Dyslexia assessment – a view from the other side of the table.

Since meeting, Abby and I have shared lots of stories about how we ended up as specialist teachers, many of them involving our siblings, children and my father and his 5 brothers. We have discussed how we have supported our families over the years and how some of those strategies have now become the ‘tricks’ of our trade! There have been several occasions when Abby has said that she thought that she may be dyslexic due to things that she finds challenging, including directions, muddling up estate agent and travel agent and having a poor memory. About one month ago, I suggested that I should assess Abby, so that rather than keep wondering, she could know, based on formal assessment, what her profile looks like. We then thought that it would make an interesting article for her to reflect on the process of being assessed…from the other side of the table.

Prior to the assessment, Abby had been conscious of traits that she noticed in her three siblings, husband and children, who are diagnosed with dyslexia. However, compared to her family experience of mild organisational chaos, a tendency to give up, excellent sense of direction and great long-term memory, Abby describes herself as being highly organised, loving reading, perfectionistic, poor memory for events and recalls the hours that she spent writing essays, but never feeling that she got to the point. After a late night working on the Da Vinci application, she had made a list of points to return to and when reading it back the following morning discovered letter reversals and mis-spellings that her ordinarily alert mind would have been horrified by!

On the day of the assessment, Abby was chatting about all kinds of things – a sign of nervousness. When asked why she felt this way, she said she was worried that she wouldn’t have any traits of dyslexia. Abby was familiar with some of the tests and was not concerned about the reading and spelling tasks having been a specialist teacher for 16 years. However, she was shocked to find how hard she found some of the tasks, for example memory assessments – she admitted that she had used the strategy of visualising the numbers on the checked tablecloth to help her remember them! Reflecting on the memory tasks, Abby spoke about helping children to find strategies that help them to recall information, but doing the test stretched her own ability and helped her to imagine how it may feel for children as they are given lots of information, try to recall it and then answer a question under time pressure. Later, Abby was asked to read a passage of information and was told that she would then have to answer some questions without looking back at the text. The passages were selected to challenge Abby’s ability and she commented that working at the top end of her ability resulted in her struggling to decode information as she also tried to scan the text for things that she may be asked about. She recalled a real sense of panic that she would not be able to answer the questions. While normally loving to read, this experience highlighted to Abby how unappealing reading may be to children who are required to read text that is too hard for them.

The assessment lasted about 2 hours, at the end of which Abby said that her head genuinely hurt. She was surprised at how hard she found some elements as she had thought it would all be within her comfort zone.

The results showed a discrepancy between Abby’s underlying ability and her cognitive skills (processing speed and memory), which can be an indicator for dyslexia. However, her literacy skills were at the level expected, meaning that as an adult she does not show a dyslexic profile. The report acknowledged that Abby has spent many years learning and teaching the rules of reading and spelling and that with her family history, had she been assessed as a child, she may have received a diagnosis of dyslexia. Reflecting on this, Abby felt that there is a strong message of hope here for children and their parents; although she still has some difficulties with her memory and processing speed, overlearning of the rules and lots of practise has effectively ‘cured’ most of her literacy difficulties.

So, the view from the other side of the table? The assessment challenged Abby and at times made her feel a little uncomfortable, but she now considers that she has a better understanding of her own skills, as well as greater appreciation for how some of her students feel. The view from my side of the desk, assessing a specialist teacher? I was nervous about how Abby would find my assessing style and how she would react to the outcome, but I am pleased that we did this and gave ourselves time to really think about how assessments and the outcomes affect children and their families. Label or no label, the assessment is great for showing people a profile of their strengths as well as areas of challenge, and the message from Abby – perseverance pays off!