The Ministry of Education, Singapore, in their November 2011 publication ‘Professional Practice Guidelines for the Psycho-educational Assessment and Placement of Students with Special Educational Needs’ describes dyslexia as a type of specific learning difficulty. It is identified as a developmental difficulty in the areas of language learning and cognition. Simply put, it is a learning difficulty that primarily affects a person’s ability to read and spell accurately and fluently.
A dyslexic person may have problems with phonological awareness (patterns of speech and pronunciation), verbal memory and processing speed. He or she may also have difficulties in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organization. However, these characteristics, taken independently, are not markers of dyslexia.
Dyslexia is diagnosed through a series of evaluations. “Dyslexia is diagnosed using psycho-educational assessments conducted by qualified psychologists,” says Lois Lim, Assistant Director, MOE-Aided DAS Literacy Programme (Admissions), Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS). “Assessments may vary among psychologists but typically involve cognitive and educational tests that assess a child’s abilities, literacy attainments and skills that are involved in reading.
“The assessment process also involves looking at the child’s daily work sample and getting feedback from parents and school-teachers. This allows a comprehensive overview of the child’s strengths and weaknesses so as to guide the assessment and if need be, remediation. DAS offers these assessments to children between the ages of six and 17 years old.”
According to research cited by Ms Lim, about 10 per cent of any population is likely to have dyslexia. Of these, four per cent may have dyslexia serious enough to warrant intervention. In Singapore, it is estimated that the number of preschool, primary and secondary school students with dyslexia severe enough to warrant intervention may be approximately 23,000, out of which about 3,000 are preschoolers.
“Dyslexia tends to run in families,” Ms Lim says. “It is important to note that in some families, one, or both parents have dyslexia and all, or most, of their children, have similar difficulties. In other families, dyslexia is not apparent in either parent and the other children are unaffected.”
Most people know dyslexia as a condition that affects a person’s ability to read. But what exactly is it? “Dyslexia primarily affects a child’s ability to read, write and spell,” explains Ms Lim. “This often manifests as significant difficulties managing daily and academic tasks that require fluent reading and writing. A child with dyslexia may also have difficulties remembering a sequence of instructions and may, as a result, be mistakenly perceived as deliberately not following instructions.
“A child with dyslexia may also face difficulties with organisation,” she continues. “You may see these children with incorrectly buttoned shirts, untidy bedrooms and disorganised school bags. They may also have trouble grasping the concept of time and have difficulties with time management.”
The best way to help a dyslexic child is to identify the condition as soon as possible. “Early identification of dyslexia and intervention is vital,” says Ms Lim. “Children with dyslexia are often unable to reach their full potential due to their learning differences and may become frustrated with learning. Early identification and intervention can enhance their learning experiences.
“Parents can help their child develop a more positive learning experience by recognising his/her learning needs early.”
Once dyslexia is diagnosed, the intervention process varies from child to child. “As dyslexia is on a spectrum and the degree of severity differs from child to child, it is difficult to say specifically what kind of intervention a child with dyslexia needs,” explains Jane Lim, SPD Manager, Senior Educational Therapist, DAS. “Generally, in the psychological report, recommendations will be given on how the child’s learning can be supported. It is important that parents follow through with the recommendations given.
“It is also important for parents to work with the child’s school as that is where most of the child’s learning takes place. Help the teacher(s) understand the struggles the child may be going through and check what kind of additional support the school may be able to provide. Some schools have Allied Education (AED) officers who will work with the child in small groups to teach strategies to cope with dyslexia.
“A child with dyslexia learns in a different way. As such, it is essential that he/she be placed in a learning environment where the methods and strategies used are targeted at his learning needs. The child can also seek remediation from professionals who are trained to support children with dyslexia.”
But if you have somehow missed getting your child diagnosed with the condition, fret not, you can still help him. “It’s never too late for a child to pick up language techniques as he will still require literacy skills throughout his life,” says Jane Lim. “Although early intervention is ideal, for a child who has been diagnosed at an older age, specialised training catered to his level and pace will help ease his struggles while he learns.”
Dyslexia may also affect a child emotionally as it inevitably has an impact on his self-esteem. “A child with dyslexia may feel frustrated or anxious about going to school or having to read or write,” says Lois Lim. “He may feel misunderstood by others and discouraged by poor academic results and suffer from low self-esteem. This may be especially true when a child sees his/her peers or siblings who are able to do well in school and thus develops a sense of inadequacy.”
It is, therefore, very important for parents of dyslexic children to give them the best support possible to deal with the condition and societal expectations.
“Just as it is difficult for a child with dyslexia to cope with the expectations of society, it can be challenging and trying for the parents too,” says Jane Lim. “Support is important for these parents. They need to have some knowledge of what dyslexia is and how they can help their child. Such information can be obtained from printed reading materials as well as from talks organised by organisations such as Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).
“In fact, DAS also has a Parents Support Group where parents of dyslexic children get together. These get-together sessions provide the platform for parents to meet other parents who share similar experiences. Sharing and interacting with other parents and professionals such as educational therapists can be informative, encouraging and inspiring.”
Find out how to identify the early signs of dyslexia and what interventions are available at the upcoming pre-school seminar on Saturday, 5 July 2014, 9.30am-1pm, Health Promotion Board. Hear expert views on dyslexia and get answers to your burning questions at this talk for parents and educators. $20 per person (excluding a $1 booking fee). Register here.
For more information on dyslexia, including signs and symptoms, go to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore at www.das.org.sg