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6 useful study tips for children with Dyslexia, ADHD and DCD

Study tips for children with Dyslexia, ADHD and DCD
Children with a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) such as dyslexia, ADHD and DCD/Dyspraxia, can find studying more of a challenge and often benefit from different styles of learning. Learning advisor and specialist teacher Ann-Marie McNicholas shares practical advice to help make studying easier.

1. Change your attitude towards exams and learning

Studying and learning can create a lot of stress and anxiety for students with a specific learning difficulty. “Some students can feel that they are not smart enough and some even want to give up,” says Ann-Marie. But children who believe they can learn things and keep trying with difficult tasks (this is known as growth mindset) are more successful than those who refuse to try in case they fail. “So, your success has less to do with your so-called ‘intelligence’ and more to do with your thinking and attitude to learning!”

Anne-Marie suggests a really simple trick for changing your perspective and having a more positive attitude about learning. “When you hear yourself say ‘I can’t do it’, just add this powerful three-letter word to the end of your sentence and say, ‘I can’t do it YET!”

As parents, we can encourage this by adding it to their sentence ourselves when we hear it muttered, or leading by example and applying it to our own sentences of self-doubt. Children will pick up on our positive can-do attitude and mimic it.

2. Use multisensory methods

“We can use senses – our hearing, vision and touch – to help us learn information. Information can be delivered through sound (auditory), sight (visual), and touch (kinaesthetic means).”

Anne-Marie explains that many people with specific learning differences can find it easier to learn by using all of their senses.

“By engaging your senses you can speed up your learning and also make it more fun to learn!”

  • See: use flashcards, movies, pictures, charts, colours, mind maps, diagrams
  • Do: dance, role play, move, act out, demonstrate, games, make something, visit, quiz
  • Hear: Music, songs, poems, explanations, discussions, read aloud, podcasts, radio

A method Ann-Marie recommends to help remember a list of items, such as the planets in the solar system, is:

  • Look at the list to learn (visual)
  • Highlight the first letter of each of the planets (visual)
  • Make up a silly story using these letters (auditory)
  • Record yourself telling the story and listen back to it, visualising a movie of the story in your head (auditory)
  • Cut out the names of the planets and practise arranging them in order (kinaesthetic).

3. Do activities to help you stay focused and attentive

“Your brain responds best when you are being active in your learning. This means physically doing something with the material you are trying to learn.”

  • Cut things out when trying to learn words or lists or definitions
  • Glue - make a collage of words or images or glue things onto tables/charts
  • Draw images and events to help information come to life and stick in your brain
  • Make things happen and create things for science experiments or history or make a book for reading. The experience will stand out and help create connections. 
  • Rearrange - don’t just look at the information on a page in a set format. Move the words and images around, muddle them up and then put them back together again.
  • Play - act out a scene from history or play mad scientists

Anne-Marie says that being active can also help reduce stress and anxiety. “You are doing something that is enjoyable and fun and you may not even notice sometimes how much you are learning by doing!” 

4. Make reading easier by using tools

“Some people find that the words on the page can be difficult to read, especially with black print on a white background. The words can appear to go fuzzy or blurry; they can seem to move or dance around the page; the page can seem very bright and glary. This is known as visual stress and can make reading quite difficult,” explains Ann-Marie.

She recommends using a coloured overlay/acetate to reduce glare and make words clearer.

  • Ask your school if they have an overlay you can use
  • When reading something electronically, alter the settings to make screen reading easier
  • Research different software programs and tools for children to help them read at school and home
  • Read aloud in order to process information and visualise what you’re reading
  • Ask yourself questions when reading to help keep focus. 

5. Remember tricky numeracy words and declutter the page

“Confusing numeracy vocabulary can be remembered more easily if you have a strategy,” says Ann-Marie. She recommends creating your own way of learning these words.

For example:

What is the word? = Mean
What is it asking me to do? = add all the numbers together and then divide this total by how many numbers you have
Memory strategy = Remember this is a mean sum, because you have to add and also divide

Ann-Marie also suggests covering up parts of the page that may distract you from the question you’re on. “If there is a lot of text on the page, it can be difficult to focus on the information you need. By covering up some of the text, you can concentrate just on the relevant information without getting distracted or losing your place.” 

6. Find out about exam access arrangements and extra time

Exam access arrangements or accommodations are put in place to make sure that you are not at a disadvantage because of your learning difference. The standard of the exam is the same – it will not be easier, but you may go about it a little differently in order to overcome a particular barrier to learning.”

Government guidance lists a range of possible support for KS1 and KS2 exams, including: 

  • additional time to complete the tests
  • adaptations of test papers
  • compensatory marks for spelling
  • the use of scribes, word processors or other technical or electronic aids
  • making a transcript
  • written or oral translations
  • readers
  • the use of prompts and rest breaks
  • accessibility objects in the mathematics test
  • highlighter pens
  • administering the tests at an alternative location

Ann-Marie says it’s important to consider what you will do with your extra time in exams to make the most out of it. Here are some of her suggestions:

  • Read the question a couple of times, to check you understand it
  • Think about your answer
  • Make a plan for your answer
  • Write your answer
  • Proofread your answers for spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Check you have answered the questions properly

Extract adapted from The Dyslexia, ADHD and DCD-Friendly Study Skills Guide (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) by Anne-Marie McNicholas Copyright © 2020.

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