Fanny Foo’s daughter, who has dyslexia, attends mainstream school. Jennifer, 12, has difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling. “As she is unable to read fluently, she gets a reader during exams for her Maths and Science exam papers, but ironically, not for the English exams. She takes Foundation English and Maths, and is still failing English,” shares Fanny, 50, who is also Director of Learning Centres and Outreach at the Dyslexic Association of Singapore (DAS).
In addition to “numerous” tuition classes and sessions at the DAS to help Jennifer with Chinese, and literacy, exam and study skills, Fanny also does daily revision with her daughter. Apart from these, the girl copes with “lots of love and positive encouragement”.
Says Fanny, “She is fortunate to have supportive teachers in school and is positive in her current school. It may not be the same in another school when she moves to Secondary 1.”
Indeed, children with dyslexia generally need extra attention when it comes to education. But this does not mean that they cannot attend regular schools.
While they may require specialised educational instruction to help them overcome their learning obstacles, many dyslexic children benefit from being included in mainstream education, says Geetha Shantha Ram, Director, MOE-Aided DAS Literacy Programme and Staff Professional Development, Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).
There are specialist schools in the United Kingdom and the United States where dyslexic children have benefitted from a whole school approach. Here in Singapore, children with dyslexia also attend mainstream schools.
Coping in Mainstream School
How a dyslexic child copes with being in school and the schoolwork depends on the severity of his condition. This is where parents and teachers have to help the child progress educationally.
“Dyslexia appears on a spectrum and those who fall on the mild scale may be able to overcome their difficulties using strategies devised on their own,” says Ms Geetha. “Others may not be able to or may develop poor coping skills and therefore need to be taught strategies and skills to help them overcome their difficulties.
Dyslexic children benefit from being taught in a certain way. The most effective, teachers have found, is when teaching is customised to play on their strengths.
While learning aids such as notes and recordings of lessons have been shown to enable learners to effectively access information taught, it also helps to know the specific strengths of dyslexic learners and leverage on these strengths to assist learners in overcoming their weaknesses, Geetha adds.
“Learners with dyslexia benefit from simultaneous multi-sensory instruction that explicitly explores various concepts, taught in ways that relate to their experiences,” Ms Geetha explains. “Research on learning support also shows that direct instruction in phonics leads to progress in reading and spelling abilities.”
Because of the way that dyslexia affects an individual, children with dyslexia find it harder to cope with reading and writing. This affects the way they comprehend certain subjects in school.
“Every subject requires some reading and writing and it is therefore not surprising that dyslexia can impact a child’s learning in all subjects,” says Ms Geetha. “Underlying difficulties in decoding, reading fluency, spelling, written expression, organising, following written directions, sequencing, using working memory for problem solving and visual processing for worksheets etc, can affect learning in different subjects in different ways.”
As of this year, there are 62 primary schools in Singapore that have a School Dyslexia Remediation Programme to support Primary 3 and Primary 4 students with dyslexia. Additionally, there are Allied Educators (Learning and Behavioural Support) in mainstream schools who are trained to support students with dyslexia.
Going Beyond the School
The DAS conducts after-school classes that help dyslexic children to cope with the regiment of mainstream school.
“The MOE-aided DAS Literacy Programme (MAP) provides a comprehensive and high-quality curriculum to support dyslexic students facing literacy challenges,” explains Nor Ashraf B Samsudin, Director of Specialised Educational Services at the DAS. “The MAP curriculum integrates key essential learning components that are crucial in remediating students with learning difficulties.”
Through the Specialised Educational Services (SES) division, DAS provides a range of programmes in areas beyond literacy that students with Specific Learning Differences (SpLD) may struggle with. They offer programmes to help students in Maths, Chinese and Examination Skills (for Primary 5 and Primary 6 students).
SES has also launched a Speech and Drama Programme to harness the innate talents that many dyslexics have whilst at the same time build on their self-esteem.
Dyslexic children often display strengths outside of the school curriculum, and in varied subjects. Many dyslexics have unique gifts, such as the ability to think ‘outside-the-box’ and may excel in problem-solving, creativity, hands-on learning and sports. Many have strengths in verbal skills, visual-spatial skills, social skills, memory and music.
The Social Aspects
Sometimes, it’s not just the educational aspect of school that dyslexic children find hard to cope with; their social skills might be affected too. Parents of dyslexic children can find comfort in the various resources available to them.
The DAS Academy offers workshops and courses that enables parents, caregivers, educators and professionals to learn techniques and be equipped with various skills and strategies to help a child with learning differences improve their reading and writing, and also develop automaticity and fluency in these areas.
“The DAS functions as a one-stop centre with a multi-disciplinary team of specialist psychologists, speech language therapists, educational therapists and lecturers to service the dyslexics and those who wish to help them,” says Mr Samsudin.
“Dyslexics face difficulties with organisation as well,” he continues. “This could manifest in a number of ways, like an untied shoelace, an incorrectly buttoned shirt, an untidy bedroom and difficulties in pronouncing longer words. They may have trouble grasping the concept of time and have difficulties with time-management. Because of this, they may be perceived as disorganised, messy, stupid and lazy. They can be victims of bullying and suffer from very low self-esteem.
“Parents have a key role to play in this by helping to create a safe haven at home where their dyslexic child is free to express himself/herself and not feel like he or she is being judged. Comparisons between siblings may be inevitable but parents should make every effort not to make comparisons in front of the children,” he cautions.
“Most importantly, parents and educators need to listen to the child as any child who is struggling to cope with their learning needs will require additional support to prevent loss of self-esteem,” adds Ms Geetha.
Come November this year, the DAS will embark on a new year-long campaign called “Embrace Dyslexia”. The aims of this campaign are to debunk common misconceptions about dyslexia, encourage dyslexic people to confront their learning differences and call organisations to take greater action in helping dyslexics by working with DAS. Featuring a series of outreach activities, the campaign will be launched with a seminar with Thomas West, a world-renowned author of influential books on dyslexia and a gala dinner with Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office & Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, as the guest-of-honour. Get more details about the campaign, dinner, and seminar here.