‘My dyslexic daughter can’t get the help she needs now because she’s a Welsh speaker’

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Welsh is what little Iona Weighton speaks at school, chats with friends to and even dreams in. But despite this, the youngster cannot take a vital test to see how bad her dyslexia is in her mother tongue – because it’s only available in English.

And the Ysgol Pen y Garth pupil could be forced to wait until she’s 11 before she can be properly assessed – despite experts saying that early intervention is important.

Her mum Haf and dad Russell say the situation is utterly ridiculous – and their daughter’s doctor agrees too.

Dr Rhiannon Packer, who tested and diagnosed Iona’s dyslexia, said: “This is going to become more of a problem because more children are going to Welsh medium schools and we need training on this for teachers in Welsh medium schools.”

The British Dyslexia Association estimates one in 10 children, or three in every average class, have dyslexia – some diagnosed and some not.



Iona Weighton

Iona’s mum Haf said concerns were first flagged up about her daughter about a year ago.

“When Iona was five and in reception the school told me they thought she might have dyslexia but to see how it goes.

“At the end of that year they said again they thought she was dyslexic but they could not do any tests.

“I contacted Dyslexia Action Wales and when she was six I took her out of school for a dyslexia screening test in English because there is none in Welsh.

“Having early assessment in the language you learn in is really important. Children are losing out. Not all parents can fund tests and there are less resources in Welsh.”

Iona, a pupil at Ysgol Pen y Garth in Penarth, speaks Welsh to her mum and English to her dad Russell at home. All her learning is in Welsh.



Haf Weighton and daughter Iona

“Iona loves books but as a parent I am shocked by the impact of dyslexia in terms of self esteem. She goes through phases of not being able to cope with going to school,” said former art teacher Haf.

She said her daughter’s school has been as supportive as it can, but they system isn’t fair for Welsh medium pupils with dyslexia.

A screening test to see whether a child may have dyslexia, before a diagnostic test is considered, is available in Welsh.

But that’s only available at age six and a half – rather than four and a half for the English version.

If that tests indicates dyslexia, Welsh medium pupils generally take the English language diagnostic test later than English peers at age nine, 10, or 11. That’s because Welsh medium pupils don’t start formally learning English until age seven and that could affect test results in that language.



Dr Rhiannon Packer from Cardiff Metropolitan University is a dyslexia expert, trained dyslecia special teacher and carries out tests for dyslexia.

Dr Packer from Cardiff Metropolitan University warned lack of early dyslexia screening tests or any diagnostic tests at all in the Welsh language is leaving children affected without the vital early help and support they need.

She added: “The end result is that they may fail exams because they have not had appropriate support. They may not get exams they need because they have not had the support. The research says early diagnosis is best because learning can then be tailored.

“If you have dyslexia diagnosis you can apply for extra support. If diagnosis is delayed there are delays to that process and support. This impacts on learning and self esteem.

“Full diagnostic assessment can be done from age eight in English, but for Welsh children in Welsh medium schools wait unto they are nine, 10 or 11 to do that as they don’t start formally learning English at school until they are seven.

“When I speak to special educational needs co-ordinators in schools they say they feel that because there’s no early screening test in Welsh it’s harder to identify needs.”

Iona’s primary allows her out for one day a week to attend Cardiff’s private specialist dyslexia school, Tomorrow’s Generation, in Lisvane.



Teacher Carole Bradley at the Tomorrow’s Generation school, Lisvane, Cardiff.

Her specialist Welsh language dyslexia teacher there, Carol Bradley, said: “There is a lack of assessment materials for dyslexia in the Welsh language.

“We have a screening test from age six and a half in Welsh and age four and a half in English. That screening tells you whether there is a high, moderate or no level of dyslexia.

“A full diagnostic test can be taken but that’s not available in Welsh at all. That means some children are being assessed later and not in their language of learning and, in some cases, not in their mother tongue.

“This can be quite a significant problem. Some children are not having a full diagnosis or not having it in their first learning language.

“I think parents and schools are aware of dyslexia. We have quite a few Welsh speaking parents contacting us here.

“There is definitely a need for these assessments to be available in Welsh. I imagine it’s a matter of funding.”

What is Dyslexia?

The word dyslexia comes from Greek and means “difficulty with words”. It is used as a name for a range of specific learning difficulties which may affect a person’s ability to read or write.

What causes it?

It is known to run in families, so there is a hereditary component, but the environment plays a part too. The way the brain develops before birth and in the early years is critical in determining the way learning takes place.

What can be done about it ?

Dyslexia can vary from mild to very severe. Every dyslexic person’s experience is different, but there are proven ways to help. The effects of dyslexia can be alleviated by skilled specialist teaching. This uses multi-sensory, structured, methods of teaching and learning, and encourages the learner to develop ways of learning that work for him or her.

Because dyslexia is not a “statemented” special need, schools do not have to pay for tests and the cost often falls to parents. Many may not be able to afford the hundreds of pounds they cost, but in some cases the local education authority will fund testing via local educational psychologists.

Some research claims that children learning to read in Welsh have an easier start because the written words follow consistent pronunciation rules and it is more phonetic language than English.

A Welsh government spokesman said: “The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice for Wales makes it clear that both the Welsh and English language should be treated equally across lesson delivery and all services covered by the code should be available in the child’s preferred language of Welsh or English, or bilingually where appropriate.

“We have also published guidance to help ensure a more inclusive education for learners with dyslexia and enable practitioners to better understand the difficulties those learners face.

“Local Authorities have a legal duty to provide suitable education for all learners, including those who have special educational needs. We will be providing an additional £8m next year to support local authorities and colleges in Wales in delivering education for young people with additional learning needs.”



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