In conjunction with Dyslexia Awareness Month, we posed pertinent questions to Hilary Craig of Hils Learning – a renowned education centre in Kuala Lumpur focusing on learning support, play therapy, reading mastery, educational testing and counselling.
At what age can possible signs be noticed in children and what are the most common / obvious for parents to look out for?
This is very difficult to answer for there are all sorts of indicators that may or may not be red flags for dyslexia. In very young children delayed speech, difficulty constructing sentences, pronunciation difficulties, little interest in rhyming words and difficulty finding the correct word are all possible signs but may be due to something quite different, such as glue ear, and not be a cause for concern.
When a child begins school difficulties with language become more apparent. The child may have unusual difficulty learning to read and spell, may confuse the direction of letters such as b d p q. They may answer questions easily when asked orally but be unable to write down their answers. They may work slowly and reading may be slow or inaccurate or both when reading aloud. They may have difficulty with the sounds in words and struggle to match sounds and letters. Sequences, such as days of the week, may be difficult to learn. The little words that make up more than half the words we use – the, for, next – may be very difficult to remember and the meanings many not be fully internalised.
During the secondary school years possible indicators are poor organisation, inability to write down exactly what they mean, avoidance of reading tasks, difficulty in planning for project work and essays, and poor test preparation ability may be signs. These are a few of the many indicators for a language learning difficulty such as dyslexia - there are many more.
What is the first step to undertake should a parent think their child may have a learning issue?Start by talking with the child’s teachers to find out if they have any concerns. Then make sure, if this has not been done already, that the child has no underlying health issues. Are their eyes working adequately for distance and near vision and are the muscles of the eyes working efficiently? Is the child getting enough sleep? Does the child have allergies or intolerances? Do they hear the full range of sounds? Is the child eating properly and following a healthy diet? Is the home environment secure and nurturing?
How do you conduct assessments?At Hils Learning, we have a screening tool that we have developed over many years. This is not designed to diagnose any specific learning difficulty but rather to determine areas where the difficulties are occurring. The results are discussed with the parents or caregivers and suggestions on ways to help the child are made. In addition we conduct formal psychoeducational testing assessments such as the WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) and the WIAT (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test) on request or if deemed necessary.
What causes dyslexia?
There have been many theories - I think it is just a different way of thinking and in my experience often associated with creative individuals.
How does Hils Learning work with children with learning issues like dyslexia?
After the initial screening we select a staff member to work with the child. Working with the child’s strengths we address the areas of concern. A primary concern is ensuring that confidence is addressed as we often find that by the time a child comes to us, their confidence has been eroded and it is essential for success.
We aim to reduce anxiety around their difficulty by approaching it differently and working with the child’s strength. For example, if a child enjoys drawing we will use that when writing stories, if a child is physically active we will use that to learn letter sounds. We believe that for learning to take place and be a positive experience for the child he/she must relax, attempt and have fun. We consider the child’s strongest learning mode, be it visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, and use that to enable the child to succeed.
In your opinion, are Malaysian parents as informed as they should be when it comes to learning issues like these?Probably not but the Internet has helped. It is important to find sympathetic understanding professionals who help parents to deal with whatever issues are confronting their child. My advice is keep trying until you find someone with whom you feel comfortable for when a child is helped the whole family benefits.
Is awareness improving?
Most definitely. Dyslexia is not a problem nor is it a weakness. It cannot be “cured”. It is not something to be ashamed of. In fact the strengths of a child unmasked through the understanding of their learning difficulties are something that needs to be celebrated.
The final sentence in my book - Small Steps, Big Differences - reflects my belief about learning, “The magic of humans is their differences and these must be preserved, for it is through difference that greatness is born”.
Hilary Craig is an internationally recognised expert in learning, education and child development with three degrees and many qualifications in learning. As a teacher, she realised some children were falling through the cracks and needed support. Although originally Irish she has lived in Malaysia for almost twenty years.
For more information: https://www.hilslearning.edu.my/