How can I spot visual problems in a student?
Your student may complain of headaches, glare, blurred vision and letters or words moving around. They may have difficulty in keeping their place while reading (often called tracking difficulties) and need to follow words with their finger or a ruler.
Other symptoms include difficulties in learning sequences (for example days of the week or the months of the year), a tendency to clumsiness, poor concentration and phonological problems (finding it hard to sort out the sounds within words).
How can I help a dyslexic student with learning to read?
It is important to make sure that the student is exposed to written material as frequently as possible as practice is the most important thing. Providing written information in a simple 'sans serif' font (without flicks and tails on the letters) such as Arial or Calibri helps the letters to be recognisable, and using a larger font size than normal is also helpful.
If possible, print in black onto light beige paper to reduce visual glare, and avoid using colours that could reduce contrast. It is particularly important not to use colours on top of each other such as yellow on orange as there is reduced ability to distinguish letters. Red and green colours together are also problematic for colour blind students.
When students are slower at writing than typical there is an increasing trend to provide them with a laptop and excuse them from physical writing. We strongly advise against avoiding writing with a pen or pencil. Studies show that the actual physical process of forming letters is extremely important to learning to read. This also applies to the increasing trend in education to use ipads and digital screens for learning, instead of pen and paper.
Students should be seated with a direct view of the board, ideally near the front of the room and close to the teacher as students with dyslexia often also have auditory processing problems. Information to copy should be provided on paper as copying from the board is difficult. It is also useful to provide a written summary of instructions in case the student struggles to remember verbal information.
If a student recieves a visual assessment in our clinic we can provide further guidance and assistance on how best to support their particular individual needs.
Is there anything important I should talk to parents about?
You should explain to parents that problems with reading do not mean that their child is 'slow' or lacking intelligence. Parents often get defensive or scared when they feel unable to help their child or feel they may be 'judged'. If you refer the parent to us we can help them to understand the brain basis that may be making reading hard for their child that have nothing to do with ability or intelligence.
It is also important to encourage parents to read with their child and play word games as much as possible at home while maintaining a positive and stress free atmosphere. Overloading a child with additional work and putting pressure on them to 'perform better' could cause further damage to their self esteem. It is important for parents to understand that this is not an issue that can be resolved by 'trying harder'.