Nichola is a dyslexia specialist who loves working with children and has had a wonderfully varied career. Her teaching roles have enabled her to work within socially deprived areas and in top academic independent schools, including internationally where many of the children spoke English as a second or third language.
Nichola is also a fantstic mum to Rufus and Libby. They are always having lots of fun together and they especially enjoy reading inspirational children's books.
Nichola kindly agreed to talk to us about dyslexia, to help us understand more about what it is, the signs to look out for in children and where we can go for more information and advice.
Why did you choose to specialise in dyslexia?
My first degree is in psychology and I have always had a particular interest in child development. Initially I qualified as a primary teacher and spent several years working with children right across the primary age range.
During this time my interests became more specifically about how children developed the skills required to become successful readers and writers. Although for the majority the path to becoming literate was relatively smooth, irrespective of how they were taught, for a minority there seemed to be a barrier preventing them from achieving their potential.
I was very lucky during my time as a classroom teacher to gain experience working both within socially deprived areas and in top academic independent schools, including internationally where many of the children spoke English as a second or third language.
As my experience grew I began to develop an understanding of how to support the children who were struggling and my interest in Specific Learning Differences (also known as SpLD or dyslexia) was formed. I wanted to be able to make a difference to the learning journey for these pupils and so the natural progression for me was to return to university and become a specialist in this area.
What do you enjoy most about working with children with dyslexia?
Their brilliant minds! I never cease to be amazed by how a dyslexic mind may approach a task in a completely different way to a non-dyslexic. Although SpLD is most commonly known to stand for Specific Learning Difficulty, I prefer to call it a Specific Learning Difference….Dyslexics see the world differently and, although that can cause difficulties in a traditional classroom setting, ultimately that difference can be the key to their success in life.
What are the key indicators of dyslexia that parents should look out for?
There are a number of indicators which could highlight the possibility of a developing dyslexic mind, however, please take caution with this, as many of them are simply developmental tasks that your child may not have grasped yet.
For example, in pre-school years a child may struggle to learn nursery rhymes or recognise rhyming sounds, such as hat, pat, cat; their speech development may be a little delayed and they may, for example, struggle to recall the name of objects; or a non-language indicator may include difficulties with jumping, hopping and skipping, or keeping their balance. In the early school years, a dyslexic pupil may enjoy being read to, but show no interest in the words on the page; they may persistently reverse letters or have trouble determining between similar letters such as b, d, p; they may omit letters within words, or read/write words back to front, such as ‘on’ for ‘no’.
Dyslexic pupils will often appear to have grasped a concept, but then may have forgotten it again the next day. Again it is important to remember that these are common developmental mistakes that are often outgrown; it is, therefore, important to be aware if the errors are occurring consistently and persistently despite good teaching methods.
Dyslexic pupils can quickly become disenchanted with the learning process if they are constantly struggling, so my key indicator would be to look out for a loss of confidence and low self-esteem – it may not be that your child is dyslexic, but a child who does not believe in themselves as a good learner is not going to achieve their true potential.
A happy learner is a good learner!
What advice would you give to parents who think their child is dyslexic?
Don’t panic! It could be that there is a history of dyslexia in the family and there may have been some difficult school years relating to this – but, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The first thing to do is to approach your child’s class teacher, raise your concerns with them and determine what support is available. It is a very emotive topic when a child is struggling in the classroom, but remember that there is support out there and most importantly – your child CAN learn and WILL learn…it may just be that they need to approach their learning in a different way to others.
After a child has been diagnosed with dyslexia what can a parent do to help the child at home?
A good diagnostic report should always include ideas for supporting the individual child. Dyslexic pupils are often extremely tired after a day at school, so I would always encourage any additional work at home to be kept fun and engaging. Play memory games, such as ‘I went to market and I bought….’; make up songs to learn times tables; think of silly mnemonics for remembering spellings (for example, Big Elephants Can Always Upset Small Elephants to aid recalling ‘because’); record a story on a dictaphone instead of writing it down; or simply allow the child to unwind by choosing an activity that they feel confident at and regain their sense of achieving success. Confidence is key!
As dyslexia has such a huge variety of characteristics, no one dyslexic pupil is like any other, so ideally a one-to-one learning programme needs to be developed with the specific individual in mind. In the classroom, teachers are trying to ensure that different learning styles are catered for, but ultimately the pace is set by the curriculum plan they are following. Specialists, however, work with pupils on a child-led basis, i.e. the pace is set by the child, ensuring that they are experiencing success within each session. There is also a lot of repetition and consolidation to support the transfer of learnt concepts into the long term memory.
Is dyslexia more common amongst boys than girls?
There is some debate as to whether dyslexia is more prevalent in boys than girls. Certainly, I diagnose and teach more boys than girls, but it is important to look a little deeper at the data, as girls have a tendency to develop more self-coping strategies than boys do. It is likely then that more dyslexic girls go undiagnosed than dyslexic boys.
Also dyslexia can co-occur with other specific learning differences, such as dysgraphia and dyspraxia, which seem to be more prevalent amongst boys.
What types of books would you recommend for children with dyslexia?
Anything that they have an interest in reading! Remember that (just like any other child) their preference may be for non-fiction books rather than fiction, but either way, get down to your local library or Book Swap and see what is available.
What support is available for parents who need help and advice?
There is a huge amount of information online, which can feel overwhelming when you just want somebody to help you find the key to your child’s learning success. It can be a very emotional journey and so I would recommend contacting either a local dyslexia centre or dyslexia specialist, who will be more than happy to discuss your concerns and offer advice.
To locate someone local to you, a list of specialists can be found here.
I work independently within and around Lancashire, but am always happy to respond to any queries email at firstname.lastname@example.org
What is your favourite children’s book?
This is the hardest question! I love children’s books and really enjoy reading to my two young children. I’m going to cheat slightly and narrow it down to two… One Ted Falls Out of Bed by Julia Donaldson is just wonderful for younger children, filled with rhyming words and onomatopoeia to engage them and, of course, beautifully illustrated; The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss is a current favourite to read to my three year old and I’m sure will remain a favourite for years to come. It has such a fantastic rhythm to the story, which is fast paced and humorous. It always has us smiling and chuckling!
If you could spend the day with one of the PrenderPals who would it be and why?
I’m sure any of the PrenderPals would be fun to spend the day with, but if I have to choose one, then it would have to be Rosie the Raccoon.
We seem to enjoy the same things, so perhaps after playing at the park and dancing out our wriggles, we could settle down to share a few wonderful stories and have a good old chat about why we like them!
Thank you for reading this interview, we hope you have found it interesting and informative. If you have any questions about dyslexia or would like Nichola to help a child that you love please contact her at email@example.com