27 Aug 2020

Where can parents get help if their child's dyslexic?

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 27 August 2020

For most children, learning to read is a challenge. For a small number of children, it can be especially difficult.

Carla McNeil is the director of Learning Matters, which helps parents and teachers to support children who experience dyslexia.

She has some advice for what to do if you suspect your child is dyslexic.

Alphabet for kids concept. English letters in disorder on blue background top view.

Photo: 123RF

As we learn to read, we commit them to our long-term memory by storing them in what scientists call the brain's 'letterbox', McNeil says, yet people with dyslexia find it very difficult to 'bank' words in this way and build a reading network.

If your child is having speech challenges early on, at two or three, they won't necessarily become dyslexic but getting them some help with sound-based skills will later help with their reading, she says.

If your child is already in school and really struggling with reading, keep the perspective of your child's classroom teacher in mind before you take any steps.

The teacher is in charge of your child's learning journey and they deserve due respect, especially because many haven't had the opportunity or resources to develop science-based knowledge of reading difficulties, McNeil says.

That said, in many cases, parents should trust their instincts: "I would say to every mum or dad or every nana listening that if you have a hunch [about your child's challenges], I would guarantee that your hunch is pretty much accurate."

If you think you have a dyslexic child or struggling reader, act early and persevere, she says.

"Waiting until 7, waiting until 10, waiting until 13 is too late because the research tells us that if a child is not reading at their chronological reading age at 9 years of age it is really difficult to help them to make the accelerated progress to get there."

Yet be careful not to push your child to read yourself, McNeil says.

"Parents, don't force reading on your children when it is hard, when there are tears, when it causes angst, because all we do is feed that low self-esteem.

"We are better to read to our children and to build our knowledge of the science of reading and structured literacy… we are actually better to do less in terms of pushing our book in front of children."

In New Zealand, it can cost hundreds of dollars to get a reading assessment which could potentially lead to a diagnosis of dyslexia, McNeil says.

She recommends parents look at the Speld NZ and Learning Matters websites – and talk to those agencies about whether you really need one.

Your money may be better spent on professional help for your child, McNeil says.

"A diagnosis doesn't give you any extra funding in New Zealand, it won't give you a teacher aide, it won't [lead to] decodable texts on the classroom floor of your child's classroom.

Neuroscience research has the potential to help all kids with reading, McNeil says, and it is unacceptable for dyslexic children to be taught without an awareness of the scientific evidence we now have about their challenges.

"We really, really do know that early identification of indicators – not necessarily a diagnosis – and early evidence-based intervention is a must and it's also the most cost-effective and efficient way that we will move literacy rates across our country."

Some helpful links for parents

NZ Dyslexia Factsheet

School Check Chart 

Student Profile sheet for school discussions