Dyslexia: The inside story

Written by: Kate Griggs | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ahead of her appearance at the TES SEN Show in October, Kate Griggs, founder of the charity Made By Dyslexia, outlines what dyslexia is, how it affects learning, the skills that dyslexic children often have, and how we can support them

“It’s time we all understand dyslexia properly as a different way of thinking not a disadvantage.” Sir Richard Branson

Made By Dyslexia is a global charity led by successful dyslexics. Our purpose is to help the world properly understand and support dyslexia by giving a unique and informed view of dyslexia from the perspective of dyslexic people themselves.

Working with experts, psychologists and dyslexics, we develop campaigns, films, tools, and tests to explain dyslexic thinking and to drive change.

Dyslexic minds process information in divergent, lateral ways. In fact they have created some of the world’s greatest inventions, brands, and art. But education systems aren’t designed for dyslexic thinking, and many teachers receive little or no training in how to identify and support dyslexia. This means that many dyslexics go through life without knowing they are dyslexic or understanding their brilliant potential.

About dyslexia

  • At least one in 10 people are dyslexic, but less than half of dyslexics are identified. Dyslexia is hereditary so runs in families.
  • Dyslexics have a different way of processing information which is caused by physical differences or “wiring” of the brain. This difference results in a pattern of strengths like critical thinking, creativity and communication skills.
  • It also results in challenges affecting traditional learning such as reading, writing, spelling, mental maths, memory and concentration.
  • Each dyslexic has a different pattern of strengths and challenges, and dyslexia varies in severity.
  • Early identification of both difficulties and strengths is key to success within education, and to preserving self-esteem.

How dyslexia affects learning

Reading: Difficulties recognising and manipulating sounds, letters and words make learning to read difficult. Once reading is grasped, dyslexics remain slow readers.

Memory systems: Problems with memory systems can affect all learning. Verbal memory (remembering verbal instructions), sequential memory (ordering facts and information), working memory (keeping facts in mind in order to manipulate them), and visual memory (recognising symbols, letters and words).

Spelling, grammar and punctuation: To excel at spelling, grammar, and punctuation, you have to learn to retrieve a series of information, skills and rules. Dyslexic children’s difficulties in the memory systems make it difficult for them to learn and apply these skills and rules.

Maths: Dyslexics struggle with sequential and working memory, meaning it is very difficult for them to learn and remember times tables. Memory problems make it difficult for them to do mental arithmetic, although they are often very good at conceptual, higher level maths. Therefore it’s essential to identify dyslexics and not label them “maths failures”, while failing to recognise and nurture any higher level maths skills.

Exam changes: Memory difficulties make recalling facts difficult, particularly when under pressure in exams. The removal of coursework, and speaking and listening from exams is disadvantageous for dyslexics because they excel in the reasoning and exploring skills applied in coursework and have excellent verbal reasoning and communication skills.

Extra time in examinations: Literacy never becomes automatic for a dyslexic. They constantly have to think about every action and process they’re doing, then put them all together in quick sequence. As a result, it takes dyslexics approximately five times longer than others to complete literacy tasks. This is why extra time in exams is essential (and in some cases the use of tech aids too).

Dyslexic thinking skills

There are six dyslexic thinking skill categories, each with subsets. These are broken into two areas: specific skills, which relate to the career paths often preferential to dyslexic thinkers, and general skills, which relate to most sorts of education, activities and careers. While no two dyslexics are the same, all will have a combination of some of these skills.

Specific skills

Visualising: Interacting with space, senses, physical ideas and new concepts (75 per cent of dyslexics are above average at visualising).

Imagining: Creating an original piece of work, or giving ideas a new spin (84 per cent of dyslexics are above average at imagining).

Communicating: Crafting and conveying clear and engaging messages (71 per cent of dyslexics are above average at communicating).

General skills

Reasoning: Understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions (84 per cent of dyslexics are above average in reasoning).

Connecting: Understanding self, connecting, empathising and influencing others (80 per cent of dyslexics are above average at connecting).

Exploring: Being curious and exploring ideas in a constant and energetic way (84 per cent of dyslexics are above average at exploring).

Importance of identification

  • Four out of five dyslexics say that knowing they were dyslexic helped them understand their strengths and difficulties, and motivated them to persevere.
  • Nine out of 10 dyslexics struggle with spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Three out of four struggle with, or are unable to learn, times tables.

In the UK, changes to testing and exams mean dyslexic children are now hugely disadvantaged unless they receive adjustments. Removal of coursework and focus on single examinations mean that many will be unable to fully demonstrate their knowledge for a subject.

Furthermore, rote learning of times tables and spelling and grammar tests are difficult areas for most dyslexic children so again may will be deemed “failures” in subject where actually they can excel.

That’s why we are campaigning for changes to testing and exams, and for more help for schools to better identify and understanding dyslexia. There’s lots of useful information for teachers and schools being released for Dyslexia Awareness Week (October 2 to 8), together with our celebrity interviews and campaign films – all on our website and social media.

  • Kate Griggs is the founder of charity Made By Dyslexia, which is a global charity led by successful dyslexics and whose purpose is to help the world properly understand and support dyslexia. Visit http://madebydyslexia.org/

Further information

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