March 6, 2023

Early identification of Dyslexia: what difference does it make?

Dyslexia is the most common learning difficulty. Findings from The Dyslexia Institute (DI) estimate there are 1.2 million children in the UK with dyslexia. That is an average of two to three children in every classroom. 

Undiagnosed dyslexia is an issue in both primary and secondary schools. Out of 8.7 million schoolchildren in England, a Department for Education (DfE) report in 2019 estimated fewer than 150,000 are diagnosed. 

Dyslexia is a dimensional disorder, which means that children can have mild, moderate, or severe dyslexia. And this can make identifying and diagnosing dyslexia in schools challenging. 

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia causes difficulties in learning to read, write, and spell. It is a brain-based developmental disorder with consequences that persist from the preschool years through to adulthood. Intelligence isn’t affected, and dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence: average, above average, and highly gifted. It is a lifelong condition, made easier with early identification and specialist teaching and tutoring.

Challenges in identifying dyslexia

Dyslexia is complex and difficult to identify. Early signs a child might have dyslexia could be:

  • delayed speech development compared with peers
  • difficulties with expression 
  • understanding rhyming words 

Signs of dyslexia become more apparent as the learner begins school and starts to focus on learning to read and write. These can include: 

  • confusion with letter recognition, such as b and
  • confusion with number recognition, such as 6 and 9
  • inconsistent spelling
  • difficulty with sequencing (e.g., learning the days of the week or months of the year)
  • difficulty reading 
  • difficulty with maths
  • being able to explain but having difficulties writing thoughts onto paper

Often, there are overlapping or co-occurring difficulties related to: 

  • language and speech
  • motor coordination
  • short-term memory
  • concentration 
  • organisational skills

Dyslexia often overlaps with other conditions, including:

  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyspraxia
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Why is an early diagnosis of dyslexia important? 

A main benefit of early identification is that it allows for early intervention, which can help to mitigate the effects of dyslexia. Early identification of dyslexia can make a significant difference in the life of a child. But if dyslexia is identified and addressed early, pupils can receive the support and accommodations they need to succeed in school and in life.

As Donna Stevenson, Head of Training and Assessment at Succeed with Dyslexia (SWD), explains, “Early identification is becoming increasingly important in our understanding of how best to support individuals and encourage ownership of individual differences and is a key part of becoming your authentic self.  It also makes perfect sense in terms of the earlier we can identify learning differences, the sooner we can implement the most effective learning support strategies that are the perfect fit for the individual.” 

Benefits of early dyslexia diagnosis for students

Identifying dyslexia at an early stage helps pupils get a clearer picture of their own needs and areas in which they need support. A student can begin to understand their learning differences and develop strategies for coping with them. It can lead to accommodations that can level the playing field for children with dyslexia in the classroom.  

Early dyslexia diagnosis can help:  

  • to prevent or reduce frustration
  • low self-esteem and confidence
  • poor academic performance 
  • reduce truancy levels and/or exclusions 
  • students realise their potential
  • reduce the likelihood that a child with dyslexia will be mislabeled as lazy, unmotivated, or unintelligent by peers, teachers, and/or parents. 

This might include:

  • specialist teaching 
  • one-to-one tuition tutoring
  • access to assistive technology
  • bespoke teaching techniques 
  • extra time for exams. 

Schools can provide the appropriate interventions that not only reduce the impact of dyslexia but also ease the pupil’s transition to secondary school. Earlier diagnosis can also ensure pupils receive the right support at all stages of their education, from primary school to further and higher education.

Setting up a dyslexic child for classroom success

Donna Stevenson explains: “The key to successful dyslexia-friendly learning is using a multi-sensory approach.  This is all about utilising the senses to learn, having something to look at, listen to and using an active, ‘doing approach’ to learning.  Over-learning is often required and to avoid boredom or demoralisation, it is important to make over-learning activities active and fun. Learning by association and linking learning can be really important too, with the teacher scaffolding ways to learn.”

A number of small adjustments incorporated into everyday teaching can make differences that benefit all learners. 

  • Use a dyslexia-friendly font like Arial or Comic Sans (avoid Times New Roman.)
  • Make sure that presentations have a coloured background and that handouts are off-white. 
  • Chunk information where possible, so that learners are not overwhelmed with information.
  • Develop a multi-sensory teaching approach so that the pupil’s brain can process and store information in various ways.
  • Keep up-to-date on assistive technology for the classroom.
  • Provide clear and constructive marking judged for content without over-correction of spellings. 

Less than half of teachers feel confident teaching people with literacy difficulties. Under a quarter report having access to specialist teachers who can support the needs of dyslexic pupils. Tutoring can complement classroom learning. 

The benefits of tutoring for dyslexic learners

The number, type, and severity of the characteristics vary from one dyslexic child to another.

Dan, a tutor for Fleet Education Services, explains: “Tutors can try tailored approaches and use a variety of techniques, including helping students move away from some rigid habits. Tutoring can help by providing acceptance and encouragement to the learner and by helping them to develop their learning at a manageable pace.”

Dyslexic learners often enjoy working in smaller groups, discrete help, and having more time to process information and complete tasks. A trained tutor who is aware of dyslexia difficulties will assist students in working from their strengths. They can use more visual aids such as diagrams, pictures, charts, interactive whiteboards, and mind maps. And the student will receive praise and encouragement.

Problems arising due to undiagnosed dyslexia 

Students can become depressed if dyslexia is not diagnosed early and a pattern of academic failure develops. Missing out on extra time (often 25%) in exams can have a detrimental effect on grades.

When dyslexia goes undetected, students may experience detentions, suspensions, or expulsion. This is often due to a deterioration in their behaviour due to their frustration with not being taught in an accessible way. According to research cited in the 2021 review of neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System (CJS), the prevalence of dyslexia among the adult prison population is 50%.

Many children lose confidence in their abilities which can carry on into adulthood. 

What can teachers and parents do if they suspect dyslexia?

A formal assessment for dyslexia is carried out either by a specialist dyslexia teacher or by a chartered educational or occupational psychologist. 

The SEND Code of Practice states that if a teacher suspects that a learner has special educational needs (SEN), they must inform the child’s parents and include them in discussions about what is the best support for their child.

If a parent thinks their child may have dyslexia, the first step is to speak to their teacher or their school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). They may organise a formal assessment and/or offer additional support such as tutoring to help your child. 

About Fleet Education Services for tutoring 

Fleet Education Services is the UK’s largest specialist tuition provider. As a DfE-accredited National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partner, we will tailor the right solution to your school’s needs in small groups or one-to-one sessions. We help over a third of local authorities and 700 schools. 

Find out how you can help your dyslexic learners today:

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