‘Back to school and now the meltdowns will start every evening,’ so says the mother of a 12 year old boy with dyslexia and dyspraxia. School can be a sad and lonely place for a child, especially for one who is in any way different. When this mother put her comment on the web, many parents suggested changing schools. That is certainly one option worth considering but change can be stressful and in any case most children have friends they would have to leave behind.
It is vital that children find their feet socially otherwise their academic work will suffer. Unfortunately children with dyspraxia and dyslexia often take longer to process ideas and may have poor co-ordination. In the competitive world of school they may feel the outsider, the last to be picked for sports, the one who slows down the team in quizzes. Sometimes children with dyslexia get put into a lower set and may ‘get in with the wrong crowd’ and then struggle to escape it. If you suspect that this is the case, talk to teachers and see if your child can be moved to other groups
If social isolation is not the problem, see if it is particular subjects that they dread or teachers who upset them. Sometimes the weaker students end up drowning in extra homework too, finishing notes or projects that everyone else had completed in class. See if you can find some short cuts. While children usually write longhand at school, they might be able to speed up homework by using a word processor, dictating to an adult who types it up or, an increasingly popular choice, using voice recognition such as the Dragon Dictation app for iOS and Android or the Notes function on an iPhone or iPads. Talk, email, change the font and text colour if necessary and then edit the first draft. Instead of battling with spelling and handwriting, the child can focus on the content, on ways of writing sentences and building up an argument and these are all essential skills.
But sometimes their dislike or dread of school is not about the teachers or subjects. Many young people find sitting still and concentrating wears them out and want to vent their frustrations at home. Make sure you don’t add o the burden of stress. You think you are expressing concern while they hear nagging. Promise them treats: a trip to the cinema, a game for their tablet, a take away on Friday night. Yes it is outright bribery but sometimes we all need a treat to get us to the end of the week.
Above all, take their concerns and complaints seriously. Don’t fob them off with, ‘When I was your age’ or ‘You’ll grow out of it’ or ‘You’ll look back on this…’. Their suffering is very real to them and in many cases it is also affecting family life so take action. If they are still unhappy after the first couple of weeks, make an appointment to see their teacher, the special needs coordinator or head of year. Make a list of the problems with dates and times and as much detail as you can muster.
School days will not necessarily be the happiest days of your child’s life but there is no reason for them to be a source of sadness and distress.
Author: Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist and author of; How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, published by Crimson Books.