Monday, 27 April 2015

How to help your dyslexic child through exams - Part 1

One of these days I'll write a book about this but in the meantime, here's what I've been doing for mine. This is second time around for me although my eldest was at a Special School at the time of his GCSEs and they were fully on board so my role was merely supportive. This time though , youngest is in mainstream school so there's more to do .

This is neither a prescriptive nor exhaustive list - just my suggestions which are working for us. I realise that for some, these may not be practical. I'm in the lucky position of working freelance so , although financially punitive, I am able to stand down work over the exam period. Do what you can and as much as you're able but don't beat yourself up . Just being around, feeding and re-assuring will go a long way to helping them through this tricky time.

  • Youngest son doesn't understand fully the passage of time - dyslexic children vary in their ability to appreciate how long things take , especially , if like mine , they're also dyspraxic. So I've downloaded a freebie calendar page for May and June ( the exam period for us ) which is available here . I've then cut it into strips and re-assembled it so that it looks like a horizontal timeline. This enables him to read from left to right and actually see each day pass rather than as a rectangular grid which can be confusing. Choose their favourite colour ( orange  = happy ! ) and mark up their actual exams . Not too much information and BOLD CAPITALS . The clearer the better . Only display one month at a time - 2 months can appear daunting.  Keep it Simple. Put it above their desk. Here's mine.

  • Clear your diary of unnecessary things but keep a sensible balance. Not always achievable especially if you work and have other children to take care of , just do what you can sensibly manage. Now's not the time to be away from home - you can live it up for the rest of the summer ! I went away in the middle of May for a weekend and I came home to find my son feeling dis-heartened and dis-oriented having wasted his time trying to revise but not really having stayed on task . Nor is it the time to be doing the whole world favours - so if someone asks you to invest your time or organise something that isn't vital just decline politely with " I'm sorry , I can't help you with that at the moment. "
  • Never under-estimate the power of re-assurance but don't just offer blanket platitudes like " You're doing fine". They know whether they are or not. Make it specific , more like " Well done, now you've got the first 10 chapters read we can tackle the second half "

  • Read to them or download texts from Audible if the titles are available. That's how we've tackled his English Literature text - The Siege by Helen Dunmore - a wonderful book but a bit of a Mount Everest for a dyslexic child.

  • Buy this ! I can't recommend it highly enough . If nothing else it made me feel better just helping him fill it in. We'd already drawn up revision timetables but they were slightly woolly . This very sensibly gets you to do a time budget and also encourages you to compile a rewards list - nothing helps motivation more than the promise of a Domino's Pizza at the end of the week. It also makes you get down to the nitty gritty of prioritising revision. Available from Amazon here and if you're  a Prime member it will arrive tomorrow. I've tried many with my students over the years and this one beats them all.

  •  Build in exercise breaks - a bike ride or a walk . Oxygen in the lungs gets the brain going and so does a glass of water - but if they're dyspraxic make sure it's nowhere near their open books - I speak from experience !
  • Stock up with healthy snacks . We subscribe to Graze boxes - worth their weight in gold at only £3.99 a pop ( the price of one posh coffee ) and they can be delivered weekly or however often you need them. 
  • Don't make them do revision cards unless you really think they're going to work . For a start my son can barely read his own hand-writing and it takes all his effort just to get the mechanics of writing going let alone learn from them. I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom but sometimes you have to do what work for you , not the other 90% of the population. I have bought these for maths and they're working well. 
  • Cook their favourite dinners . They don't need to be Masterchef quality - sometimes beans on toast is just what's needed and change the subject whilst they're eating . It's not the time to girl them on Shakespeare quotes !

I hope the above helps - I'm a Specialist Teacher for children with Special Educational Needs and I'm not sponsored to endorse any of the products I've mentioned above - they just work for us. That's all for now - part 2 to follow.  

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