For many home-educating families and prospective home-educators the fear of dyslexia is a significant problem. “It’s all very well to wait for spontaneous reading, but what if my children are dyslexic?” they might ask, “Won’t they be better off in school where they will get proper help?”
Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty in which the person has difficulties with language and words. The most common characteristic is that people have difficulty reading and spelling for no apparent reason. The person may be intelligent, able to achieve well in other areas and exposed to the same education as others, but is unable to read at the expected level. Common problem areas include spelling, comprehension, reading and identification of words.
Despite intensive research, the exact causes remain unknown. While most people affected eventually learn to read, they may have severe spelling problems unless they get support and specialised education. Dyslexia isn’t a symptom of low intelligence. For example, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison – both highly intelligent and creative people – had dyslexia.
Unschoolers generally dismiss dyslexia as a label put on children who are not reading at 5 and are confident that their children will read when they are ready. For many of us there is always that nagging doubt of “What if they don’t ever read and I missed the opportunity to help them when they were young?” Surely there is percentage of children who are not just late readers but are dyslexic. Estimates vary, but up to five per cent of the population are thought to have dyslexia. Parents who are concerned that their child may be dyslexic may feel a need for professional help.
The reality is that much of the “proper help” received in school actually depends on support from home. Funds have traditionally not been available for dyslexic children in Victorian schools beyond the assistance given to them in reading recovery. The 1999-2000 Budget forecasted that 20% of Victorian Year 1 students would apply for Reading Recovery. While the aims of the Reading Recovery program are to help late readers, it often results in reinforcing the child’s belief that they are “slow”, “dumb” or a “non-reader”.
As one parent comments: ‘The parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place. A position I experienced when my child was going through school.
THE ROCK. You want to do the best for your child and do what you can at home to support them. You look for private tuition, sit with them to do homework etc. However the child is often very difficult because they don’t want to do the extra lessons at home, they don’t want to do their reading etc. The constant battle to get homework done or even getting them to school etc creates a very stressful environment of arguments and tantrums and can have a negative effect on your relationship with the child and can affect other family members.
The reason the child is being difficult at home is because they find school a very stressful place where they’re constantly put under pressure to get work finished, struggling with reading, or are fighting emotions where they’ve been told their work is just not good enough. They’re very much aware of their limitations when they compare themselves with their own peer group. They often keep their emotions in check in school and vent their frustrations, anger, upsets at home. The last thing they want is to come home and find it’s a continuation of school more reading, more work etc.
HARD PLACE. When the homework, reading practise etc fails to get done at home, you are viewed, by the school as unsupportive parents. If you go into the school asking for help etc. you are viewed as “pushy parents”
Benefits of home education for a dyslexic child
For families home educating a dyslexic child there are five main benefits.
For dyslexic children, the daily negative experiences at school can cause tiredness and irritability when they return home. If they are then expected to focus on homework or receive extra tuition, severe resentment can build. Emotional and behavioural problems may occur, creating tensions within the entire family. The problems may spill over into school time resulting in the child becoming labelled as disruptive and difficult.
By contrast, the home can provide a safe and happy environment in which to learn where frustration, humiliation and bullying can be avoided. With your support the young person can learn without fear, ridicule or the embarrassment of looking silly in front of the class and teacher. Where teasing or bullying has occurred in school this advantage is significant. Learning at home frees the child from the pattern of failure and anxiety, thereby creating the conditions which are necessary for recovery. The general organisational difficulties of dyslexic children can also be tackled sympathetically at home.
2. A Quieter Atmosphere
Your child will find it impossible to concentrate in a busy noisy classroom; a dyslexic’s working memory is particularly affected by background speech and they may become very tense and anxious. A quiet, orderly atmosphere at home will allow them to relax and concentrate so learning can take place. At home you can take frequent breaks when concentration wanes and activities may be changed to suit your child’s mood and interests.
3. You do not need to use the National Curriculum
Education can be specifically tailored to your child’s needs using appropriate teaching methods and suitable materials. This is especially true for the choice of method to teach reading. You can provide an education, which is truly suited to your child’s age, ability and aptitude, and to their special needs.
It is particularly important to rebuild confidence if this has been damaged and one way of doing this is by experiencing success. There is freedom of choice to do what the child is good at, spend more time on the subjects they enjoy and to concentrate on strengths rather than weaknesses. Taking dictation, copying work from the board, reading aloud to the class, learning foreign languages and other tasks which are difficult for a child with dyslexia can be eliminated. There is also time to repeat and practise skills that need reinforcing and work can be done at a pace to suit the child. With freedom from an imposed curriculum, life skills can be given the time and attention they deserve.
4. The benefit of individualised teaching
During the infant years a child’s language and vocabulary will develop best if the child remains at home alongside a parent or close relative whilst the activities of everyday home life are undertaken. Research has shown that a child’s own home environment, whether middle or working class, is linguistically richer than that of the nursery school or child minder’s home. Good early language skills underpin the subsequent ease of acquisition of literacy skills.
By being at home with their child, a parent is well placed to provide the individualised teaching that is actually recommended by the education experts but is virtually impossible to provide at school. Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education and developer of the theory of multiple intelligences says, “I do believe that if people have different profiles of intelligence, you can’t simply ignore the fact. You can’t have a uniform school system in which everybody is taught the same thing in the same way. The logical outcome of believing that everyone has a different set of intelligences is an individualised education system. Such a system would find out as much as possible about the way children learn and match them to curriculums designed to suit individuals.
Problems and misunderstandings can be dealt with as they occur whilst successes can be instantly acknowledged and celebrated. With a parent on hand it is easy to do much of the work orally. The conversational route to learning is extremely effective.
Much of the information for this article has been taken from the website dyslexics.org.uk