Class Action: Special Needs Children at Secondary School
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My Year Six daughter has dyslexia. She loves school, and her teachers say that she is bright and motivated. However, she finds spelling and reading very challenging. Her teacher is excellent at encouraging her to write without having a complex about spelling, and is sensitive to the fact that she hates being made to read aloud. I'm worried that her confidence will be knocked next year at secondary school, and she will fall behind.
It is great to hear that your daughter is so enthusiastic about school and that her current teacher has helped her develop confidence with language activities, despite her difficulties. Confidence and self-esteem are vital to success.
You are doing the right thing by thinking the secondary school situation through ahead of time. Unlike primary school, where your daughter is closely monitored by one teacher, she will be taught by many teachers. So having a teacher who is the main point of contact will be important in order to monitor her academic and emotional well-being. This may be a tutor, or preferably an expert in learning difficulties.
Children with specific learning needs often have other related issues where support from both home and school is vital. Time management and organisation of personal belongings are common difficulties and can be very challenging. Navigating around a big school is also an issue.
Children's processing speed can be another problem area which can cause them to fall behind in lessons, or have trouble in completing homework on time and coping with the sheer amount of work from different subjects. Stress builds up and can escalate quickly.
Your daughter may already be getting extra support in her current school through the Individual Needs (or Special Needs) department. If so, talk to the teacher in charge and ask about the strategies your daughter can use this year to prepare her for the move to high school.
Also, check that there will be an in-depth meeting between teachers of both schools, nearer the transition time, in order to discuss your daughter's needs. Make the school aware of your concerns so she can receive extra guidance and ensure that she will not be put in uncomfortable situations with reading aloud, for example.
If you already know which secondary school she will go to, ask if you can make a link with the head of Individual Needs early to find out what (if any) direct support she will receive next year. Be sure to keep in close contact with school and keep an open dialogue with her at home. Ongoing monitoring can prevent any build-up of problems and avoid a confidence crisis or other disasters.
Your daughter will certainly be given concessions for examinations if she has been officially diagnosed with dyslexia, and these can be outlined for you.
The computer age has in many ways been a lifesaver for dyslexic children; spellchecks allow students to write without constantly struggling with spellings, meaning their ideas can flow and they can write with confidence and speed.
Of course, reading is a vital skill for most curriculum areas, and dyslexic children tend to be more reluctant to read as they find it hard work. Using an electronic reading device may help.
Print can be made larger and a coloured background used; a well-documented method to help dyslexic readers. Computer-based interactive reading programmes can be a great incentive for children of all ages and proclivities.
Encourage her to read widely, and discuss texts together, as this will develop comprehension and higher order reading skills. Try to make frequent reading and writing practice part of a natural routine.
Most importantly, continue to be a strong advocate for your daughter. Through close parental and school support, her love of learning and self-confidence will flourish, building on the positive foundation she has gained from primary school.
Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school