Something happened to Callum in the autumn term 2011. A normally cheerful child he has, however, always been the child who falls over, loses or breaks things and struggles with schoolwork. In November the phrase ‘I’m rubbish’ crept into his vocabulary and homework began to be stressful and resulted in tears.
Two years before Callum’s Mum spoke to me about her concerns with his progress at school. Not yet at his seventh birthday, I suggested she help him as much as possible but persuaded her not to go down the assessment route and get him labelled. As I told her, there are few specialist teachers or education psychologists who will assess a child before they are seven. Callum was now 8 years 10 months and we were thinking that this had gone on long enough. Callum’s difficulties had begun to cause him problems socially and emotionally. He loved his Saturday drama group and was the only one of three siblings to attend, the intention to find him something that was special to him that he enjoyed. But he refused to audition for parts despite getting into the final ten at an audition.
This was followed by refusing to audition for a school production. ‘I won’t get it. I’m rubbish,’ was all he would say when asked. Once his mother was ferrying several of his classmates to an event, when one of the children chimed up that ‘Callum’s the messiest writer in the class’. She felt herself cringe on her son’s behalf. Mum is also aware that Callum’s work is never put up on the wall and very little work comes home from school. With Parents’ Evening looming after half term, his mother asked for a preliminary ‘chat’ with his teacher. This was initially refused with the imminent Parents’ Evening. ‘But I just want to have a word about Callum,’ his Mum said, ‘so that you can have a think and talk to other people before that evening.’
Eventually, it was agreed and the result is that Callum has been moved speedily into a ‘special spelling group’. Why this had not been done before is unclear. Mum was clearly distressed the week before half term as she feels helpless to support him. She is not a trained teacher and is not in a position therefore to train as a specialist dyslexia tutor. One route for her may be to take up a place on a Teaching Assistants’ Course. Her experience with her own child may well tip the scales if the course is over subscribed. When I studied for my Diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties, I was the only person on the course who didn’t have dyslexic children. Most teachers were there to learn how to help their own children. In reality this does not work as even if you have the qualification you will find there are barriers to teaching your own child. I have often had a child brought to me by a mother who is a trained specialist. ‘He won’t do it for me,’ is the common complaint. I agreed to do some subtle basic assessments on Callum. He already has Test and Exam phobia, failing anything that is presented as such, whereas his classwork is acceptable. His low self-esteem is such that I knew he would not want to come into a room with me and ‘do tests’. I therefore sat with him in the lounge of their home while the other children were occupied with other things. We had an easy chat about school and what he does not like (everything apparently). I asked him if he could say long words and the answer was ‘no’. Will you try some for me I asked. He tried four words – preliminary, philosophical, statistical and millennium – all without success but we had a laugh about it and I said I couldn’t say preliminary either. We talked about learning the tables but he has learnt the 7x table by reciting 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and so on, so if you ask him what are four sevens he cannot tell you. This, of course, is another item on the Bangor Dyslexia Test so I could not test him on reciting one table through, although I will try with an easier table next time. I then asked him if he could tell me the months of the year. He made errors and backtracked from May to start again, finishing eventually by reversing October and November. When I asked him to say them backwards he said ‘no way’. I know that his grandfather has always demonstrated signs of Dyslexia and Callum told me he confused ‘b’ and ‘d’ giving me examples. ‘I write deing instead of being,’ he said. I therefore know that Callum has 5 indicators on the Bangor and know him well enough to predict this will increase to 8 or even 10 on my next visit. Interestingly, his siblings were writing poems for a competition run by Buxton Press in association with Derby University. Callum had disappeared when they began composing, one on a laptop and one on a lined file pad. This is a key indicator of Dyslexia. If a child avoids writing or produces very little written work, he or she should be investigated for Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia). Any parents reading this would be advised to approach their child’s school if this is the case with their child. The simple things I demonstrated above could also be tried with the child either as a game or in conversation. Siblings should not be allowed to laugh at the child who cannot pronounce big words. Likewise they should not laugh at his writing, poor reading and maths. I suspect that this has started to happen in school and caused him to label himself ‘rubbish’ at everything.
I asked Callum if he would read me some words on a card which he did happily. Then I took a deep breath and asked if he would write some words for me as I wanted to see how many words he knew. The result of this exercise was that his scores were very low. He is at the third percentile for reading and below the first percentile for spelling. Percentiles express the child’s achievement as compared to a similar age group. Callum’s raw scores were checked against the 8 yrs 6 months to 8 years 11 months group. This means that in one hundred children of his age group, only two children will read at a lower level than him. If this story strikes a familiar chord with you, you have the right to ask to see the SENCO at your child’s school. SENCO stands for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. More tests can then be carried out. If a child has a reading level that is outside the average range, they can have a reader for important tests. I am sure this would take away Callum’s test anxiety.
I am starting to give Callum specialist tuition. He already has a tutor who is not a specialist, but he likes her and she is doing very useful things with him. However, he needs someone to deal with his poor phonological awareness. And what can Mum do? Well Callum was able to spell words such as – him, make, cook, must, enter and light so I have shown Mum how to build large groups of words using these basic patterns. As he can spell the syllable chunk ‘ter’ he should be able to add ‘er’ to ‘light’ for example. This will have an esteem building effect on Callum. His spelling mistakes demonstrate good knowledge of sounds but poor ability to ‘hear the sounds in words’ Examples are crecd for correct, recke for reach, metereal for material, sprise for surprise, sercall for circle. They are what the specialists call ‘phonological alternatives’. A very good attempt was made at ‘explain’ ie ‘explan’. This is therefore good news despite the low score. Callum’s error with ‘reach’ suggests he needs some work with ‘ch’ as he has confused it with ‘ck’.
I will keep you posted with Callum’s progress as we meet. So watch this space. — Posted By Di Castle to Di Castle – a writer and teacher – issues of interest to writers, parents and mature students. in 2012
Di Castle teaches groups on DEAF AWARENESS and the basics of British Sign Language for anyone running a community group or who has contact with members of the public, shopkeepers, hairdressers, hoteliers, restaurant/bar staff, Professionals and Groups. contact email@example.com 07787 435549
SHOULD I WEAR FLORAL and other poems on Life, Love and Leaving. A celebration of the last twenty-five years was published in 2017.
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