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Archive for May, 2014

When should a child be assessed?

May 16 2014

When should a child be assessed?

In the first years of schooling it is difficult to form any definitive conclusions about children who might have specific learning difficulties. One risk factor alone does not constitute a dyslexic profile. Some children grow out of their problems and there could be a host of other causal factors which might have delayed some aspects of cognitive development such as, social and emotional factors, family and environmental factors.

It must also be remembered that some children within the early years of schooling who exhibit none of the risk factors may later go on to display dyslexic tendencies. It is possible for literacy difficulties to be masked until the curriculum begins to make a greater demand on the child in the junior years/first and second classes.

The challenge for Nursery and Infant class teachers is in knowing which of the observable behaviours are developmental and which signal potential difficulty. We know that children learn at different rates and each child needs to reach that ‘point of readiness’. Some children just keep us waiting and then without any warning suddenly blossom!

Research into ‘at risk’ factors can now point to ‘early indicators’ which might warrant further investigation and thus provides a starting point for continuous observation by the infant class teacher. Building up a comprehensive picture of the child will serve as the background evidence needed for subsequent intervention/support programme .

Possible ‘at risk’ indicators in the early years and infant classes are:

Oral Communication
The child who
…displays word finding difficulties( eg during sand play, he/she refers to the ‘digging thingy’ and accompanies this with gestures for digging. It is not that he/she does not have the word spade, it is just that he/she has a problem retrieving it from memory when they need it)
…have their hands up to answer a question but cannot answer appropriately
…attaches the incorrect verbal labels to everyday objects
…uses gesture and mime more than other children to convey meaning
…substitutes words, eg ‘water pot’ for ‘watering can’ or ‘lamp post’ for ‘lampshade’
…uses jumbled phrases eg, ‘beddy tear’ for ‘teddy bear’ or ‘par cark’ for ‘car park’
…may use bizarre forms of words eg suebegi for spaghetti or plisters for slippers

Phonological Awareness
The child who
…is unable to recite a nursery rhyme
…struggles to identify the odd one out in cat, mat , sat, dog
…unable to generate a rhyming word in a sequence, eg, fat, cat, sat, hat, pat,
…cannot pick the odd one out in a group of words with the same beginning phoneme, eg cat, cap, cot, dog
…consistently ‘gets it wrong’ in a game of I spy because he/she has not understood it is the first letter sound which is required to guess the target word.

Alphabet knowledge
The child who
…cannot sequence the alphabet orally
…cannot correctly identify the 26 lower case letters of the alphabet
…has difficulty identifying the upper case letters
…struggles to write their own name

Short term working memory
The child who
…struggles to retell a simple story they have just heard
…has difficulty remembering simple class songs and chants and routines
…have great difficulty placing a set of three picture cards in the correct order
…cannot repeat a four item sequence or set of actions

Attention and Perseverance
The child who unable to sustain concentration, for example during story time
…does not complete tabletop activities
…seems to flit from one activity to the next displaying minimal engagement
…consistently avoids reading and writing activities
…finds it hard to play collaboratively

By the end of the infant classes, the classteacher has built up individual profiles of children who are not working within expected norms. It is at this stage when it is possible to make the most difference by appropriate interventions.

It is usually a child’s lack of satisfactory response to intervention and extra support that will trigger a specialist assessment. It is sensible therefore to wait until a child has reached seven years before initiating a full diagnostic assessment for dyslexia.

Children themselves are only too aware at this stage that peers are forging ahead and anxiety frequently accompanies difficulties. Studies have revealed that self esteem at this stage of development is closely linked to peer acceptance and ‘being one of the gang’. The difficulties experienced by the dyslexic child in the school setting needs to be managed sensitively. An indication of this careful handling is the child who with weak reading skills explain that he/she loves books and reading. This is a child who has been given books to read that they can manage as well as the love of reading being protected and nurtured through paired reading programmes and being read with.

Co-occurring Difficulties

May 16 2014

Co-occurring Difficulties

Specific Learning Difficulties(SpLD's) are a family of related conditions with significant overlap and co-occurrence, with dyslexia being the most common. The specific learning difficulties include Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and ADHD/ADD and all effect the way information is learned and processed. They are of  neurological origin, more often hereditary and all are unrelated to intelligence.

A plausible cause of co-occurrence is the proximity between brain regions that serve different cognitive functions and in particular their shared neural networks. Much research continues into developmental disorders and there are real signs that genetics, brain imaging, computational modelling and experimental cognitive techniques are coming together to improve our understanding of the causal pathways.

Dyspraxia / Developmental Co-ordination Disorder(DCD)

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as Dyspraxia, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. Children may present with difficulties in , for example, self-care, writing, riding a bike, throwing and catching, as well as other educational and recreational activities. In adulthood, new skills such as learning to drive or DIY tasks may be difficult to master. There may be a range of co-occurring difficulties such as problems with time management, planning and organisation.


Dyscalculia refers to the inability to understand simple number concepts and to master basic numeracy skills. There are likely to be difficulties dealing with numbers at very basic levels, such as learning number facts and procedures, telling the time, time keeping, understanding quantity, prices and money.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD)/ Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder affects an individual's ability to control attention and behaviour in an optimal and adaptive manner. The disorder often occurs together with the tendency to be overactive and impulsive. Behaviour may be erratic, unpredictable and inappropriate, often  blurting out inappropriate comments or interrupting excessively.

Dyslexia in adults

May 04 2014

Dyslexia in adults

Dyslexia as a learning difference persists into adulthood.

Recent years have produced greater understanding among educationalists of the opportunities and challenges of having dyslexia. However this leaves a great many older individuals who have went through an educational system believing they were ‘slow’, unintelligent’, ‘lazy’ and with a ringing in the ear of the phrase ‘must try harder’.

It is likely that the adult with dyslexia will  have found many strategies to overcome everyday difficulties but may not be fully utilising their relative strengths. An in-depth assessment may also be the answer to understanding the reasons for 'not doing well at school'. A diagnosis can provide the explanation and the opportunity to discuss previous frustrations and misunderstandings.

Access arrangements for exam purposes or in the workplace may also be the motivating factors to initiate a full diagnostic assessment.

Questions to consider before seeking an assessment

  • Do you often lose your place or miss out lines when reading?
  • Do you often confuse visually similar words such as dig and dog?
  • Do you have trouble distinguishing between left and right?
  • Do you often get confused when given several instructions at once?
  • Do you often reread text to understand the meaning?
  • Do you regularly make mistakes when taking down messages?
  • Do you struggle often to find the right word to say?
  • Do you find it difficult to sound out words such as e-le-phant?
  • Do you find it difficult to read aloud?
  • Did you learn multiplication tables easily?
  • Do you often think of creative solutions to problems?


Learning to read

May 02 2014

So why do some children have difficulty learning to read and spell?

Learning to read is a complex process. It is not a natural development in the way that language is. It must be taught as it’s a product of our cultural development rather than biological evolution.

First of all reading can be divided into two areas:

  1. the ability to decode or ‘work out’ what the sounds of the letters in a word are and then put them together to work out the whole word.
  2. understand what those words mean or what the sentence means.

We read to gain meaning and so both of these parts are integral to the process. You cannot have one without the other. Decoding comes first followed by the understanding.

In order to decode, the learner needs to understand the alphabetic principle of mapping the sound of the letter (the phoneme) to its written form (the grapheme). In the English language this straight forward one to one mapping does not exist as it does in many other languages such as Italian or Greek as most sounds(phonemes) in the English language are represented by two, three, four and five letters to represent just one sound. Consider the word through. The three letter thr is one sound in the word and the four letter ough is another, no straight forward mapping there. However ough is also pronounced differently when it’s in the word though, differently again in the word thought. The learner of English needs to learn a complex set of rules in order to decode words.

These alphabetic skills rely heavily on the learner’s ‘phonological awareness’. Phonological awareness is the ability to distinguish sounds within words which are heard, not written; aural not visual. Research tells us that phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading success. By five years old most children will be able to supply you with examples of other children’s names starting with the letter B - Bill, Brad, Barbara. Games which require children to make judgements on the basis of ‘odd man out’ – where three or four objects begin with the same sound; cat, car, dog, cot or questions such as, ‘If I take away the s in slip, what word do I get?, will help to identify children with poor phonological skills. Four year olds should be able recite nursery rhymes and to join in with them, supplying the missing rhymes, thus ‘Jack and Jill went up the…’ A vulnerability in this area is a strong indicator that a child might be at risk for dyslexia.

Models of reading development refer to the skilled word reader accessing a dual route in order to decipher words on the page. The successful reader will use his phonological skills(sub lexical route) as well as using his/her store of words that are known quickly by sight (lexical route) to identify words and subsequently gain meaning of the text. An over use of either route in the early developing reader needs to addressed.