Diet, brain training and the right educational support may all help improve dyslexia symptoms, explains Robin Pauc, dyslexia expert and author of 'Is that my child?'
Dyslexia is one of the most common types of learning disability, affecting the ability to read and spell, and estimated to affect up to eight per cent of primary school children.
It is a lifelong condition that you're born with, which can vary in severity and affects people of all intelligence levels. It is definitely not a sign of having a low IQ and studies suggest it is more common in boys than girls.
What is dyslexia?
People affected have problems with verbal memory (such as remembering a list or a set of instructions) and the speed at which their brain can process words. It mainly affects reading skills and dyslexics also have difficulties with recognising how units of sound make up words.
What causes it?
No-one knows for sure what causes it, although there are a number of theories including: having a genetic predisposition; 'cross-wiring' in the brain where the right side is used for language work instead of the left; and early hearing problems
How to spot the signs in toddlers
According to the British Dyslexia Association, dyslexia symptoms in pre-school children can include:
- Using persistent jumbled phrases
- Not remembering names for objects
- Difficulties learning nursery rhymes
- Later than average speech development
- Problems getting dressed
- Walking early but 'bottom-shuffling' instead of crawling
- Appearing not to listen or pay attention
- Lack of co-ordination skills for catching and throwing
Dyslexia symptoms in primary school children
- Difficulty with reading or spelling
- Writing figures and letters the wrong way round
- Inability to remember sequences such as the alphabet, times tables or formulae
- Relying on their fingers for counting and basic calculations
- Problems understanding what they have read
- Slow at written work
- Difficulties telling right from left
- Can't tie their shoelaces or struggle with dressing themselves
- Symptoms in secondary school age children
Symptoms in secondary school age children
Tell-tale signs can include bad spelling and writing that fails to reflect overall intelligence.
Could it be something else?
Dyslexia expert Robin Pauc says it's important to eliminate other conditions including:
- Convergence insufficiency: "An estimated 40 per cent of people of diagnosed dyslexics don't have dyslexia. Put simply, they cannot bring their eyes in towards their nose - a condition called convergence insufficiency - essential for smooth visual tracking needed for reading," says Robin; "the good news is that it can be diagnosed in minutes and treated in weeks with a series of eye exercises"
- Underlying health problems: It's also possible your child could have hearing difficulties, short sightedness/squint or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - so these all need to be eliminated.
Getting the right help
There's no cure for dyslexia but 95 per cent of children will respond well to educational interventions.
- Speak to your child's teacher and/or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO)
- Get an educational plan: schools have a legal duty to provide an individual education plan detailing what action it will take to provide the right support for a child's needs
- Ask for an assessment by an educational psychologist if necessary. Waiting lists can be long so you may have to pay privately for an assessment (around £500); you can then discuss with the school what extra support may be needed.
Teaching methods that help
Teaching which focuses on improving your child's ability to identify and process sounds is the most effective way to improve reading and writing skills, including:
- Repetition and regular practice
- Structured learning
- Teaching how to recognise and identify sounds
- Giving instructions on how to decode multi-syllable words
- Using encouragement and empathy to build self-esteem
- Older children may benefit from using a computer rather than pen and paper for writing as a computer screen is believed to provide a visual environment better suited to a dyslexic's thought processes.
Can diet and supplements make a difference?
Robin Pauc says rapid brain development takes place between the age of four months to four years and from puberty to age 16, when the number of connections in the brain doubles. "The brain is made up of 60 per cent fat, of which 20 per cent should be essential fatty acids. Therefore a good supply of essential fatty acids for the period of rapid development in childhood is recommended."
- Eat oily fish: The body can't make essential fatty acids and needs to get them from foods - namely from omega-3 fats found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, fresh tuna, salmon, sardines, etc. The Food Standards Agency recommends we all eat two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish. Omega-6s are found in meat, vegetable oils and margarines
- Avoid junk food: Eating too much junk food with high levels of fat, sugar, salt and E numbers are believed to act as a stressor on the epigenome - (a series of switches that turn on/off our genes for brain development). This is why it's important for children to eat healthy home-cooked foods.
Does taking supplements help?
Robin Pauc says: "Yes - according to the Mental Health Foundation, adults and children may develop mental health problems due to low levels of omega 3, so it's worth considering a fish oil supplement.
"Research has also shown that taking zinc, magnesium and vitamins C and B complex help the body to process the omegas effectively," says Pauc.
Does brain training help?
Pauc believes so. "Some of the programmes developed by neuroscientists allow you to look at performance in such detail that it is possible to measure the improvement not only in terms of right brain/left brain functions but also how specific areas dealing with such things as working memory and attention are doing.
"Often those people thought wrongly to be dyslexic because they have an eye control problem do very well after completing a course of brain training, and dyslexics also appear to improve the speed at which they process information."
Find out more about the child health care options available to your family. You can also discover more information in our Pregnancy and Childcare Centre or if you have a specific question, you can ask our experts.
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