Building awareness of overlapping SpLD challenges.

In this post Georgina Smith explains what lead her to being a dyslexia specialist and how useful it is to be aware of overlapping SpLD challenges.  Georgina is organising the upcoming SEN Jigsaw Conference in July which seeks to help parents to understand more about the 'SEN Puzzle' that is experienced by learners younger and older.  Georgina is also the Programme Director at the Code Breakers dyslexia programme

Leek, Staffordshire, UK 7th July 2016

Eventbrite - The SEN Jigsaw Puzzle.  Helping to solve the puzzle for your child.
Georgina writes...

Like many of us involved in supporting people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, we are usually in the field because of our own personal experiences which drive our passion.  For me it is the knowledge that my father left school at 14 unable to read and write.  It has had a massive impact upon his life both in work and in leisure.  The final catalyst came for him when he knew his two kids were starting school and he wouldn't be able to help them read.

To this day he is still reliant on my mother for most of the domestic admin dates in the house.  However when it comes to filling forms in etc he is still often met with a barrier and often will avoid any situation, even in a leisure capacity.

Coming from a working class family my parents are immensely proud of my achievements of now becoming a dyslexia assessor and tutor.  I started out leaving school at 16 and followed my mother into the local factory to work.  By 19 I was restless and needed more stimulation and left to go to college.  It was a teacher there who suggested I went on to university to study for a law degree.  This just wasn't what we did in our family and to say I felt like a fish out of water was an understatement.  But I persevered and graduated.   The law aspect has continued to come in useful as my passion is not only to teach and assess but ensure that children are given adequate provision of support at school.  Also for adults in FE to gain appropriate support and those in the work place to know their rights.  Often following an assessment or starting to tutor a student my work extends to liaise with a school or college to ensure intervention takes place in school or college.

Following my law degree I returned to do an MA and eventually went on to graduate and leave to work abroad.  However following an illness I returned a year later unable to go to work due to my health.  I started to volunteer at the local college helping adults with literacy.  It is a passion that had stuck with me since learning of my dad's challenge and battles all my life.

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I went on to qualify as a teacher and started to work with adults in education.  I soon learned that the adult literacy course wasn't helping my students.  Then I discovered dyslexia.  The penny dropped why so many of these adults were still having significant problems with literacy and why so many had negative experiences of education.  The provision we were giving for these adults was poor, it was only serving to further embed their negative experience and reinforce their barriers to learning.  At this point I enrolled on a postgraduate course to enable me to diagnose and teach people with dyslexia.

Like any qualification, the true learning takes place once you start to practice.  I started out creating a parent support group.  I taught parents how to support their children at home, taught them the principles and theory of dyslexia and most importantly for them, answered their queries on their rights as parents and how to interpret educational psychologist reports, test scores and IEPs.

Soon parents started to ask me to support them at school and assess and tutor their children.  In those early days I learned so much from my students, they truly helped me to shape the service I offer today.  

Today I continuously learn more about the related difficulties which often overlap and entwine with dyslexia.  Working with other professionals, referring into their services and discussing case studies enables me to be able to look out for key characteristics of overlapping difficulties such as dyspraxia, APD, visual processing and language difficulties.  I'm not qualified to diagnose these difficulties but the key is to be aware on not singularly look for dyslexia alone and ignore or dismiss other characteristics which may be the key to enable a person to access learning and maximise their potential.

Georgina Smith