Thursday, 25 October 2012

‘The dyslexia epidemic’

The dyslexia epidemic’

When I was a teacher, the county I worked in did not allow a child to be described as ‘dyslexic’. I was never sure why, but the suspicion was that it was about the costs that might be involved in support.
Nowadays nearly everyone I meet has their own dyslexia story. A friend, a relative, themselves; it sometimes seems like the typical urban myth.   Why has it become so ‘normal’?

I think that it is to do with the education system in a different way to it being a criticism of the system.  Every English speaking country seems to be a victim the epidemic.  In other countries, with different languages the epidemic is not a severe but still ‘spreading’ and causing increasing concern.

Here in the UK, whatever your individual concerns, every child has the opportunity to learn, children from all backgrounds can move through the system and get to the top academically.  There are differences between schools, and I will not consider them here. In nearly every family there are individuals who, despite having every opportunity, still struggle with reading, writing and often ease of distraction in subjects that require reading and writing.  Others in the same family, who have had virtually the same experiences and opportunities, blossom academically in contrast with those in the family who appear to ‘fail’.

If this was about sport, not reading, none of this would surprise us. We would not be looking for explanation. We might try exhortation, but it would rarely have any effect, and anyway  lack of sporting success at school does not negatively affect the rest of your life  in the way that poor reading and academic performance can.
What has changed in society, is that now more than ever before people need to be able to read and write fluently to be successful.  The employment opportunities, the life chances for those who are slower readers, less fluent readers, are disappearing fast. 

Society is now a less friendly place to those who find it hard to succeed. In a family the slower, less fluent readers now have fewer opportunities and cause more concern. The families look for explanations and ways forward and get a label, which is just that, a label.  Dyslexia is not just about reading, but for most the reading factor is the most debilitating.

What we need to do is to really start to understand why some find reading easier than others.  We need to then act on what we discover.  

  • ·         How many of these slower readers actually simply need good glasses?
  • ·         How many cannot cope with the font size that ‘academically successful leaders’ think is normal?
  • ·         How many find white paper and computer screens difficult?

If your car is having problems, you check the simple stuff first.  Check the electrical system and the fuel system. In most cases the result is a better performance from your car.
It can save a fortune in spurious diagnosis and garage costs.  Reading and writing?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Why do many schoolchildren not wear their glasses at secondary school?

The survey I am doing  suggests that in addition to those taking examinations  this year who have never been to an optician there may be 50,000 ( yes 50,000!) who were wearing glasses in primary school but stopped.
It is possible that many of those who stopped, found that when they wore them, their teachers expected any reading difficulties they had would be solved. If they were not solved, then the child would decide that the glasses were not helping and stop wearing them. Parents in this situation would find it hard to argue with the children and win. 

I have been told that bullying does not appear to be an issue for the children wearing glasses, although it may have been an issue for those who stopped at secondary level.  How do we find out?

Many university students, I have met, have told me that the glasses they had actually seemed to make their eyes ache, or that they would feel nauseous, as well as making little difference. These were clever successful students who had struggled but succeeded at school. They were saying it as it was. At Further education level, I tend to meet students with bigger reading difficulties, bigger visual problems, which have never been resolved even though they could be. It seems likely that millions of pounds are spent each year trying support students when the fundamentals have been missed.

I remember in one FE college, a student who clearly needed glasses, had never been to an optician, who could read if the font on a computer screen was set at 27, and actually could read quite fluently; immediately after the teacher had been told of his difficulty, he was told to read out aloud from a Dickens novel to the class!  The student tried  but was laughed at and humiliated in front of his peers. Unsurprisingly he got angry, upset and walked out. Another success story!!!!!
This guy had been in special needs since he was 11 years old. This had been happening for years.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

‘ Are children in our schools bullied into not wearing their glasses?’

There is research evidence that we should expect between 20-25 % of children in British schools to be wearing glasses if they are going to really succeed.
In British schools, my survey suggests that just  over 10% are actually wearing glasses. Simplistically this suggests that between 10-15% of school children who should be wearing glasses are not, for whatever reason. That would be between 700,000 and a million school children.

The reality of the data is actually far more insidious.  The data suggests that the % wearing glasses peaks at around year 4 at around 12%. After this it levels off until the secondary school, when it starts to plummet, dropping to 8% and possibly even lower before they take their keystage 4 examinations.
Are they being bullied into not wearing them?
At 8%, 12- 17% of British schoolchildren trying to do their examinations at an amazing disadvantage. Let alone having compromised themselves in the years leading up to it.  That will be between 100,000 and 110,000 this year alone!!
Perhaps the government is looking at the wrong way of trying to increase academic success here!
Perhaps the schools cannot see what should be in front of their pupils faces!
(survey sample size at present 1088)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Wearing glasses in School

‘How many children should be wearing glasses in British schools?
There is research evidence that we should expect between 20-25 % of children in British schools to be wearing glasses if they are going to really succeed. The initial results from a survey I am undertaking  are still too meagre. It will be interesting to see what changes in usage occur through the 11 years.
There is suspicion that there are many who should have but are not for a range of reasons.
I suspect that too many will not be able to really participate and will struggle, ,many are getting marginalised and as a result will underachieve.
We will find out.
Then what?  

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Phonological processing/ Phonics

Phonological processing
What I am about to write makes me feel quite fearful. I am unsure who I am about to annoy; who I am about to even anger or even who will have the courage to stand up for what they  know.  Over the years I have met many of the ‘leading people’ in the world of dyslexia. Not one has ever openly opposed the logic of my work. Many are initially positive but then go into a state of denial or silence as if there is a fear of being tainted by the ideas.
I started working in this field with the sole purpose of enabling young people, my students, to succeed more at school.
In  2000 it became clear that Microsoft Word was an important tool which allowed the personalisation of text, that you could measure/could calculate exactly what a person needed to help them the most (Optimal settings). We did not worry about what mechanism was being blamed for their difficulties, or what the latest theory / hypothesis was. What mattered is  what worked.
What was agreed in the first decade of the new century was that people who got diagnosed as ‘dyslexic’ often seem to have a problem with phonological processing. But that difficulty only seems to be associated with reading, not talking. Or when they have to visualise the positions of ‘letters’ within ‘spellings’ or the spellings themselves.  This appears to be about the visual representations of sound. Not the sounds themselves.
Indeed the ‘Phonics’ based approaches that have been developed are concerned with visual representations of sounds, and the way strings of sounds are then blended together in to words.
So if slow reading/reading difficulties are ‘avoided/solved by ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ then there will be no problems in reading for those 9 or 10 year olds who have been properly ‘processed’ sorry ! I mean educated.  Ok SENCO’s speak out please. Is this true are all of the children who have gone through these schemes now a fluent reader. In Clackmannanshire where the game began in the UK, what did happen to those children? They took external examinations the other year at the age of 16. Why aren’t the researchers shouting about how well they did?  How well did they do? It should have been spectacular.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps they did. Then someone please tell us. 
Ok perhaps there was a fault in the phonics argument. Perhaps they should get the visuals correct as well. Put the two together.
Last week, I worked with a very clever 17 yr old. Her reading speed was less than 40 words a minute; with no fluency. She had been identified as dyslexic, thousands of pounds spent on her in the education industry. NO ONE had looked at the easy stuff.
A month ago she got her first pair of corrective glasses. I used an eye tracker with her to find out what her eyes were doing when she read.  We used the size of font which was ‘best for her. FONT 22.. which she said was much easier to see than anything bigger or smaller.
On a normal computer screen her eyes had to stop and look at virtually EACH letter in turn. Even on the simplest words.
When the screen is correct for her she is taking pictures of groups of three letters.

This resulted in her reading around three times faster and when reading aloud the beginning of fluency, sounding out separate  phrases.

How come she could blend sounds and start being fluent without phonological training. Had this part of her brain been ‘cured’!   If you cannot see groups of letters and are putting such huge demands on your working memory then you cannot develop phonological skills.
What we did on Friday cannot be true if the orthodox model is correct.
If the orthodox model is not correct how will the education industry respond?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Two years of silence

For two years I have posted nothing to this blog.
It is time to start again. In the last two years I have worked with a wide range of fantastic people.  At no time has anyone who experienced the work I and my friends do, have they found fault with it. Professionals in the world of dyslexia support in many universities want it for their students.  Professional optometrists have worked with us giving rise to increasingly robust protocols. 
Then yesterday I met  a guy who I have known for the past year who tells me about his 9 year old son, who is having difficulties at school. He tells me that he has a whole range of  issues.
easily distracted
an eye that turns
hated reading
clumsy especially after trying to read.
Regular ear infections/glue ear.
This is not rocket science. 
These can be dealt with. 
People play with colour and dismiss it because it is not done well. . 
Adults manage a world where people deny they have visual problems won't wear glasses they need because' they do not suit me', allow bullying of people with 'four eyes'. even teachers.
Teachers do not check which of their kids should be wearing glasses. Which of their kids have hearing problems. 
Do not even modify the way they teach to allow for the differences between children.
Adults work all day in front of computer screens which 'do their heads in' and think that that is how it has to be.
This will be posted in font point 12 I guess but about half the population need it to be point 16 or greater!  How can I change that?
I have tried to change it to a grey (80% background. That should make it easier for most. but even then it looks like it will be a stripy effect!