Helen Boden has years of experience as a specialist teacher and, after working in colleges with young men who struggled with literacy, and helping her two sons with their dyslexia, began working alongside her local dyslexia association. She later became the BDA’s Head of Training, Assessments and Conferences, and entered the role of CEO of the association earlier this year. As part of Dyslexia Awareness Week, Helen explains to Education for Everybody editor Victoria Galligan why there is still the need for more awareness, training and resources to support pupils with dyslexia…
I became involved with the BDA for reasons which were twofold: firstly, I could see how the young men I taught in college were very bright but just struggled with their reading and writing. They found it hard to evidence their learning. Secondly, both of my (now grown-up) sons are dyslexic. I became involved in my local Dyslexia Association to help other parents who were trying to access a full and proper education for their dyslexic children, which could later be extended into the workplace.
Dyslexia campaigning had a good era in the noughties, especially after the publication of the Rose Report which really put dyslexia on the education map. We thought we’d cracked it! Unfortunately, in recent years access to resources and support for dyslexia has gone back 20 or even 30 years in some cases. We find ourselves fighting some local authorities for acceptance that dyslexia even exists. It’s almost like we’ve gone back in time and there is less support in some cases now than there was pre the Rose Report. It’s frustrating and quite sad: we know what the outcomes are for children who don’t get adequate support, and those who do get the right help can go on to achieve great things.
There are a number of reasons which have contributed to the situation: a reduction in funding is one, but also teachers are expected to deliver a huge curriculum in a short space of time. The curriculum is very challenging and changes frequently. Teacher recruitment is another reason; there is a revolving door of staff as teachers train, then soon leave the profession. The availability and quality of training and resources is also an issue which adds to the poor fabric of dyslexia teaching skills. Ideally, all mainstream teachers should be able to support dyslexic pupils and they need the training – both initial and continuing – to be able to do this. This would lead to more specialists in local authorities, too.
If parents want to get a diagnosis for their child, they can either get a private assessment from an organisation – the BDA offers such assessments to all, for a fee – or they can ask their LEA to provide one. Unfortunately in some areas this can be a difficult and lengthy process – it’s a bit of a postcode lottery as to whether parents can access the right support from their LEA. A diagnosis is important in that it’s a powerful tool for the school and the family and for the confidence and self-esteem of the child. A diagnosis offers a better level of understanding and can mean the support given to the child is more likely to be effective. However, where a diagnosis is proving difficult, what’s more important is the support put in place for the child.
Thankfully, there is now loads of amazing technology which can assist dyslexic pupils and adults. It’s important to use the following equipment in school so that as the child grows up, they can use similar resources in their working and everyday lives:
- Computer text readers, which read aloud the text on a screen and highlight text. This is great for people who are slower at reading and need help with comprehension. If a pupil can hear the text, it makes more sense. Also as pupils type, they can go back and proofread using the audio reader. It can help identify mistakes.
- Pen readers, which read text from a book out loud to the pupil. They are ideal for exam situations as they can be used with headphones.
- The Livescribe pen, which pupils use to write and as they do so, their words are generated as text on a screen. This is then also made available as audio. This is great for pupils taking notes in lessons.
A lot of computers and other devices have many in-built programmes which can help with dyslexia and are improving all the time – for example voice recognition, predictive typing and screen reading has come on in leaps and bounds recently. It’s more accurate, responsive, adaptive and easy to use.
At the BDA, we’d like to see this type of tech made more available in the mainstream and across the board. These resources help pupils to prepare for life and work and if this technology can be embedded into school, children will really gain the life skills they need. In turn, this makes a big difference in education as pupils can work independently and more confidently throughout their education and beyond.
For more information on dyslexia visit the British Dyslexia Association website and for more information specifically on assistive technology for dyslexics click here.
Upcoming BDA events…
Neurodiversity and Co-occurring Learning Differences conference (8 November 2018, London) – The British Dyslexia Association welcome Professor Philip Asherson, Professor Amanda Kirby and other excellent speakers to this one-day conference. Find out more
Free webinar: British Dyslexia Quality Mark (22 November 2018) – Join British Dyslexia Association Quality Mark Manager Jo Gregory to find out more about this good practice initiative. Find out more
Good Practice in Dyslexia and Dyscalculia conference (21 March 2019, London) – This event will present all the latest in best practice on dyslexia and dyscalculia with practical steps educational professionals can take away. Find out more
Going Green for Dyslexia are – The team at British Dyslexia Association, Frewen College and Saaransh Foundation, India. Front page – Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Nessy Learning and M Shed, Bristol.