Identifying dyslexia in children and getting help

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Visual-dyslexia

Visual-dyslexia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies suggest that identifying dyslexia early and getting help is important as 95% of children can benefit from intervention programmes. The British Dyslexia Association (www.bdadyslexia.org.uk) recommends that if you think your child had dyslexia then it is better to get them assessed as soon as possible by an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Dyslexia Teacher qualified to carry out the assessments. Some schools may be resistant to getting a diagnosis as it costs money. However, as a diagnosis will allow your child to get the support needed, it is probably best to go ahead with the assessments. Allowing the problem to continue may harm your child’s self-esteem as they continue having problems with reading and writing. Also research suggests that children who are poor readers at 6 years old find it difficult to catch up with other children (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). So what are the signs of dyslexia and what can a parent do?

If there is a history of dyslexia in your family then there is an increased risk that your child will develop it. Early signs of dyslexia are: problems speaking clearly, no interest in letters or words, difficulty with motor tasks such as getting dressed, catching a ball or fastening buttons and confusing directional words such as left/right and up/down.

The most effective intervention programmes in schools seems to focus on phonological awareness. Children with poor phonological awareness may not understand that if you change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘h’, the word would become ‘hat’.

Parents can teach letter sounds at home. For example, they can teach that the letter ‘c’ is pronounced as it sounds at the beginning of the word ‘cat’ rather than ‘see’ and that ‘k’ and ‘ck’ have the same sound. There is an excellent DVD made by the BBC, where all the different synthetic phonics sounds are presented. I bought the DVD on Amazon very cheaply for my son and it came with a workbook and poster of the different sounds.

You can also practice phoneme deletion with your children using word and picture cards. For example, you might have two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. You could then ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning. Another technique is phoneme identification. You might say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’. Phoneme discrimination helps your child to really listen to speech sounds. This is where you present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.

Parents can also play word games such as ‘I spy’ to focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words or rhyming games such as how many words rhyme with ‘fox’. Getting children to clap out the syllables in a word also helps children to recognise how words are made up of different sounds so for example you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.

One study used a 14 week home- and computer-based training in phonemic awareness and letter-sound relationships with children who were genetically at risk of dyslexia.  Initially, the trained at-risk children kept up with untrained not-at-risk controls in reading ability. However, once the children started school, the trained at-risk children had delayed reading relative to the not-at-risk control children. This study shows the importance of support at school as well as at home and how the advantages of early intervention can be undone unless on-going help is provided. Therefore, it is important that parents push for support at school whilst continuing their efforts at home.

The good news is that schools are becoming more aware about how to support children with dyslexia and so if your child is identified as having dyslexia, they should get the help necessary.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

 

Can music lessons improve your child’s intelligence?

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Music lesson in Glanerbrug  (Home)

Music lesson in Glanerbrug (Home) (Photo credit: Johan Koolwaaij)

I have an amazing tutor group, who are intelligent, work hard in their lessons and contribute a great deal to the school. Many of these children are musical and the music teacher suggested jokingly that music was the reason for their achievements. At the time, I scoffed at the suggestion and argued that being involved in any extra-curricular activity at school probably benefits children. However, since making these comments I decided to do a bit of research to see whether there really is a link between music lessons and intelligence. So what does the evidence show?

Schellenberg (2006) found a correlation between IQ, academic ability and how long 6- to 11-year-olds had been having music lessons, even when family income, parents’ education and involvement in non-musical activities were taken into account.

Schlaug and colleagues (2005) found that giving children music lessons can lead to improve visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical abilities.

A study by Wong and colleagues (2007) suggests that musical training can help children to recognise different sounds and so help with reading and learning a second language.

Forgeard and colleagues (2008) compared children who had at least three years of instrumental music training with a control group and found that the musically trained children performed better on verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

You may argue that children who have music lessons may come from better off families with greater aspirations. You may also argue that children who have the motivation to learn a musical instrument may also have better attention spans and be more cooperative and so do better on tests. This is a problem with many of the studies looking at the effects of music lessons on intelligence. It is difficult to establish how music lessons actually help children.

Interestingly, research shows that music training improves academic achievement even when IQ remains constant. Learning a musical instrument may only improve children’s concentration and persistence rather than IQ. However, from my own perspective, I will be encouraging my son to learn a musical instrument as soon as he is old enough. I want him to have the enjoyment of music and the benefits.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

 

Should gifted children be accelerated?

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Chess congress, Ormskirk England 2005. See htt...

Chess congress, Ormskirk England 2005. See http://www.ormskirkchess.org.uk/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my friends said that she was considering accelerating her 3-year old son the other day so that he starts school in September. He is October-born so would only be starting school 2 months earlier than an August-born child and he is ahead of his peers. However, I have my reservations but are they unfounded? The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children but does research bear this out?

Research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.

Potential Plus UK endorse the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.

Perhaps it depends on how gifted a child is as to whether there are benefits in accelerating them. Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4 to 5 years old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3 to 4 years old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. A level 1 gifted child is able to read children’s non-picture books by age seven to seven and a half and is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). It may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.

The research suggests that I should be more open to the idea of accelerating gifted children. However, I still think that gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to socialise and play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may always feel smaller than their friends and it is unlikely that they would be picked for the school sports teams against bigger children. Gifted children may also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics, so it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.

If I go back to my friend’s dilemma about whether to accelerate her 3-year old son or not, I would say that she has to judge at what level he is gifted to make a decision as to whether to accelerate him. I also believe that young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted so she needs to think about whether her son is still enjoying free play. Another thing she needs to consider is whether her son has the emotional maturity to deal with full-time schooling. Children may be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

What are the signs that your child might have autism?

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Subject: Quinn, an ~18 month old boy with auti...

Children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty expressing their emotions or understanding other people’s emotions. They find it hard to make friends and to communicate with others and they have problems reading people’s facial expressions. They are also less likely to engage in imaginative play, for example, they would find it hard to pretend that a wooden block is a train or a rocket. They can also be quite sensitive to stimuli in their environment such as loud noises.

There can be speech and language difficulties in children with ASD but not always. Examples of speech and language difficulties are: not speaking by 16 months, repeating words and phrases over and over again, repeating questions rather than answering them, not being able to communicate their desires and not understanding humour.

Children with ASD can be quite inflexible, for example, they do not cope well with changes in routine. Other signs of ASD are: attachments to strange objects such as wires or keys, lining up toys or spending long periods of time staring at moving objects such as a wheel spinning on a car. Some children with ASD can also show an amazing memory for facts such as train schedules.

ASD may lead a child to feel anxious. Many autistic people have certain routines that help them deal with their anxieties e.g. wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods and repeating the same movements (hand flapping, finger flicking).

So what are the signs of ASD in babies? One of the major signs of ASD in babies is lack of eye contact. Babies with ASD often do not babble or mimic facial expressions. Very young babies cannot smile but if babies are not smiling by six months, it can be a sign of ASD. Another sign of ASD is when older babies do not use gestures to communicate such as pointing or waving goodbye.

Some babies will develop normally but then regress between 12 and 24 months. A toddler who stops using words or stops playing social games such as peek-a-boo could have ASD. If your child regresses, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor or health visitor as this is an indicator of ASD.

Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that children with ASD have problems understanding that other people have different thoughts to them. He developed the Sally-Anne task to test for ASD. It is possible to use an adaptation of this task at home with children over 4 years old, although a diagnosis should always be done by professionals. You can put two puppets together and say that both puppets are watching whilst a toy is placed in a basket or container. You then tell your child that one of the puppets is going out of the room. The next step is to explain to your child that the second puppet is going to hide the toy in a different place. You bring the first puppet back into the room and ask your child, where the first puppet thinks the toy is. Children over 4 years older who do not have autism should be able to understand that the first puppet thinks the toy is still in the original place. However, children with ASD tend to think that the first puppet will know the new hiding place for the toy. This is because children with ASD have difficulty understanding that others do not always know what they do. They have trouble comprehending that other people can have different thoughts and feelings to them.

So what can parents do if they think their child has ASD? First of all, you need to get a diagnosis of ASD. The Peach Charity recommends early diagnosis and intervention to improve communication skills. Parents may be told not to worry by GPs and health visitors but if you suspect your child has ASD, it is a good idea to push for diagnosis. Your child may then be assessed by a range of professionals including a paediatrician, a child psychiatrist, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and an educational expert such as a specialist teacher or educational psychologist.

One intervention programme that has been found to be effective is ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis). ABA involves teaching children with ASD the skills to communication effectively and interact with others. The programme also involves rewarding children for appropriate behaviours such as waiting for their turn in a game.

So what does the research say about parental involvement? McConachie and Diggle (2007) argue that parents should be given training in how to help their children with ASD. They say that parents can benefit from the increased skills especially as children with ASD can be difficult to manage. They also point to research that says that training parents in groups can help them to form a support network with other parents (Baxendale, Frankham, & Hesketh, 2001; Symon, 2001). They reviewed a number of studies and concluded that training parents in how to use ABA at home helped children’s communication skills and behaviour. They also point to studies that suggest that parental training can reduce parental stress levels and even lower the incidence of mothers developing depression. Some parents report that being trained in how to deal with ASD also helped them with their other children (Laski et al. 1988).

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.