The family way

The family way

The family way

First published in Lifestyle

One in five children struggle with reading and writing. The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust explains how its new campaign to recruit a national network of volunteer parent Dyslexia Champions will help support children with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties.

By Lisa Salmon.

Although one in five children has difficulties with reading and writing through no fault of their own, they are sometimes viewed as lazy or slow, and not given the help they need.

Many of these children have specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia (difficulty with words), dyspraxia (difficulty with movement and co-ordination), or dyscalculia (difficulty performing mathematical calculations).

The conditions are not always picked up quickly by schools, and this can be frustrating for parents who often don't know where to turn. And even after their child is diagnosed, parents may feel isolated and in need of help.

The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, a collaboration of organisations involved with specific learning difficulties, is taking steps to help such parents by recruiting a network of Parent Champions who understand the challenges the mums and dads of children with specific learning problems face.

Dyslexia Action, one of the members of the Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, points out that without the correct identification and support, such problems can be a barrier to learning and can lead to failure at school, exclusion or anti-social behaviour.

For many children who struggle to learn, their behaviour and confidence can be badly affected.

Tim Mungeam, spokesman for the Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, says: "Our Parent Champions will play a vital role because they understand the challenges mums and dads are facing.

"We're not looking for experts - we're looking for people who care, who know what families are going through and can offer support at a time when many parents feel isolated."

The idea, says Mungeam, is that the Parent Champions will act as a conduit of information from the expert organisations to parents locally, and also help the organisations understand what's going on for those parents.

"They'll be the voice and the ears of the experts in the local community," explains Mungeam, "to tell us about the issues that mums and dads are concerned about so that we make sure we're supporting families in the best way possible."

The Trust is looking for volunteers - who don't have to be parents themselves - who are passionate about helping parents and carers of children with dyslexia and other difficulties with learning, and can give an hour a month to help families in their local community.

That help might involve directing them to the right organisation to help with problems at school, or passing information from parents whose children have had a full diagnosis on to other parents.

"Some of it is just about reassurance, telling parents about some tricks and tips, and saying you're not alone," says Mungeam.

He adds: "Most importantly, we want Parent Champions to be our heart in the local community and to be someone that other parents can talk to so they know they're not on their own.

"If we can create ways for parents to talk together and share information and experiences, we might be able to better assess children and identify difficulties early on and avoid heartache further down the line."

Many parents of children with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties haven't truly grasped what the problem is, says Glenys Heap of Dyslexia Action, who points out that Parent Champions will be able to help them understand.

She says that information workshops will be offered for Parent Champions, and explains: "If they can talk to parents about what the difficulties are and why the child is behaving in a certain way, and why they can't do some things, that's one of the biggest things a Parent Champion can do."

She says this will give parents the confidence to go into school and talk to teachers, which may be particularly daunting for parents of dyslexic children as the condition can be hereditary and parents may be dyslexic themselves and have also had bad experiences at school.

The Trust has already signed its first Parent Champion, Abida Khan, who says: "As a mum whose own child has difficulties, becoming a Parent Champion is not only a great way for me to keep up to date with things that could be relevant to him, but also to keep others in my community in the loop and get my views heard by the decision-makers operating locally."

:: For more information about Parent Champions, visit www.parentchampions.org.uk, or ring the Parents Champions line on 020 7921 4530.

Ask the expert Q: "I'm about to have a baby, but while there's plenty of babycare advice available for me, I can't find much 'new dad advice' for my husband. Have you got any tips for him?"

A: Father-of-two Mark Woods interviewed scores of dads for his book Babies And Toddlers For Men (White Ladder Press, £10.99), and says: "Firstly, crying. Don't worry if it gets to you, it's meant to. Your job is to try to work out what's caused the cry and remedy it. The stress this can cause, especially when you throw in chronic fatigue, is not to be underestimated. Working as a team to help each other is crucial, but if you're on your own, take deep breaths, remember that your baby is doing all it knows how to do and that it will pass. Honestly.

"A fully stocked changing table is a beautiful thing because once you open the Pandora's box of a full nappy, putting a lid back on it again while you try to find some baby wipes isn't an easy thing to do.

"The fear of your little one getting their hands in their own doings as you do the clean up lives with all of us at every nappy change. Perhaps the best thing to do is just revel in your baby's creativity as she cave paints all over your white wall. You're not truly a dad until you have a face full of something nasty.

"Bathing baby is definitely a team sport - the four hands that you and your partner can muster hardly seem enough in the early days.

"Getting the water temperature right is crucial and not that easy first up. Spending a few quid on a little plastic thermometer which tells you when it's spot on is a good move, if you don't trust the age-old trick of testing the temperature with your elbow. So with a hand to support the neck and head and the other one under the body, the trick is to slide the baby gently into the water feet first. Once in you become acutely aware that you're essentially holding a live salmon in your hands. A palaver yes, but fast forward a month or two and bath times will be a doddle, just like most of the rest of being a dad, I promise."

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Clippasafe Advanced Bump Belt Easy to fit and move between cars, the Bump Belt ensures seatbelts lie across the lap and don't ride up on to the pregnancy bump. In an impact, it helps transfer pressure through the hips and pelvis instead of the womb, reducing the risk of serious injury. Designed for use from two months pregnant up to birth, £24.99, available from www.clippasafe.co.uk Mothercare Multi-Purpose Support Pillow Plus Designed to fit the shape of a pregnant mother's body to help keep her comfortable during pregnancy, especially when sleeping. After baby's born, the pillow can be used for support while breast or bottle feeding. Available from Mothercare stores and www.mothercare.com, £29.99.

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