Free dyslexia webinars for back-to-school students

A free four part webinar series Academic Success & Dyslexia: Back To School Webinar Series!is starting on 23rd August aimed at helping dyslexic students succeed when they head back to school in a few weeks

It’s being run by Patrick Wilson, who has been working with dyslexic students since 2003. A dyslexic himself, he founded the Tutor Crowd to help SEN students do better in exams. His particular teaching focus is dyslexia.

Patrick believes that low achievement is not the result of low ability it is the result of ineffective learning. He has developed a specific way of teaching dyslexic students that aims to help them work more effectively. He has previously been featured in The Times and The Daily Mail.

Today, he tells Special Needs Jungle about his service.

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I got involved with tutoring SEN students because of my background as a dyslexic. In education I found I was constantly coming up against brick walls, and in order to get through school and university, I created techniques and learning models to get the grades. It’s been a natural progression for me to pass on what worked to other dyslexics. I’ve had some great successes with SEN students and it’s good to see people who have struggled academically start achieving.

What’s important for SEN tutors is that they fully understand the student’s SEN. I think that knowledge can sometimes be easier for a teacher with personal experience of the issue to communicate. What I feel happens a lot in SEN teaching, is that lessons focus on the correct objectives, things like organising and structuring. However, if the teacher hasn’t truly understood the students SEN in the first place, the student will walk away without having achieved or learned anything.

I use a lot of different methods when I’m tutoring. I’m an advocate of action based learning for dyslexics, and I focus on creating a relaxing stress free environment, where mistakes are seen as a good thing. I also recommend providing a constant feedback loop for students. Very often a dyslexic will put a huge amount of effort into a project, only to be told at the end that it is not right. That is disheartening and can potentially put the student off learning permanently. By providing constant feedback, the student can improve bit by bit without becoming disheartened.

My advice for worried parents is to do your research. It’s really important you get up to speed with the specific SEN issue that your child has. Understanding should allow you to work with your child more effectively and reduce the emotional issues that can occur in a parent- ‘SEN child’ relationship.

The Tutor Crowd is an online platform that connects you to great tutors. Instead of only being able to work with local tutors, you can work with a tutor from anywhere in the country. For example, you may need an economics tutor that specialises in dyslexia. Our platform gives you the opportunity to find a tutor that’s an ideal match for you. We also have very strict entry criteria for tutors. Only the very best tutors are allowed on the site. We also use a rating and feedback system so parents can have complete confidence that a tutor is top quality.

The webinar is a free 4 part series about understanding and working with your dyslexia. It’s for anyone with dyslexia who wants to achieve academically, as well as for parents and educators who want to engage, teach and build better relationships with their child or student. Click here to register.

Dyslexia in the wrong situation can be a soul destroying problem. However, in the right circumstances, and with the right learning techniques, dyslexia can be an incredible asset and a very powerful way of thinking.

When the words move by themselves – it could be Visual Stress

I met a lady on Twitter a while back, Michelle Doyle, who was talking about ‘Visual Stress’. I wasn’t really clear about what this was so Michelle has kindly written about it for Special Needs Jungle about how it affects her son and her fight to get him the support he needs. Here’s her story:

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After years with my son struggling with his reading and writing and being given the impression that he was lazy in class, in Nov 2009 at the age of eleven, he was given a coloured overlay by a teacher at his Primary School.

After I questioned him about this, I was shocked and extremely surprised to find out that when he looked at a page of writing it moved around the page. My son has Visual Stress, the movement of letters on a page of writing and there is a fairly long list of symptons that are associated with it.

I spoke to his Optician who confirmed that my son has Visual Stress, Visual Stress – Meares Irlene Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, or Visual Dyslexia the different names I have heard it called. He has to have two pairs of glasses one for everyday use, i.e. going out  and a coloured pair for his educational needs.  He also has severe long-sightedness.

Precision-tinted Lenses are only available by private prescription and the cost can vary from area to area by quite a considerable amount.

I got in touch with the local Primary Care Trust and after about 6 months I finally managed to get a second voucher issued for his distance vision to be put into his tinted lenses. This is also now done for all the children in my area who suffer from Visual Stress.

I have also been in touch with my MP.   She wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and the Chief Executive for NHS in my area.  The replies basically told me what I already knew about the vouchers for children etc. I do not feel that the question of extra funding for the vision of these children was answered at all.   Basically I felt as though i was being swept under the carpet.  [Currently vouchers will not cover the cost of tinted lenses – only the prescription lense]

My MP wrote to the Group Director for Social Care and Learning. His reply gave me the impression that he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I then sent an e-mail direct to the Group Director of Social Care and Learning, begging of him to do his homework and find out more about this condition. I sent him two examples of Visual Stress so he could see for himself the reason’s behind these children struggling so much with reading and writing.   Once again I received a reply stating what I already knew, with no offer of looking into this more.

I also got in touch with the Education Dept. for Disabled Children.  They then referred me to The Visual Impairment Coordinator for my area. She told me herself that what my son had wrong with his eyes is not dyslexia. She described it as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Visual Stress. Even she had to research Visual Stress before she got back to me.   She told me not to force my son to read as the stress he feels, makes the stress on his eyes worse and therefore the Visual Stress symptoms get worse.

When my son first started year 7 he had a reading age of 7.2 years even thought he was 11 years of age. Now at 13 years and year 8 he has the reading age of 9.5 years. [this is an amazing achievement!] I was told by my son’s school that the Education Authority in my area would not issue my son with a Statement of Educational Needs.   So I went directly to the Head of SenCo in my area.  I told them that he needed and I wanted him to have a Statement of Educational Needs.  He was assessed and It took approximately three months for him to be issued with a Statement.

The school were very surprised that I had managed to get a Statement for him.

I was told that my son also had dyslexic tendencies I asked the school about getting him assessed; they told me that my Education Authority didn’t recognise Dyslexia as a learning disability. I told them that I wanted him assessed. Strange that if my son goes to College or University all of his sight problems will then be recognised.

In the mean time I have started a group on Facebook called Parents of Kids with Visual Stress.   This is where all our members can discuss the problems that they are having and also get ideas of how to tackle things from other people. We are also there to support each other with our fight.

I also have an e-petition running for the funding of tinted lenses for visual stress.   I need to get 100,000 signatures for it to be discussed in Parliament. The more votes that we can get the quicker the help can be put in place to help our children.

So far it has felt as though I am being pushed around an ever increasing system of managers etc.  Yet not one of these people are able to tell me if my son can get any help towards funding the glasses he so obviously needs. Without these tinted lenses my son will never be able to read and write at the same level as his peers.

Act now for a chance to learn more about SEN – for just £36 including lunch!

There are just four days left to secure the early bird price for this year’s Towards a Positive Future SEN conference in Newbury.

The conference takes place on June 16th and I’m honoured to be one of the keynote speakers,. NAS president Jane Asher will be leading a Q & A session and other speakers include special needs, legal, education and disability experts.

The conference is for anyone who lives or works with children and young people with SEN and disabilities. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about how to help your child or children you care for and to speak to other parents and experts.

There will be separate seminars dealing with dyslexia, autism and the implications of the green paper. See the full programme details here.

Early bird tickets are just £36 for parents – which considering most conferences are into the hundreds is an incredible deal. Early bird professional tickets are £72.

Book now to avoid disappointment. The event is at the Arlington Arts Centre in Newbury and parking is free. Lunch and refreshments are included.

The conference is sponsored by, among others, SEN Magazine and Pearson Assessment.

The conference organiser, Janet O’Keefe, said, “This conference will focus on what we know works and how this can continue to work whatever the future political or legal system we find ourselves under in the coming months and years. Our aim is that parents of children with special educational needs and the professionals that support them are as informed as possible about the Green Paper, forthcoming changes and future implications on health, education and social care funding so that they can navigate the system successfully.”

For online booking, click here

Common sense solutions to solving dyslexia issues

Last week, while reading my SEN news feeds, I came across an article about dyslexia on the Conservative Home website by education expert, John Bald. John is a former OFTSED inspector and contributor to The Guardian. He has almost forty years’ experience of teaching people of all ages to read and write, to learn foreign languages and to understand and use arithmetic.

I got in touch with John and asked if he would mind setting out his ideas in an article for Special Needs Jungle readers. He very kindly obliged – and I think you will find it extremely interesting reading:

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Tania’s request seemed simple – she had read a posting dealing with literacy problems on another site, which set out to explain what I described as “the dyslexia racket”. Could I write a straightforward guide for parents on what to do if their child has a problem?

For some issues, the answer is, “Yes”. If the problem concerns literacy, and does not reflect a serious general learning difficulty, bring your son or daughter to see me, and I will fix it for you without charge. This is a big claim, but I deliver on it, time after time, because I know the mental processes involved in reading, and the regular and irregular features of English spelling like the back of my hand. As we read, we use the information contained in letters to do several things at once. We identify words by tracking print closely with our eyes – the latest tracking devices show eye movements following print, as well as changing their fixing point on the page. As we do so put them together into phrases, to reproduce the intonations of the language and reconstruct the sense indicated by the author.

John Bald

The process is a little like reading music. Phonics, the relationship between words and sounds, is at the heart of it, but, unlike musical notation, they are not always reliable, so we have to learn what the letters are telling us in an individual word. For example, the a sound in can has to be stretched to say can’t, and the letters don’t tell us this, any more than they tell us the difference between do and don’t. Once we’ve learned to use what the letters tell us, without supposing that they tell us everything, we understand that the language is a human construct, with human failings, and that it does always respond to strict logic.

As I say to children, English is roughly a thousand years old, and if we were a thousand years old, we’d have a few wrinkles. Much of the difficulty many people experience with reading in English arises because teachers do not know the wrinkles. It’s not their fault – no-one has pointed these out in their training. The reason I came to know them myself was that I did a degree in French, which is the source of over half of the problems. Say table in French and you will hear that l comes before e. It’s phonics, but French phonics. William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066 left us with a lot more than castles!

How we put words together in phrases and sentences is also a bit like music, and I only understood this last year, when I read the French government’s national curriculum for learning English. It points out that, except for very short words, one part of each word is almost always picked out for stress. Again, the letters won’t tell us what this is – we have to know it, and it is not even the same in words of the same family – photograph, photographer, photography. The last straw for foreign learners is that we pick out one word in each phrase or sentence for extra stress on its own, usually without even knowing that we do it. Controlling these patterns of stress in real time requires very detailed knowledge of the language, and is one reason why so few foreign speakers of English have no detectable accent.

So, if someone comes to me with a reading problem, I explain this and we practise. First, though, I have them read to me, and ask myself two questions:

1. What is it in this person’s thinking that is preventing them from reading?

and

2. How do I help them adjust their thinking so that they can read?

These questions focus my mind on the person I’m working with, and not on some theory – my own or anyone else’s. We need to tune into print, and to help people do this, we need to know the causes of interference. The most common are guessing at words, usually from their first letter, not seeing clearly – some people are sensitive to certain wavelengths of light in a way that only becomes clear when they have to apply their eyes to the tightly disciplined activity of reading – and not hearing clearly, sometimes because of misconceptions developed in early childhood through conditions such as glue ear. Teachers should know all about these things. Alas, most don’t. So, if your child has a problem with literacy, take him or her to someone who does.

I use a similar approach to spelling , Slimmed Down Spelling, but that is for another posting. An account is at http://johnbald.typepad.com/language/2009/06/slimmed-down-spelling-and-government-nonsense.html. I am currently working on maths.

But what if the problem is not with reading, spelling or arithmetic? What if it is a behavioural issue, Asperger’s or Autism? The truth here, I think, is that our knowledge of these issues is not far advanced from that of our general knowledge of science in the seventeenth century. We can see things that we can’t fully explain, and our attempts to solve problems are therefore not fully effective. Even respected scientists such as Simon Baron Cohen resort to blatant speculation, such as his idea that autism is the “extreme male brain” when the evidence runs out.

But I still come back to my two questions, perhaps extended. What is it that is making this person angry, or anti-social? What is it that they need to understand and don’t, and how do we make it clear to them? We know of successful techniques such as social stories to help children focus attention on other people as well as themselves or, more recently, of practising telling the time quickly in order to focus attention on detail. One thing I can say, from extensive experience, is that anger and poor behaviour often arise from children’s frustration at not being able to do their work, and in some extreme cases because of the effect of sensitivity to light that is not identified because no one is looking for it. If the issue that is causing concern is anger, however it is expressed, then if we are to tackle it, we need to move beyond our concern with managing the anger, find out what is causing it, and do what we can to remove the cause.

Find John’s blog and contact details here: http://johnbald.typepad.com/