Concentration difficulties do not necessarily arise from a difficulty with attention as such as in the case of ADHD but can also be caused by external distractions and the fact that the child with dyslexia is not taking part in what is happening in the classroom.
With your partner, think of five ways by which you can minimize distraction.
- Put the children with dyslexia at the front and in the middle of the class in front of the board or wall. This will reduce distraction. They can see you better and you can get nearer to ask a question if they seem to be drifting off.
- Avoid placing them near a window on the other side of which so many things are happening!
- Because, some children with dyslexia are very sensitive to noise, some teachers have found it useful to put pads under the chair legs or to get a soft floor covering.
- Too many posters on the wall can be distracting.
- Put children with dyslexia beside well-motivated classmates, who are willing and ready to help them discretely when they are blocked by a difficult word.
- Some children with dyslexia can concentrate better if they can hold an item which they can manipulate such as a ‘squeezy’ ball.
Organisation in place and time
The testimony of Eric Woehrling given in Section 1 shows the difficulties shown by some people with dyslexia in organizing themselves in place and time.
“My problem was that I couldn’t do things like understanding time-tables, reading maps or remembering directions.
On my first day at school in Brussels, our first lesson was Maths with our form teacher, who gave us the time-table for the year. I inexplicably assumed that Maths would be the first lesson of every day of the week. I was, partly as a result of this, late for every lesson every day of the first week and frequently for the rest of my school days. Once the teacher had to send a search-party for me.
What hurt me was the fact that my interpretation of the time-table was not a priori illogical, although it was certainly strange; it was just that everyone else automatically knew what rules to follow and I didn’t.
Dyslexia often leaves you feeling exposed in this way, like a soldier on parade who turns left when the rest of the regiment is turning right.
In my case, turning up late was a ritual the whole class looked forward to and my disconsolate entry would, perhaps understandably, elicit waves of hysterical laughter.
Those and other related difficulties made me into a figure of fun with my peers, and frequently played havoc with my school work, thus preventing me from achieving my potential. It all seemed so unfair because there was never anything fundamentally irrational about what I was doing; I consequently felt resentful and humiliated much of the time. Today, when I make mistakes similar to those I made in those days, I can feel the frustration well up purely because of the associations raised.
This leads to an important point. Though spelling and timetables are often arbitrary, they are essential to life in society.”
Here are some simple aids which will help children with dyslexia organize themselves better in place and time.
With the child make an illustrated plan for the lessons of the week, showing clearly what is needed for each lesson of each day. Here is an example inspired by Goldup and Ostler.
This plan should be done in triplicate: one in the pupil’s locker, one in his or her classroom book, and one at home, so the parents can make sure their children take the right things to school.
For older children, it is also very useful to draw up a planning sheet for the whole year with the dates for the end of each term, holidays, deadlines for longer work, outings, and exams so that they have a sense of the time passing and what is coming next.
If necessary make a list for each article that is needed: dinner money, pen, ruler, scissors etc.
Help the children to organise all their material, perhaps with a different colour for each subject.
Number and date photocopied pages clearly to help arrange them.
Help the children to arrange their worksheets in a properly organized folder with dates and headings.
Allow them to start the homework in the classroom, and check what they have done to make sure they are on the right track.
Give advice regularly about planning homework, especially work that lasts several days. Remember that children with dyslexia have a special difficulty in estimating how much time they need for tasks.
Remember that stress is the enemy of memory and that children with dyslexia generally need more time to understand questions, organize their answers and, above all, write them down.
Train children to divide tasks into stages, estimating the time needed for each one: for example, two minutes to read the question, three for ‘thinking’, one minute to reread the question, five to make an outline for the answer, and so on.