Many of us who homeschool have students who have challenges with learning in some form. In Waldorf homeschooling (or even in a Waldorf School setting), because formal academics begin in first grade, there is an interesting thought that learning disabilities will be caught later, and therefore attempts at remediation will begin later.
I don’t think this has to be the case. If you, as a homeschooling parent or as a teacher in a school setting are working with children on preliteracy and literacy skills, then identifying possible signs of dyslexia should be not just something nice that maybe one knows or doesn’t know, but it should be an absolute requirement.
One of the latest books out regarding Waldorf Education and literacy, and in my opinion the best book is “The Roadmap To Literacy: A Guide to Teaching Language Arts in Waldorf Schools Grades 1 through 3” by Janet Langley and Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl. One of the points in this book is that up to 40% of students will discover that letters represent sounds that make up words easily; 30-40% will need extra practice to move forward; 20-30% will absolutely need intensive direct teaching in a very detailed and sequential way. In a school setting, this last sub-set of students might be working with a reading specialist and in a home setting, they will need extra hours with us directly teaching in a clear manner. So not every difficulty in learning to read, but every situation requires careful thought.
In the homeschool setting, particularly with Waldorf methodology, there can be a lot made of later reading that is normal, the student is dreamy, just give them more time and the student will catch up. This absolutely does happen and I do not want to discount it. However, as the mother of a child who is dyslexic, I do wish more parents would confirm that there is no underlying signs of dyslexia, visual, or auditory processing programs before just deciding it will come. I also wish more Waldorf teachers, mentors, and curriculum providers would point out the possible signs of underlying problems that are larger than just needing more time.
Visual and auditory processing problems can be c0-morbid with dyslexia, but visual therapy will not fix true dyslexia – it will fix the problems with tracking or convergence that contribute to learning challenges, but the dyslexic brain is neurobiological in origin.
So, there are consistent signs that parents should be aware of that could indicate dyslexia. I highly recommend looking at the International Dyslexia Association website for more information. You might consider delving deeper if your student (source Schenck School public presentation, 2018; International Dyslexia Association):
- Does not rhyme words well (this is huge; most four year olds and kindergarteners catch on to rhyming quickly! This is absolutely an early sign of trouble if it does not improve with practice)
- Does not divide words into syllables well
- Divide sentences into words well
- Does not discriminate words in phonemic sounds
- Cannot delete roots or syllables or phonemes to make new words or substitute a phoneme in a word (ie, if you have the word lighthouse, and you ask the student to say the word again but don’t say “light”, they cannot do it or they cannot take the word bog, change the o to an a and make the word bag)
- Cannot identify whether a specific phonemic sound is at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.
Once the student has gotten into bigger steps in trying to read or write, if your student:
- Cannot write words or sentences
- Cannot blend sounds together
- Cannot decode nonsense words (think of Dr. Suess kind of words)
- Cannot segment words into syllables or identify sounds and letters
- Cannot decode consonant-vowel-Consanant words, or letters with simple blends after practice
Usually somewhere between grades 2-5, students are spelling well, have handwriting that is decent, can read and spell, can recall words, and yes, most fifth graders, even late bloomers, can read. There is also a self-assessment at the International Dyslexia website here and also a good handout here that points out that 74 % of the readers struggling in third grade end up struggling in ninth grade (again, due to true developmental dyslexia, not just being a late bloomer), but that is is never too late, not even for adults, to improve through a structured literacy program. Remediation may take 2-3 years or longer.
If you have checked a lot of the above indicators for your student, I suggest testing. In the United States, this can be hard for parents as private testing through a neuropsychologist for a full battery of tests often costs thousands of dollars. However, what testing gives you is a clear diagnosis, clear accomodations (especially important for those in high school for testing and those wanting to go to college), and it gives ideas for remediation. It is also important because student with dyslexia have marked difference in reading, writing, spelling, speaking, and math due to neurobiologic expression, teaching methodology used and more.
In between testing and waiting, some things can help. If you are Waldorf homeschooling family, you may be familiar with the book “Take Time”, or “Bal A Vix X”. You might be famliar with the idea of extra lessons or curative eurythmy. Most programs recommended for literacy are those that employ Orton-Gillingham techniques. One other approach is Lindawood/Bell, especially for those students without the ability to handle CVC words.
The other thing to think about is looking at the other pieces we often see associated with dyslexia, whether that is difficulties with executive functioning tasks, speech challenges, dyscalculia, anxiety, sensory processing pieces, ADD/ADHD, social-emotional difficulties, dysgraphia, can also be part of what needs to be addressed. It is a complex range, and many parents worry about their children. Every single student with dyslexia is an individual and each student has their own strengths to build upon.
Blessings and love,