This week for our #TBT debate, we want to get people talking about dyslexia. Is this something that we can ‘cure’? What are your experiences with dyslexia, have you found any methods that help your child? Get in touch and let us know!
My cousin Amanda Kirby is an expert in the field of dyslexia and dyspraxia, and it’s something that I’m very interested in now that I have children of my own. I’m dyslexic, and so is my husband, and this topic has been on my mind a lot recently since both my children have gone back to school.
I called Mandy to see if there’s anything I can look out for or anything in particular I can do to help my children. She told me about her new child developmental milestone tracker that she’s been working on for quite some time, which aims to help track and monitor your child’s development. I was on to it immediately. I’m very impressed and so pleased to have something to make me feel proactive when it comes to my children’s education. Currently, the children’s tracker is offline but they also have one for parents that you can find here.
Wow – I thought that would grab you! Probably not fair to do that as I am no snake oil seller, but only trying to alert you to potential unscrupulous ‘professionals’ trying to sell magic without research evidence, but often encouraging you to part with your money.
Those headlines in the paper can lure any parent. As parents I believe fundamentally that most of us want the best for our children. When we see the headlines with ‘cure’ in it it can seem so seductive. There is often a case study included citing how the x or y treatment changed my child’s life. Sometimes the marketing materials will use neuro-babble or pseudo-scientific terms as well to persuade you that they know what they are talking about. In some interventions, even the ones bagged up as ‘cures’, there may be an element of practice and repetition built into some of the programmes, and also encouragement and approaches to motivate you and your child (e.g. a graph to show change) in some way or another. This approach alone may have some impact, but may have nothing to do with the treatment itself. By talking with a professional and discussing the challenges you face this may also be of real therapeutic value. Often committing to a consultation or assessment and exchanging money can mean you are focusing on what you want to be done, or feel needs to be done.
As a parent of a now adult with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD, I would have loved to have done something with, or for my child to make his school life easier. When he was young I kept my eyes open to all that was on offer and considered some of these ‘cures’. I had an advantage of being a doctor and researcher and could dig deeply beneath the headlines to explore whether there was a basis for the claims.
The reality is important to recognise and remember, that every child is different. A ‘one size fits all’ model is just not possible. So, take the quick fix pill or jumping up and down twice a day every day is very unlikely to sort out complex conditions that we are only just coming to understand.
Your child’s genetics, their home setting, and the profile of their strengths and challenges will be unique, but there may be some common aspects that allow a diagnosis of one condition or another. For example, the term Dyslexia, which is an umbrella term, is
generally understood to mean difficulties with reading, spelling and writing despite good quality teaching. Each child will have a different pattern of challenges relating to literacy. Some children will find spelling words hard to do and other children will find writing the words on the page difficult, and others will find taking meaning from the words hard to understand. Some children will have all those difficulties and some may only have one aspect. At the same time one child may also have difficulties staying focused and be a bit fidgety, where another may find making friends harder to do. A third child may have all these difficulties and also have difficulties with co-ordination and handwriting. There is good evidence that learning difficulties all overlap with one another to some extent. It is the ‘whole child’ that is important to understand including their emotional wellbeing as well.
When deciding on an intervention for a child who is struggling in one domain or another the first stage is gaining as complete a picture as possible. This includes understanding what bothers the child, what concerns the parents and the teachers, and this allows priorities to be set with meaningful goals. Motivation and interest are a major driver for planning any intervention. A topic that interests a child can encourage practice and (even more important) make it fun and not a chore at all. This allows confidence to be gained and self esteem built. A good assessment by an appropriately qualified professional can help to ascertain where the challenges precisely lie.
Forgive me for the headline, but in reality there are no quick fixes, and no miracle cures still at present. What we do know, is that like Olympic athletes appropriate and sufficient practice in the areas that are problematic can make a huge difference to bridging the gap for a struggling learner. In the same way as a budding musician needs to play regularly and focus their practice to master their skills, we need to see the child with Dyslexia or Dyspraxia needing similar opportunities to do the same and to open up their potential. Seeing a child grow into the best they can be surely is the real miracle!
Professor Amanda Kirby MBBS MRCGP PhD
Chair in developmental disorders, University of South Wales
Professor Kirby’s Adult Developmental Milestones Tracker – to help track and monitor your development.