I remember it really really clearly, there was a story competition, and my story was great, but it wasn’t good enough. And so I remember looking at all the other people’s works on the wall, and being like “I wish I could do that.”
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Dyslexia – support for parents and teens
Does your teenager struggle with their writing? Or have they been diagnosed with dyslexia and are finding it difficult to cope?
In this episode of the Teenage Kicks podcast Helen Wills talks to Jemma, who had a late diagnosis of dyslexia, having worked hard all through her school years to keep up with her peers. Also on the podcast is Karen Hautz, a learning coach who provides counselling and skills-based coaching for adults and teenagers with dyslexia.
She has some fascinating things to say about how creative people with dyslexia often are – did you know that 40% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia? If you have a teenager with dyslexia I think you’ll find this episode really comforting. You can listen here, or scroll down to read more about dyslexia and how to cope with it.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
Jemma says she was always a good communicator, with expressive verbal skills, but that she struggled to translate the stories in her head into words on paper. Read on, or listen to the podcast for her description of how she thinks, versus how she writes.
Listen to the podcast here
Tips from a dyslexia coach
I asked Karen to give some insight about how the brain of a person with dyslexia works. Here’s what she had to say:
- Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence.
- We don’t all think alike – it’s common for people with dyslexia to think in more visual or sensory way than others who think more verbally.
- People with dyslexia are often very expressive, but just can’t get the words into a written format – written expression is different to verbal expression. It’s like doing a translation from one format to another.
- If you made a list of all the dyslexic tendencies everyone would identify as dyslexic to a certain extent.
- It is essential for dyslexic individuals to become aware of their talents, the things that they are good and the things that they enjoy. Know your strengths!
How to identify signs of dyslexia
As Karen says in the episode, there are traits in all of us that could come with dyslexia, but here are a few of the things that might be worth watching for in your teen:
- Disorganisation beyond the usual age-related chaos, or that persists into the older teen years.
- Conversely, extreme systems for filing and workspace could indicate a coping strategy being adopted.
- Procrastination and last minute approaches to homework.
- Lower grades in essay subjects like History or English than Science and Maths.
- Dyslexia does run in families, so if you have a family history of dyslexia it’s important to bear in mind.
How do I pass exams when I have dyslexia?
Jemma explains how hard she had to work to achieve her GCSEs. She began revision as soon as she started the coursework – well before her peers – because she knew that she would need to rote learn and memorise everything she might have to write in an exam. She didn’t realise that this wasn’t usual until she got her diagnosis of dyslexia much later on. Gemma says:
Fast forward to results day, and with 9A* and 2A’s suddenly teachers realised that I may be good enough for a top university. I got what I was wanting – acceptance to Oxford University- to my first choice college, to study Biochemistry.In my first year of university it all fell apart. I couldn’t rely on my techniques learnt in school, biochemistry words are long and all sound the same, the exams are all essay based. At the end of the first year of university and with scraping a pass in exams, it was finally suggested by my university lectures that I was dyslexic.
Once she had a dyslexia diagnosis Jemma learned the tools she needed to become an effective learner
Does dyslexia have an upside?
Yes! 40% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. According to Karen that’s because dyslexics are brilliant creatives who find it easy to think outside the box. So teenagers with dyslexia are likely to be great problem-solvers, and a good addition to any work team.
Dyslexic students can often be very good at Maths or Science, as this is where they’re likely to feel more comfortable and able to perform at their best.
What can schools do about dyslexia?
The most important thing is for schools to be aware of dyslexia, and help to identify it early, as a diagnosis can transform a child’s outcomes at school. Karen says that primary school is usually the most difficult time to be dyslexic, with secondary school dyslexia support being more robust. Universities are usually good at identifying and helping with dyslexia in adults.
Karen quotes Ignacio Estrada when she advises schools “If a child cannot learn the way that we teach, we must teach them the way that they learn.” She says that generations of people have been made to feel stupid at school because they couldn’t connect with the way schools taught them. She is clear that if a child is struggling to learn at school, it’s important that schools provide a different way for them to learn.
Where to get help with a dyslexia diagnosis
Useful books on dyslexia
- The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis
- The Gift of Learning by Ron Davis (with reference to ADHD, dyspraxia & dyscalculia)
- The Illustrated Guide to Dyslexia and Its Amazing People by Kathy Iwanczak
- Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time) by Margaret Rooke
- Creative, Successful, Dyslexic: 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories edited by Margaret Rooke
- The Dyslexia, ADHD, and DCD-Friendly Study Skills Guide: Tips and Strategies for Exam Success Paperback by Ann-Marie McNicholas
Websites that help with dyslexia
Karen also says that people looking for support with dyslexia should do their own research; there are plenty of celebrities of all ages talking about their dyslexia that teenagers might find inspiring, and parents reassuring.
Listen to the podcast:
You can find the episode in your usual podcast app, or if you prefer, you can listen online below, or through the podcast page.
Where to find Jemma and Karen
Jemma Zoe Smith graduated from Oriel College at Oxford University in 2013, having studied her BSc and Master’s degree in Biochemistry. She returned to Oxford University in 2017 to gain her teacher training qualification.She now runs tuition agency The Education Hotel.
She was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 19, but spent her school years struggling to understand why everything felt so much harder for her to achieve than it did for her friends. We talk about the strategies she taught herself to get through school – and they worked! She got 9A*s and 2As at GCSE. But she found the less structured learning at university difficult to cope with until she got her diagnosis, and finally learned techniques to manage her dyslexia.
I absolutely loved discovering more about how dyslexic people think and work, and there are so many tips in the conversation for families who might be worrying about a child with dyslexia, or indeed an adult in the process of diagnosis.
Jemma has extensive knowledge of the education sector. She has previously managed a residential tuition centre based in the U.K. and tutored families in Dubai, San Francisco, Turkey, Czech Republic, Hawaii and Kenya. Last year she supported students who were accepted into the top U.K. schools and universities. These included: Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial College, Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Wycombe Abbey and Cheltenham Ladies College.
In addition to her role as Director, Jemma remains involved in tuition, working with gifted students online and face to face. She also works with dyslexic students as a mentor. She is often asked to speak in the education sector at conferences and schools in the U.K and internationally.
Karen Hautz became interested in dyslexia and ADHD when she recognised dyslexia in a close family member back in 2004. This led her to train in the Davis methods (www.dyslexia.com) to support people of all ages, young and old, in developing not only literacy skills but also life skills to enable them to flourish and participate more fully in life. One of a network of UK-wide Davis learning facilitators, Karen continues to work with clients and families at her South London practice and also online.
Karen provides counselling support and skills-based coaching for adults and teenagers with dyslexia, autism and AD(H)D online and at her London office and works closely with parents and liaises with schools also. You can find her at https://www.karenhautz.com/, on Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Dyslexic people are often particularly good at being able to see the ‘big picture’ in any situation. They may demonstrate lateral thinking and problem solving. They may make creative leaps of thought which gives them an innovative approach to a subject. Some demonstrate strong visualisation skills. Others are imaginative and inventive in their approach to their work. Others again show entrepreneurial flair.
Find out more about Karen’s work at www.dyslexia-achievement.com or call her for a free, informal 20 minute telephone chat on 07391698517
Karen is one of a network of Davis®-trained learning coaches around the UK. Find one near you at www.unlocking-learning.co.uk
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