our schools and communities. Unfortunately, those people were often labelled as ‘slow’ or ‘unintelligent’. My beloved Uncle never learned to read or write. At the end of his life he was able to write his name and a short message in my Aunty’s birthday card. Despite this, he had been a supervisor in his workplace and wonderful human being. This was in the days before computers and he was supported in his work because his ‘know how’ was amazing. I wish that I could go back in time to when he was a little boy and teach him to read so that he could avoid the feelings of being unworthy that plagued him his whole life. We now know more about Dyslexia and are able to support children accordingly. Despite much evidence, there are still school systems that refuse to acknowledge Dyslexia exists or enable school psychologist to make an appropriate diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that Dyslexia doesn’t exist. It just isn’t always recognised and supported.
Myth Number Four
We will wipe out reading difficulty if parents just read books to their children.
Fact: Reading books to children is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged, but it doesn’t teach children to read. Many, many parents of dyslexic children read to them every night and provided literature rich households and yet they still don’t learn to read well or at all. What teaches children to read is a teacher with the knowledge how to deliver solid, systematic, evidence based practice in phonics and reading. Check out this Tweet from Code Read’s Julie Mavlian
Now, consider this quote from Australian children’s author Mem Fox.
“There exist highly privileged children in our society who cannot read, or will not read. It’s not difficult to find out why: they have television; they have toys, computer games, personal devices, bikes and all the trappings of a well-off childhood; but they don’t have books. These children often have a reading problem at school that their panic-stricken parents disguise under the socially acceptable label of dyslexia.”
The view that dyslexia is a made up condition used by privileged parents to excuse the absence of books in their homes is not only ludicrous, it is insulting and just plain wrong. Excessive screen time is an issue to be addressed, but it is not the cause of dyslexia.
My message here?
Please don’t ask the parent of a struggling reader if they read to them at home!
The Code Read Network has recently launched the 2020 awareness campaign, “Read My Frustration”
You can get involved in advocating for students with Dyslexia by participating in the Do It Red activities in the month of October. At a very minimum, you can pop one of these posters on your staff room notice board.
Find this poster here.
Light it Red is a fantastic way to make the struggles of dyslexia visible in your community. Here is a picture of my local council chambers in 2019 that was lit up in red lights for the whole month of October. Arranging it was as easy as sending an email.
If you are a wine drinker or are looking for Christmas gifts you can contribute to Code Read Dyslexia Network by purchases from Goodwill Wine. They donate a percentage of sales to the network if you select them as your chosen charity.
You can order your wine here.
Supporting students with dyslexia is about having good solid Tier 1 reading instruction in the first place. It is then about recognising the moment a child starts to fall behind in their learning and providing suitable, effective reading intervention to ensure that the child keeps up with their peers. If you are a teacher who wants to know more about supporting struggling readers in your classroom, you can join my Teach Along – Supporting Struggling Readers. Learn more here.