dyslexia diagnosis
Tricky stuff

Life after dyslexia diagnosis

If your child has just been diagnosed with dyslexia, it is important for parents to first get their own head around the information. Don’t hesitate to get back to the psychologist to have the report explained. Reports do have to contain a certain amount of technical data, which can be confusing, but the report tells you so much about your child, not just their dyslexia, but their profile of strengths and weaknesses.

The most important thing to remember is don’t panic – there is life after dyslexia diagnosis.

Focus on the strengths

When helping a child with dyslexia, and especially when talking to a child about their dyslexia, it is as important to recognise their strengths. Sometimes it is easy to focus too much on their weaknesses, because you naturally want to help them manage those areas better. Balance really is key. If your child has to go for some specialist tuition outside of school for their dyslexia on one evening, try to balance that with another extra-curricular activity on another day which taps into their strengths – it could be sport, drama, art, whatever they are good at. Recognising strengths and also recognising effort and achievement is also very important in order to protect the child’s self-esteem.

Even prior to diagnosis, children with dyslexia are often acutely aware that they learn differently, don’t read or spell as well as other children in their class. It is essential not to compare a child with dyslexia with a child who doesn’t have dyslexia. If your child struggles with the spelling test, don’t expect perfection. Expect that they will work hard and try their best, and that they will aim to get a slightly better score on future tests – 5/10 instead of 4/10 should be celebrated as a good improvement, not viewed as only getting half right.

Success is always possible

Talking to your child about dyslexia is important to help them understand why they learn differently, that they are not stupid. Their brain works in a different way. This means that some tasks will be harder, some skills will take longer to learn and they may need to get some specialist help along the way.

However, while dyslexia does mean that they will have to work harder, them can still achieve their potential. There are many famous people with dyslexia, but as dyslexia is genetic and runs in families, there are often examples close to home of people who succeeded in life despite dyslexia, by learning to manage it and choosing a career which tapped into their strengths.

Work with the school

It is important for parents to develop a good working relationship with your child’s school and teachers. In order to support a child with a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, a partnership approach between home and school is best. The child with dyslexia may need extra help in school to address their difficulties with literacy and learning, and they will also need extra support at home with homework, or time spent revising and over-learning reading and spelling techniques.

Your child’s learning support teacher may even give worksheets to parents to support the specialist tuition done in school. Children with dyslexia due to their difficulties with memory and processing speed need a lot of repetition and over-learning. Home and school working together can enhance the child’s learning progress.

With an informed parent

advocating for their child’s needs, working in partnership with the school, and availing of any appropriate resources or learning supports, the child will reach their potential. Always remember that the goal is for your child to become an independent, confident self-sufficient learner, so that when they move on to further education or third level, they will be able to succeed in their chosen career.

Be positive

While dyslexia can be diagnosed from about six and a half years upwards, some students do not get diagnosed until second level or occasionally third level. Irrespective of when the diagnosis is made, the important thing is to take the information the assessment report provides and move forward in a positive way. The educational psychologist will recommend appropriate learning supports and any accommodations, which may be needed to help the student manage their dyslexia.

What is dyslexia?

There are many definitions of dyslexia. A very simple one would be that dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, which makes it hard for some people to learn to read, write and spell correctly. The recent Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia (2001) suggests the following more scientific definition:

Dyslexia is manifested in a continuum of specific learning difficulties related to the acquisition of basic skills in reading, spelling and/or writing, such difficulties being unexplained in relation to an individual’s other abilities and educational experiences. Dyslexia can be described at the neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. It is typically characterised by inefficient information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing and motor skills may also be present.

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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.