October 04, 2018
“We’re in this together”: We spoke to our member Nikki Golestanian about the positives and challenges parents can experience supporting a child with dyslexia…
Nikki’s son Cameron is 12 years old and is a member at our Woking centre.
“Mid way through year three, Cam’s limited free writing ability was noted by his English teacher, as was the struggle to retain information. His reading level was also behind most of his peers, as was his spelling. He was happy enough, but had guessed he was struggling with what was expected of him. He said he couldn’t think of any good descriptions or ideas and disliked having to write things down. I had of course sensed something had not been right even from reception when other children seemed to grasp phonics fairly quickly and yet my son failed to do so despite repeated re-learning. He loved listening to stories and yet would turn away from a book if we tried to read together. Even in year two, Cam would sound out a tricky word on one line, only to find it repeated a few lines later and not be able to recall the sound of the word. It was like he’d never seen it before. Ironically even to this day he can score highly on spelling tests and yet be unable to remember how to spell the same words in free writing, when instead they will often come out entirely phonetically. He had trouble remembering instructions at home, or the order of things like days of the week or months of the year, or sequences in maths.
The school recommended a full assessment by an Educational Psychologist in London. It was very costly but came with a full report on Cam’s learning needs, together with a plan of action and also importantly, a description of his strengths and how to focus on these.
To this day, his verbal reasoning is below average and yet his non-verbal reasoning, ability to see patterns, structures and affinity towards IT and musical patterns is advanced. He’s passionate about his drums and excelling at football, but he’d never read a novel out of choice. Next came the journey to getting him well supported at school and educating myself about this learning disability I knew relatively little about. I’m still learning alongside my son. We’re in this together, alongside the SENCO and some amazing learning assistants at school who spend the time supporting children with SEN.
Since Cam has always needed extra support at school, the path of the home tutor appeared the only sensible option. Why wouldn’t a child like having help at home in a relaxed environment without distraction, with someone to focus on specific learning needs? However, after a year of this extra support, it became clear my child had other ideas! It turned out he found the sessions exhausting and stressful, was fearful of making mistakes and being judged and dare I say, boring, and something to be endured. So my search turned to finding an alternative which felt altogether different in its approach and learning environment. Cue Explore Learning! Why had I not considered this before? When I attended our free trial, I clearly remember worrying about how this was going to compare in terms of results and how Cam sat there and told me exactly why it suited his learning preferences. The environment was refreshingly energetic yet purposeful, with other children to say hello to. He clearly understood he would feel supported and yet free to go at his own pace.
Support from our school changed over the years, from a focus on spelling rules at the earlier stages to support in working on his comprehension structure now he’s in year 6. Cam now receives extra support in small groups and termly goals from the SENCO. We moved out of an independent school to the state sector in year 5 and it’s been interesting seeing how both are different in their approaches and SEN resources.
I like that Explore Learning is flexible to different learning styles and abilities. The freedom to try different approaches to problem solving has really helped my son’s self-belief and is key to ensuring he feels relaxed and not judged by his need to try a few times before he gets a concept, or even to re-learn concepts he’s forgotten. He calls it stress-free progress.
Nikki’s advice for other parents
- Educate yourself, not just your child. Learn all you can about dyslexia and how it might affect your child at the various stages of their schooling life. I’ve often described the unique way dyslexia affects my child (and it can be different for each sufferer) as that it likes to play tricks with his brain. Educating yourself on what these ‘tricks’ are, helps you understand exactly what they struggle with and helps you highlight these to their teachers so that the right kind of support can be given at each stage. It also helps you navigate the dyslexic world with your child, seeing it as they do, thinking up coping strategies together.
- Build self-confidence and resilience. They’re going to need it. Your child will have good days and bad days and must learn to roll with this with an inner steel. What are your child’s unique strengths? Is it IT, sport, music, art? In adulthood we know dyslexics often find astonishing strengths in other areas, huge stamina in the working environment and a real sense of empowerment once their strengths have been realised. However, at school it often really doesn’t feel so great. Their memory can often feel like a shelf, where learning a new concept causes a previously remembered one to simply fall off the other end, requiring it to be recalled, often several times before it’s retained. Dyslexics can have days where they feel rather weighed down by the occasional misguided comments made by their peers and with the mental exhaustion it takes just to get through each lesson (I once heard they can use up as much mental energy for one lesson as their peers do for the entire day).
- Keep the communication lines open. Get to recognise the warning signs of when your dyslexic child is under too much pressure or not feeling positive. When you sense they’ve had a bad day, encouraging them to talk about it (when they’re ready) helps them to address their learning disability face-on with courage and maturity and helps them to think out of the box in finding new ways around any issues. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to remind them to play to their strengths.
- Embrace technology. Online resources and tools are the key to finding an alternative way to get the information into your child and will also later help them in the workplace. I frequently find Cam has learned a concept independently through watching an online video rather than reading a book. Just be careful to monitor their usage!
- Don’t ignore the targets. They’re going to need support to meet them. SATs, GCSEs, these are all real hurdles which have to be tackled. Dyslexics often work extremely hard, but can lose sight of just how well they’re doing when the slog feels just that little bit too long and arduous. Getting the balance right between having fun and knowing when you have to knuckle down and focus, is the key. Getting them diagnosed, if you can, will help the school to focus on ways to support them. Where this is not financially viable for you, just keeping up your requests for help from the school and SENCO if they have one and letting them know what your child is finding hard, will help. The learning journey continues through school into the working world beyond, so building up the essential skills and a fearless learning mindset to secure a career path that will play to their strengths, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children.
At Explore Learning, our curriculum and tailored support is specifically designed to help children with a diverse range of special educational needs.
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