Early diagnosis is key for children with Dyslexia

Posted on: 5th October, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Above: Pictured at the Information Meeting are Elaine McGoldrick, workshop co-ordinator; Dr Jason Van Der Velt; Sinead Coules, West Cork Dyslexia Association; Clonakilty Mayor Cionnáith O Suillabháin; Mr Donald Ewing, Head of Psychological and Educational Services with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland; Dr. Pauline Coogan, of Trinity College; Odette Ellis, treasurer, West Cork Dyslexia Association.

According to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland it is estimated that as many as one in ten children could have a specific learning difficulty (Dyslexia). This means that in a typical West Cork classroom of 30 children, as many as three pupils will be dyslexic. Early diagnosis is critical to putting in place the right learning support to ensure children achieve their full academic potential. Sinead Coules of the West Cork Dyslexia Association speaks to Mary O’Brien.

Last week, the Clonakilty and West Cork Dyslexia Association hosted a special Information Evening for parents of children with Dyslexia and teachers at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa Hotel.

Parents and teachers heard from two of the country’s leading experts on the topic of Dyslexia among children, Mr. Donald Ewing, Head of Psychological and Educational Services with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland and Dr. Pauline Coogan, of Trinity College.

Donald Ewing gave a broad overview and explanation of Dyslexia itself. Dr. Pauline Coogan of Trinity College in Dublin, made a presentation on the ‘Trinity Early Screening Test in Reading and Writing’ a new early screening test she has pioneered to help identify children, at primary school level, who may have a specific learning difficulty, the official term for someone who has dyslexia. This new screening test is scheduled to roll out across primary schools in early 2016.

“Before a child goes to school it’s very difficult to tell if there is a problem,” explains Donald. ‘It’s usually in Senior Infants that it may become apparent a young person is not picking up reading and spelling as easily as expected.”

“Teachers need to have a keen awareness and at present our teachers are not trained well enough around learning difficulties.”

“We need to devise a system that doesn’t depend on parents having to get private assessment for their child. There should be access to this support no matter where you are and what your economic circumstances are.”

Sinead Coules is the mother of two children with Dyslexia, Jack (10) and Sarah (6). She set up the Clonakilty and West Cork Dyslexia Association three years ago after her son Jack was diagnosed with the condition.

“Jack has had difficulties from Junior Infants,” says Sinead. “Meltdowns, tantrums became the norm when it came to homework – especially reading and writing. Tantrums after school for a number of different reasons but all with one root cause – frustration. Due to his frustrations, which we did not understand at that stage, homework became a real chore. If anything had been marked incorrect in school, which was not explained to him why, it would lead to a build up frustrations, which became evident once he was home. He would call himself thick, stupid, an idiot, because he was getting stuff wrong. He might get all his spellings correct this week but next week only one – but if you asked him to tell you the spelling he’d probably have it right or at least right in a dyslexic way!”

By the end of first class, Jack had turned seven, and his family knew something had to be done. However with only one assessment per 100 students in Irish schools, Sinead knew there was no hope of getting a NEPS assessment for him. “Not realising that we were dealing with Dyslexia, I went looking for an Educational Psychologist,” explains Sinead. “The lady that we opted to use was fantastic. After three hours she was able to tell me that he is profoundly Dyslexic and she also suspected that he was Dyspraxic too. This was later confirmed, again privately.”

This was a turning point for Jack. “She was able to explain to Jack that he has an above average IQ, he was ‘not’ thick nor stupid but he has a different way of learning. Yes, he needs a lot of help with his dyslexia but once he finds his learning style it will get easier.

Jack is now in a school that has gone out of their way to help figure out his learning style with teachers who have helped him overcome those first few dreadful years that had destroyed his self­esteem and his confidence.

Jack now attends the workshop in the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, which is run by the Clonakilty Dyslexia Branch. It runs for two hours on a Monday after school and he looks forward to it every week. His confidence and self­esteem have skyrocketed. He accepts his dyslexia and is now learning how to adapt his life to be able to succeed in our education system. Technology is his lifeline. He uses it in school and at home. He has access to his schoolbooks via ebooks and apps. Apps that he utilises are iReadWrite, which allows him to practise his writing skills. Prizmo, a Scanning, OCR (Optical Character Reader) and Speech app. CJ Fallons app for its books and Folens pdf’s are loaded into iBooks. He is now developing the skills that he needs to get him through his state exams, into college and through his life.

“Due to the years of us misunderstanding our son, once our daughter started presenting with similar issues we acted a lot faster,” says Sinead. “Once she had completed her first 18 months in primary school – Christmas of Senior Infants, we were able to get her assessed, again privately. If we had to wait for the school system she too would have had her confidence and self­esteem totally battered. This time knowing what we were looking at, Sarah was taken for assessment to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland, in Dublin last Easter. She had just turned six a few months earlier.”

Sarah too is Dyslexic. She is struggling with her reading and writing a lot at the moment and finding school a real struggle but she too is starting in the Dyslexia Workshop this term so again Sinead has the knowledge and confidence that she will start to develop her own learning style, build her self­esteem and confidence and develop her self advocacy skills.

“Parents need to be active, to research Dyslexia and understand it,” says Sinead passionately. “Most dyslexics are very bright but there remains this shell or secrecy around it.”

The Clonakilty Dyslexia Branch aims to offer effective support services in West Cork for children and adults dealing with Dyslexia to enable all people with dyslexia to full-fill their potential in education and all aspects of life.

More information can be found by emailing ClonakiltyDyslexiaBranch@gmail.com, visiting the website clonakiltydyslexia.weebly.com or finding the group on facebook.

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