Understanding Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia

Julia Sharman

Education Adviser and Support Teacher. Over 25 years teaching experience. Specialist areas: education health needs, SEND and mental health.

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The prefix ‘dys’ means that something is impaired or found to be difficult. In terms of learning, cognition and development in children, conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia are neurological disorders of the brain. They can be caused by injury, but most commonly are development difficulties. So how are these conditions likely to affect your school community, and what can you do to help?

Dyslexia

Dyslexia can be described as a variety of reading disorders, linked with an impairment of the ability to interpret spatial relationships and integration of auditory and / or visual information. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulties with any or all of the following:

  • Reading - moving or overlapping text; losing place in text; needing to re-read same piece of text; movement of print / text; unable to read traditional black on white text.
  • Spelling - can’t remember what words look like; difficulty ‘hearing’ sounds; similar sounds cause confusion; difficulty with vowel digraphs, letter blends and silent letters.
  • Writing - difficulty getting ideas on paper; organisational problems; can’t find the right word.
  • Memory difficulties - alphabet; sequences; dates; timetables; phone numbers.
  • Motor control - coordination difficulties; handwriting difficulties; difficulty copying.
  • Listening - problems note-taking; finds background noise distracting.
  • Spatial / temporal (sensory association with hearing or speech) - difficulty telling the time; left / right confusion, gets lost easily.

Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is the inability to perform coordinated movements. Both fine motor and gross motor skills can be affected, as well as organisational skills, communication and concentration.

  • Gross Motor - physical issues with stairs, balance, getting dressed; coordination difficulties such as running, hopping, sports.
  • Fine Motor - handwriting issues with pencil grip, spacing, formation of letters / numbers; manipulation difficulties with items such as buttons, shoe laces, classroom equipment.
  • Organisation - memory difficulties with rules and sequences; needing visual reminders; finding planning difficult.
  • Communication - speech can be immature; using simple words; getting words muddled up, mispronunciation.
  • Concentration - poor memory skills; easily distracted; limited focus; fidgety.
  • Classroom issues - poor listening skills; problems copying from board; affected by background noise; difficulty getting ideas down on paper.

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is the inability to make simple mathematical calculations, and may include difficulty with any or all of the following:

  • Numbers - issues with place value; struggling to order numbers / chronology.
  • Counting - difficulty counting in order; difficulty navigating backwards / forwards along a number line or sequence; losing place easily; difficulty following numerical instructions, difficulty counting in twos, threes etc.
  • Measures - problems handling money or working out change, calculating totals, adding, multiples etc; struggles to understand speed, time etc; unable to read maps.
  • Calculations - difficulty transferring information, eg 3 x 2 = 6 and 2 x 3= 6; retaining calculations; lacking confidence of own answers; struggling with symbols and signs.
  • Memory - struggling to recall / retain number facts; organisational problems.
  • Spatial / Temporal - left / right confusion; difficulty telling the time.
  • Classroom issues - poor listening skills; problems copying; affected by background noise; difficulties getting numbers down on paper; reversal of numbers / place value.

Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is an impairment of the ability to write correctly, and understand the rules of the formation of grammatical sentences, patterns of formation of sentences and phrases from words. Any organisational or memory difficulties will have a major impact.

Having read through the information above, you will recognise some of the difficulties presented by some of your pupils. Do you recognise the fidgety, frustrated, disorganised and tired pupil who appears to not listen? The pupil who jumbles up letters, numbers, gets words in the wrong order no matter how many times they try or practice? The pupil who is articulate, but unable to get ideas down on paper?

It’s worth mentioning here that these difficulties may well affect an individual’s mental health. That frustration and constant facing of difficulty could lead to high levels of anxiety, low mood, and depression. Learning under pressure can be a prerequisite of a vicious circle. That frustration and confusion may affect self-esteem and self-worth, which in turn can damage friendships, as their peers appear to stride ahead.

In terms of classroom management, pupils will require extra time when reading, writing or doing mathematical calculations. Activities and instructions need to be broken down. They may only be able to cope with one or two at a time.

Thankfully, there are a huge amount of apps, assistive technology devices, and other methods of recording available - such as voice recorders and programmes that convert speech to text. A comprehensive guide of apps to support Dyslexia and Dyscalculia difficulties is available to download for free from: www.callscotland.org.uk/downloads/posters-and-leaflets.

One of my students told me she uses a font called Open Dyslexic. She reported that she finds it very helpful, as it stops print jumping about on the page. Students can choose from a range of fonts and sizes, and just need to find which one suits them best.

Coloured overlays, or prescribed glasses with specific coloured lens, are also available. Encourage parents to take their children to an optician - there may also be other underlying problems.

Remember there are many highly successful individuals with dyslexia who have gone on to achieve great things: Prime minister Winston Churchill, Olympic swimmer & Arctic explorer Duncan Goodhew, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Famous people with dyspraxia, meanwhile, include Daniel Radcliffe and Albert Einstein!

As Rick Riordan - author of the Percy Jackson series of books - said:

“Dyslexic kids are creative, ‘outside-the-box’ thinkers. They have to be, because they don’t see or solve problems the same way other kids do. In school, unfortunately, they are sometimes written off as lazy, unmotivated, rude or even stupid. They aren’t. Making Percy dyslexic was my way of honouring the potential of all the kids I’ve known who have those conditions. It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented.”

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