Reading the signs
DYSLEXIA: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH Edited by Patience Thomson and Peter Gilchrist Chapman and Hall Pounds 16.99 PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT OF DYSLEXIA By Martin Turner Whurr Publishers Pounds 27.50
As one who's met dyslexia from several angles - first as a primary headteacher, then as a specialist working with dyslexic children, finally as the mother of a severely dyslexic child - I've read lots of books on the subject. Philomena Ott's How to Detect and Manage Dyslexia is the one I've always been looking for - a clear, comprehensive manual of what's known at present about the condition and what parents, teachers, SENCOs and everyone else can actually do about it.
The author has been involved in teaching dyslexics for 25 years, and her list of acknowledgements for help, advice and contributions (including Violet Brand, Steve Chinn, Beve Hornsby, Tim Miles and many other familiar names) testifies to the breadth and scholarship of the work. In clearly-written sections she covers definitions, diagnosis and assessment of dyslexia, a wealth of ideas for structured teaching of reading, writing, spelling and maths, and practical suggestions for helping dyslexics of all ages, including an excellent section on the use of computers. The book is full of wisdom and practical advice, easily accessible to the non-specialist reader, but would also be invaluable to the specialist as a comprehensive reference volume. I hope it finds its way into every school in the country.
One problem for writers about dyslexia is the fact that the study isn't confined to a single academic field. All sorts of professionals in health and education have an angle on it, and too often they work in isolation, unaware of the insights other disciplines could bring. Philomena Ott draws on research and practical advice from a wide variety of fields, summarising and simplifying her findings. Dyslexia: A Multidisciplinary Approach tries another tack, with individual chapters by an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist, an orthoptist, a paediatrician, a counsellor, an occupational therapist, and three breeds of teachers: class, remedial and head. The contributors are all part of the multidisciplinary team of Fairley House School in London who work together to diagnose and remediate the problems of dyslexic children.
The book starts with a number of heart-rending quotes from parents and children, like this all-too-familiar story from Tessa (11): "It felt like everyone hated me children were agants me Teachers were agants me. I was told I couldent do eny thing. When I hatto copy of the bord I never finished and all spellings were always rong, my marks were low and I got told of for it. They used to sit me in a corner so I wouldent disturb or copy people and I was never chosen to answer a question."
Each contributor then focuses on dyslexics and dyslexia from his or her particular viewpoint. Some chapters are more enlightening, some more practical and some more hopeful than others (the one by the school counsellor left me feeling particularly miserable), but the total effect of so much expertise is rather overwhelming. By the end, you understand why Sir Roger Bannister wrote in the foreword that "this book shows us that it is still a wonder that any of us manage to read or write at all".
There is perhaps a danger in an undiluted multi-disciplinary approach of exchanging misunderstanding for "misoverstanding" - I found myself yearning for Philomena Ott's brisk summaries. However, A Multidisciplinary Approach undoubtedly provides insights for health and education professionals into where their work overlaps with that of others.
Martin Turner's Psychological Assessment of Dyslexia provides useful insights too, but this time for his colleagues in the field of educational psychology. The blurb assures us that it "will also appeal to parents, teachers and all those with an interest in fair and objective methods for dealing with this learning difficulty". As one who falls into all three categories but lacks background in psychology, I can assure the publishers that this is not the case. However, I passed the book on to some Ed Psych chums for comment, and they thought it would be a useful addition to their library, as it reviews various assessment techniques such as the WISC, BAS and well-known reading tests, and makes useful suggestions about the writing of psychological reports.