Something happened to Callum in the autumn term 2011. A normally cheerful child he has, however, always been the child who falls over, loses, forgets or breaks things and struggles with schoolwork. In November the phrase 'I'm rubbish' crept into his vocabulary and homework became stressful and resulted in tears.
Callum's Mum had spoken to me two years ago about her concerns with his progress at her son's school. Not yet at his seventh birthday, I suggested she help him as much as possible but persuaded her not to go down the assessment route which results in a label. As I told her, there are few specialist teachers or education psychologists who will assess a child before they are seven. Callum is now 8 years 10 months and we are thinking that this has gone on long enough.
Callum's difficulties have begun to cause him problems socially and emotionally. He loves his Saturday drama group and is the only one of three siblings to attend, the intention to find him something that is special to him that he enjoys. This is important - to find an interest, passion or skill that is not shared with siblings who are succeeding at school.. Initial assessments concentrate on strengths so parents can help by identifying these and encourage them at home. But now, Callum has refused to audition for parts, despite getting into the final ten at an audition in September. This has been followed by refusing to audition for a school production.
'I won't get it. I'm rubbish,' was all he would say when asked. If your child is already saying this there will be more work to be done.
Last week his mother was ferrying several classmates to an event, when one of the children chimed up that 'Callum's the messiest writer in the class'. She felt herself cringe on her son's behalf. Mum is also aware that Callum's work is never put up on the wall and very little work comes home from school. With Parents' Evening looming after half term, his mother asked for a preliminary 'chat' with his teacher prior to Parents' Evening. This was initially refused with the evening imminent. 'But, she said, 'I just want to have a quick word about Callum. More hesitations .... but she persisted, adding,'so that you can have a think and talk to other people before that evening.' Eventually, it was agreed and the result is that Callum has been moved speedily into a 'special spelling group'. Why this had not been done before is unclear.
Mum was clearly distressed the week before half term as she feels helpless to support him. She is not a trained teacher and is not in a position therefore to train as a specialist dyslexia tutor. One route for her may be to take up a place on a Teaching Assistants' Course. When I studied for my Diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties, I was the only person on the course who didn't have dyslexic children. Most teachers were there to learn how to help their own children. In reality this does not always work as even if you have the qualification you will find there are barriers to teaching your own child. I have often had a child brought to me by a mother who is a trained specialist. 'He won't do it for me,' is the common complaint.
I agreed to do some subtle basic assessments on Callum. He already has Test and Exam phobia, failing anything that is presented as such, whereas his classwork is acceptable. Poor exam and test grades which do not reflect oral ability is a key factor with dyslexia. Callum's low self-esteem is such that I knew he would not want to come into a room with me and 'do tests'. I therefore sat with him in their lounge while the other children were occupied with other things. We had an easy chat about school and what he does not like (everything apparently). I asked him if he could say long words and the answer was 'no'. Will you try some for me I asked. He tried four words - preliminary, philosophical, statistical and millennium - all without success but we had a laugh about it and I said I couldn't say 'preliminary' either.
We discussed learning times tables but he has learnt the 7x table by reciting 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and so on, so if you ask him what are four sevens he cannot tell you. I then asked him if he could tell me the months of the year. He made errors and backtracked from May to start again, finishing eventually by reversing October and November. When I asked him to say them backwards he said 'no way'. I know that his grandfather has always demonstrated signs of Dyslexia and Callum told me he confused 'b' and 'd' giving me examples. 'I write deing instead of being,' he said.
I, therefore, know that Callum has 5 indicators on the Bangor and know him well enough to predict this will increase to a possible 8 my next visit. Interestingly, his siblings were writing poems for a competition run by Buxton Press in association with Derby University. Callum had disappeared when they began composing, one on a laptop and one on a lined file pad. This reluctance to write is a key indicator of Dyslexia. If a child avoids writing or produces very little written work, he or she should be investigated for Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia). Any parents reading this would be advised to approach their child's school if this is the case with their child. The simple things I demonstrated above could also be tried with the child either as a game or in conversation, but privately! Take care not to let siblings laugh at the child who cannot pronounce big words. Likewise they should not laugh at his writing, awkward stumbling reading and poor basic calculations in maths. I suspect that, for Callum, this has started to happen in school and caused him to label himself 'rubbish' at everything.
I asked Callum if he would read me some words on a card which he did happily. On this test his score was average. Then I took a deep breath and asked if he would write some words for me as I wanted to see how many words he knew. Percentiles express the child's achievement as compared to a similar age group.
If this story strikes a familiar chord with you, you have the right to ask to see the SENCO at your child's school. SENCO stands for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. More tests can then be carried out.
I hope to be able to start giving Callum specialist tuition. He already has a tutor who is not a specialist, but he likes her and she is doing very useful things with him. However, he needs someone to deal with his poor phonological awareness and specialist tutors are trained to do this. He also needs strategies for dealing with his difficulties.
And what can Mum do? Well Callum was able to spell words such as - him, make, cook, must, enter and light so I have shown Mum how to build large groups of words using these basic patterns. As he can spell the syllable chunk 'ter' he should be able to add 'er' to 'light' for example. This will have an esteem building effect on Callum. His spelling mistakes demonstrate good knowledge of sounds but poor ability to 'hear the sounds in words' Examples are crecd for correct, recke for reach, metereal for material, sprise for surprise, sercall for circle. They are what the specialists call 'phonological alternatives'. A very good attempt was made at 'explain' ie 'explan'. This is therefore good news despite the low average score for spelling.
Callum's error with 'reach' suggests he needs some work with 'ch' as he has confused it with 'ck'.
I will keep you posted with Callum's progress as we meet.
So watch this space.
Meanwhile explore the British Dyslexia Association website on this link
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