Looking beyond the label

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child By Robert Frank Rodale pound;10.99 Identifying and Supporting Children with Specific Learning Difficulties: looking beyond the label to assess the whole child By Christine Macintyre and Pamela Deponio Routledge Falmer pound;15.99 Early Reading Development and Dyslexia By Valerie Muter Whurr pound;22.50 Dyslexia and Literacy: theory and practice Edited by Gavin Reid and Janice Wearmouth Wiley pound;24.95

Imagine accompanying your partner to a college reunion where everyone is laughing at past experiences and shared jokes you don't understand. That, claims educational psychologist Robert Frank, is "a bit like how it feels to be dyslexic in a world where everyone else can read, write and spell".

First published in the US, The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child now has a UK edition with details of UK support services and procedures. Frank draws on his experience as a dyslexic to explain how frustrating, exhausting and undermining of self-esteem this condition can be, especially when it's not understood. Sensitive illustrations and graded exercises enable parents "to take a walk in the child's shoes" and it's hard to think of anyone - not just parents and teachers - who would not benefit from this.

Frank is emphatic that dyslexia is an incurable neurological disability.

For the child who has this "all day, every day", parental understanding, love and support are critical. He tends to split examples of parental response to diagnosis into 'the good' and 'the bad', a simplification which grates after a while. The message, however, is clear.

After describing some practicalities of diagnostic assessment, he provides strategies to support a child inside and outside school. This informative read is designed to promote parental involvement in fostering the dyslexic child's independence and success.

Dyslexia is just one of the specific learning difficulties with which teachers need to be familiar. In Identifying and Supporting Children with Specific Learning Difficulties, Macintyre and Deponio cite a massive 80 per cent increase since 2000 in the number of children being identified with a difficulty affecting learning. While the appendix provides brief descriptions of dyspraxia, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, among others, it is the common features within these difficulties that are emphasised in this book.

Teachers are urged to look beyond the label and assess the whole child, looking at intellectual, social, emotional and perceptual-motor development. This is a book not to miss and it's refreshingly accessible.

These authors don't just preach inclusion, they practise it.

Learning to read is arguably the most demanding task a child faces in early formal schooling. Valerie Muter's discussion of reading development in four to seven-year-olds in Early Reading Development and Dyslexia offers a blend of theory and practice. This is probably not a book to dip in and out of: more of a cover-to-cover read. It should interest early-years teachers in search of a theoretical underpinning of pupils' reading development and their role within it.

The reader is guided through research, hot-spots of controversy and models of reading development, including the complex, but fascinating, artificial neural network models based on computer simulation.

Examining long and short-term research-validated predictors of reading ability, Muter emphasises phonological awareness and its relationship with letters. Where children are at risk of reading problems, the evidence supports early identification and intervention. Muter covers research into the timing and nature of screening and intervention programmes before considering children already having trouble with reading. With no convenient consensus definition of dyslexia to draw on, the author outlines theoretical interpretations of this condition before focusing on children with phonological deficit.

Look out for the useful discussion of recommended teaching programmes, including computer-based materials. A thorough and very useful text. One carp - no one blames Muter for the jargon used in her field, but couldn't she avoid "reading-retarded" and "deviant reading development"?

Anyone interested in exploring more fundamental sensory deficits as a possible cause of dyslexia, along with theoretical hypotheses, should read Dyslexia and Literacy: theory and practice. This comprehensive discussion draws on the work of international experts. Diverse research perspectives are held within a framework which, in looking at biological, cognitive and behavioural issues, aims to clear up some of the confusion surrounding dyslexia.

Challenging questions abound for the classroom teacher: Where do cultural factors come in? Is the teaching environment impeding or facilitating development? What makes for dynamic, metacognitive assessment and learning? Aimed at students on degree level reading and dyslexia courses, this Open University course book is also recommended for educational psychologists, special educational needs co-ordinators, classroom teachers and student teachers. Literacy is more than just reading; it is an agent for change. A book like this helps get things started.

Moira Wilson works for the student support unit at Sussex University.

Dyslexia Awareness Week continues until tomorrow

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