Sunday, 10 January 2016

Best practice and co-educators by Dyslexia Dublin © 2016
 Is it so hard to understand those who need to learn in a different way!

Teaching in general is a very difficult but rewarding profession. The biggest problem facing existing staff is the lack of opportunities to upskill, and if we are to get on top of learning needs this is essential! In the UK they have introduced this very important addition to the skill set in teacher training and not before time. We still need to make this the case in many other countries around the globe. These new teacher/trainers have an uphill task as is! Early expectations from others and indeed themselves is to hit the ground running. The big fear is lack of support and acceptance of these new energetic vibrant thinkers and their ideas. Many see them as a hindrance or threat! They should be both embraced for all their good will and great ideas and nurtured to ensure they remain enthusiastic and buoyant. Teaching will heap enough pressure on them as is!
Walking into a new school with little knowledge of the pupil’s needs and possible hostile environment gives the new teacher little time to take stock, catch their breath or indeed reflect.
This is also evident in learning resource centres or specialist schools. Most up to now have been self-taught. Knowledge is power and it’s very important that new teachers are both eased in and encouraged, both in and outside of inclusive teaching environments!
The adage is a ratio of one in ten children have an individual learning need, however recent research in the UK has pointed to an increase… we were aware greater numbers but didn’t want to take heed of it. The big worry is that governments will try to change the parameters to address the numbers rather than offer actual support! The big problem is that some experienced teachers don’t see this as a problem and some are reluctant to retrain. The new recruits will get quickly absorbed into this way of thinking if we don’t take care and endorse both their thinking and methods of approach.
Understanding of this area is paramount if we wish to make learning truly inclusive.
Where has the increase come from? Many children that wouldn’t have been considered as having a learning need have been failed by society and successive governments. Socio-economic reasons also have their part to play.
Best practice
If we are to ensure best practice we don’t just need to look at successful teaching. We need to look at poor practice and see why this is failing. Many teachers are propped up by other teachers within a course. I have witnessed this first hand during my years as a teacher.
As we know, the curriculum is wide and students can excel in some subject areas giving them a variation in scores. This can also have a variant where more than one teacher is teaching a subject or a particular year of the program. Many parents have mentioned to me about the change in their children from year to year and it’s not the child or school that changes (that’s a constant), the teacher does (that’s a variable)!
Many believe that those working in this area have qualified as something special whereas for the most, as mentioned, it’s themselves that have up skilled. These staff are rare and we need more, however we now have a greater understanding and should be able to think on a much wider plane when it comes to teacher training. We need to put new teachers into schools that are non-confrontational for the first few years to help build their confidence and allow their new techniques to flourish and cascade to others.
Then they will be ready to be deployed in schools that are operating below par! They are so often used as cannon fodder in troubled schools where no one wants to teach. This is a dog chasing its tail as many get disillusioned and either emigrate or leave the profession altogether.
Assessment and awareness
The teacher is not the only issue here… good support, modern thinking and adequate resources are key ingredients. Changing exam structures to continual assessment does not address those students disaffected with school. It’s a myth! This puts unnecessary pressure on both resources and teachers. Reducing class sizes would also allow this to flourish and we would see far greater exam successes.
The Curriculum needs to be embraced by all. Results are driven by like minded people.
A broad look at all subjects for each child needs to be looked at and understood. Why is the Geography or Art teacher raving about a pupil that’s being condemned as a no hope by the English teacher?
The curriculum should be both available and achievable for all students within the learning environment.
Assessment should be fit for purpose. It’s so important to look at the needs of each student both now, previously and in the future. Many view this as a hot potato and try to dissuade difficult students from signing up to the school. Few take into account valuable information gleaned by their previous schools.
Information should be available to all, including supply teachers! These are often the forgotten few…just like newbies, they have to know all the background of the pupils and hit the ground running. The last school I taught at used to have group/course folders with all the individual students’ information and stages of teaching/curriculum within.
All of this helps to nourish and grow a better learning environment.
Specialist Areas
Encourage both the deployment and re-training of support staff! This is to be both admired and valued. Don’t let staff take up the role simply because they chose the short straw or they see it as an easy option. This is a vocation and needs to be taught with both heart and humanity. It’s seen by many as costly and of little worth, we have to change this mind set!
I would love to hear from teachers who have qualified having also been there themselves as a learner with a learning need. I indeed qualified to teach off the back of a real struggle with both educators and the system myself, so I could give an opportunity to those who had been let down by the system in the past. Resource needs to be beneficial and measured for success. We need also to consider resourcing at academic age and not chronological ages!
Teaching in an environment where all students feel included is so rewarding and stimulating for the educator. Be mindful of individual students and how vulnerable they can be. For example many with dyspraxia or dyslexia will die a thousand deaths if they are asked to read out loud. On the other hand they don’t want to be smothered. Many children feel resource carries a stigma and yet we support all students in one way or another, be it academics in Art and Crafts or non-academics in English and Maths. We need to embrace those that have varying learning styles and teach the benefits of their individuality and creativity to others. We all need each other to survive this life!
Different styles
It really isn’t horses for courses!
Students learn at a varying pace and style… many excel in some subjects, few excel in all areas of study.
It’s up to teachers to measure learning minute by minute and adjust if needs be. Students don’t just switch off or drift off! Lack of stimulation or being unable to understand is the key to most switching off. Even the workload should and can be varied!
Simple things like time tabling lessons. Why do schools have back to back Maths or English lessons and business or another language? How do children with processing cope with that? Simple… they don’t!
Every student needs to have time to reflect, process and go again, so why not English, Art then Maths? That way we get a chance to clear our mind in the creative subjects and the academics don’t become bored. Win win!
Parents are vulnerable
Don’t forget the parents. There are two issues here. One… they might have had a bad experience in school themselves and are maybe not academic or two… they are academic and cannot see why their child don’t understand all of the subjects they’re being taught.
Many don’t turn up for parent evenings for fear of embarrassment or simply it brings back bad memories! Learning needs can run through families. This should be monitored.
The above should also be taken into consideration when issuing homework. There’s not always someone at home that can understand the work at hand (new mathematical methods).

Nb If your child is starting a new school make sure the provision is there before you register them.

NB. This information is from personal experience and research and also partly sourced through the work of others.  It is purely for improving the understanding of dyslexia and to offer helpful advice in related areas.   Dyslexia Dublin  © 2016

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Sunday, 3 January 2016

How is Confidence and Self Esteem affected by Dyspraxia, (DCD), Dyslexia and other specific learning needs by  Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2016 

Confidence and achievement is everything… we can all do our own personal SWAT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats)… just take a look what you are good at, what do you struggle with? Can you do everything you need to do?
How easy is it to lose your confidence… imagine yourself down a hole and every time you stick your head out, someone hits it with a stick or shouts at you.  How many would still continue to pop their head up?
Many with dyspraxia have days, weeks, months and years like this and children with dyspraxia dealing with learning needs, maturity and skill building have these problems to face.
Dyspraxics generally have reduced ability when it comes to co-ordinated skills (gross and fine motor) such as sport and dance and this in itself multiplies the time required to carry out a given task that can be mastered by others in the shortest (one or two attempts) period of time.  Quite often we, as parents, fail to recognise this as a problem and fall short in time/tolerance required to help our children develop the required skill or skill sets.  Our parent's may considered spending the same amount of time teaching us how to ride our bike, as they would with siblings (brother sister), whereas in fact we often  require up to four times longer to grasp that particular concept.  It’s important for parents not to tire and make sure to give their children this extra time and remember… praxis makes perfect! It would be similar for those with dyslexia as we utilize areas of the brain that process all learnt material (instruction) our processing speed is known to be much slower, hence the required prolonged lessons and practice.
How does this impact on our child’s confidence and low self-esteem?
How do we go about assessing this lack of belief?
How do we address this area and encourage self-belief?
How can we make them feel good about themselves without feeling patronised?

Gross and Fine Motor Skills, Motor Planning and Organisation of Movement.
For a start we need to give due importance to the area of gross/fine/motor/organisation by taking time to work on these areas. This is a real issue and affects self confidence in most of our daily lives as a dyspraxic and also for those with SPD and hyper mobility.
DCD can confuse many, from Ed Psych’s, friends, teachers and even close family members, all can appear fine for the short time we are in others company and this can be a problem in itself.   Quite often we seem just like those without DCD when we are sitting or are relatively stationary… however, the very second we  have to carry out a task we fall apart… for example, walking with a cup and we drop it, or walk into someone.
We are all aware that DCD (dyspraxia) is a motor, planning and co-ordination disorder.
The disorder can range from mild to severe.  It runs in families and can be co-morbid, which often means many will have elements of hyper mobility, dyslexia, dysgraphia (writing/comprehension), dyscalculia (maths) sensory processing, social communications disorder (DSM5).  Most will have poor memory and memory recall.  Others may present with mild dyspraxia and no other traits.
Presentation of DCD is so variable in its spectrum and has a very wide range of limitation/delay in co-ordination, planning and motor skill.  It can range from very moderate to severe… some would be good at sport and others would struggle, the same would be the case for academia.
The child could be fine in the early stages with limited concern shown by the parent, especially if they happen to be the first born so there is no benchmark set and familiar milestones hit by an older sibling, ie. walking, talking, eating, kicking and catching a ball.
We can also see problems with speech and language... quite often we witness a delay in speech which can so often slow the introduction to reading/spelling and indeed writing, into the early years of school.
Dyspraxia (DCD) affects around 1 in 8 school-age children and likewise adults, around the world.  There is a variation to this, so I am going with an average figure.  We also know that it affects far more boys than girls… statistics show around 80% are boys, although in my personal opinion, I feel the gap may well be closer in reality.  The reason I feel this to be the case is that boys tend to show frustration and meltdown whereas girls tend to internalise and just get on with it, which can result in more boys being diagnosed. 
So what do we do to keep confidence and self-belief high?
Firstly I want to say don’t give praise where it is not due… it must be genuine.
Take everything that has to be learnt very slowly and then praise, praise, praise!
During the early days put them in a baby walker, as this helps develop leg movement (gross motor skill).
Spend time helping them to crawl and walk by letting them mimic you.
When they start to feed themselves encourage this but give them easy things to eat (nice bright carrot stick)… pieces of apple will help with fine motor skill… feed them every other piece to reduce frustration.
Make lots of funny faces to encourage smiling and always use a cup and then a straw to drink through, as this will help facial muscle tone and early speech.
Try and get them to improve core muscles by getting them on their tummies and looking up… this will strengthen their back and shoulders.  This will also help posture when they start sitting more frequently.
When they are ready to play, roll a ball to them… this will help eye hand co-ordination.
All of the former is important. Make sure you check out their dominant side too… how do they move? Is it left hand or right first (crawling)? Which leg leads, if already walking? It is so important to figure out their dominant side to make writing etc. easier later on… many pick up the pencil in both hands and often use their non-dominant side to write with (less control)!
We also find placing things in order or stacking difficult, due to the planning/processing side of the condition.
With the singular focus that we have as a result of being dyspraxic, we struggle with multi co-ordination on a variety of fronts, like climbing stairs, running, hopping, and jumping, co-ordinating limbs to dress (shirts, trousers, socks, etc.)
We can also have difficulty chewing solid food, due to hyper-sensitive gag reflex (tough meat and fibrous fruit like pears and fish too) and sensory processing problems.
There is a high incidence of ambidexterity in dyxpraxics and this could be down to planning/processing at an early stage (dyspraxic children often pick the pen up with the nearest hand and proceed to write or draw… this could then become ingrained). This often leads to indifferent writing techniques and poor writing skill.  Let your child know you make mistakes also...none of us are perfect, laugh at your mistakes by all means bur don't laugh at theirs.
This all leads to problems performing daily activities and many of our personal routines like getting dressed.
Due to required repetition, a far greater time is required to master new skills and skill sets (tying shoelaces, fastening buttons, zips, etc).
Tripping and falling due to lack of concentration and poor balance, even standing still and the occasional wobble, can all make us look very clumsy.
We tend to have a far slower rate of maturity due to most of the above and this can lead to voluntary and involuntary isolation.  If we are on our own we feel less pressured to perform and no one witnesses our mistakes.  However I must express this is not a good thing. As a result, we tend to hand around or play with children much younger than us.
I have written many articles on anger and frustration and this all goes alongside dyspraxia. It’s no surprise we beat ourselves up over the slightest mistake and also as a result of being constantly pulled up and criticised by our peers/family members.
We have a very singular focus and this in turn causes poor concentration and listening skills… we also find it hard to follow verbal and written instruction, it is much easier to watch and learn or follow pictograms.
In adulthood this can often be the case with D.I.Y… we would prefer to follow the picture on the box than read the instructions inside (right brained).
It can cause problems with learning to drive (see article on Learning to Drive with Specific Learning Needs by Toby Lee).
Anger and frustration.
If you suspect any of the symptoms of dyspraxia, I would recommend you seeing an OT or Ed. Psych.  II would stress it is important to get a good assessor, as one that doesn’t know dyspraxia could miss some of the signs or might not apply the correct conditions to show that your child has dyspraxia.
You could also find during the assessment your child might have dyslexia/dysgraphia or dyscalculia…these are co-morbid conditions that can also shadow dyspraxia…ADD…ADHD and ASD.
It is so important to be prepared before you see anyone for a diagnosis… observe your child and draw up a list of issues, make a note of milestones like walking/talking, etc.
 Motor problems of children with DCD persist at least into adolescence, although it weakens as we come to terms with routine and we no longer need to be competitive, like running around the school yard or taking part in sport.  Friend with us on facebook or follow us at twitter @ dyslexiadublin

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