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How to support dyslexic learners in school with their emotional needs.







In this post, I am going to give you some insights into how to support the emotional needs of dyslexic learners with their emotional needs.  I am thinking specifically of those emotional needs that arise when in school.

I think that there are four major emotional needs for a dyslexic student in school or college and they are feeling hopeful, feeling safe, feeling confident and the need to grow a positive self-esteem.

As adults, I think that we can sometimes struggle to help a child with these needs. Whether we are parent or teacher we can so often try to fix a child with solutions that we know work for us but so often fail because we have failed to understand what will work for the child.


Let us take self-esteem as an example.


I know that I have been guilty of hearing my daughters saying something negative about themselves and within a millisecond, I have told my daughters that what they have said is wrong and that they shouldn't think like that.  Whilst saying this with good intent, I am nonetheless telling my child to think like me and to feel like me.  "I think this about you so you should think that too."
What I have actually done is provide a judgement on how my child is feeling.  So this is not helpful because my child is already judging themselves and feel bad enough.  Now I am judging them.  With my good intent, I have made the situation worse only now, my child is more reluctant to tell me how they are feeling because they don't want further judgement.  Judgement makes a child feel less safe, less hopeful and definitely less confident.
A dyslexic student's emotional needs.
A dyslexic student's emotional needs.
If as a parent or a teacher we make children feel like that then their self-esteem is going to go through the floor and then we lose a child's engagement.  We need to empower our kids to search out and shine with their potential.

Going back to my child and hearing them say negative things about themselves, it is better to resist the temptation to fix and start to develop the ability to show empathy and listen.  We need to do everything that we can to help the child to understand that they can say anything they like about themselves, we simply care and want to listen.  We might ask questions but we should be careful not to make the conversation all about us adults and keep the focus on the child.  As much as they may not show it, most kids value being listened to WITHOUT judgement, if we can relate in this way then they will open up more, feel that they are valued more and their self-esteem will kick in and they will start to develop positive outcomes for themselves.

So it is easy for me to share this as I have learnt the hard way and still make the same mistakes as a parent, but for teachers in schools, it must be really difficult to manage a class of 35 kids and also help each individual to feel valued in that process.

I have close links with St David's College in Llandudno, Wales.  St David's is an independent mainstream college who are big on inclusion and as such works with a lot of students who are dyslexic.
I asked their head of wellbeing and chaplain, Tim Hall, to share a little about how they meet the needs of their students.

Tim writes...


"St David’s College has around 60% pupils with additional learning needs, which we prefer to view as ‘barriers to learning’.  Most of these pupils are dyslexic and our task is to remove the barrier to learning and give the pupils access to learning and exams, in essence, to make learning and assessment a level playing field.

Addressing emotional issues is as critical as providing assistive technology, learning strategies, differentiated teaching and access arrangements for exams.  Indeed, in the early stages of these pupils being introduced to us, evaluating their emotional presentation is key to opening the door to their learning.  Often, it is to do with anxiety over school, the classroom, the playground.  Frequently, it is about low self-esteem from having been considered a slow learner or a reluctant and disengaged pupil.  Sometimes, it is about being considered a behavioural problem, as concentration levels fall, as frustration levels rise, as struggling to access the work is considered to be defiance or as overtiredness through the exhausting process of learning where teaching isn’t accessible, is read as ‘late night syndrome’ or lack of self-discipline.

In 1965, John Mayor, our founding Headmaster said, “Every pupil has at least one talent, our aim will be to encourage it and make use of it…”.  Our firm conviction to this day is that each child has a gift and our intentional approach is to find it and give the child every opportunity to grow it. We want to help our pupils to have the freedom to grow and develop, to flourish.

In practical terms, we do this through our detailed knowledge of each child, our extensive Outdoor Education, sport and activity programme that facilitates pupil and staff interaction in less formal situations.  This knowledge of each child also gives a strong sense of belonging and in the context of belonging, a child can make mistakes knowing they are secure and have people around them to pick them up, dust them down and say, “Well done, let’s try that again…let’s start again”.

"St David’s College has around 60% pupils with additional learning needs, which we prefer to view as ‘barriers to learning’.  Most of these pupils are dyslexic and our task is to remove the barrier to learning and give the pupils access to learning and exams, in essence, to make learning and assessment a level playing field.  Addressing emotional issues is as critical as providing assistive technology, learning strategies, differentiated teaching and access arrangements for exams.  Indeed, in the early stages of these pupils being introduced to us, evaluating their emotional presentation is key to opening the door to their learning.  Often, it is to do with anxiety over school, the classroom, the playground.  Frequently, it is about low self-esteem from having been considered a slow learner or a reluctant and disengaged pupil.  Sometimes, it is about being considered a behavioural problem, as concentration levels fall, as frustration levels rise, as struggling to access the work is considered to be defiance or as overtiredness through the exhausting process of learning where teaching isn’t accessible, is read as ‘late night syndrome’ or lack of self-discipline.  In 1965, John Mayor, our founding Headmaster said, “Every pupil has at least one talent, our aim will be to encourage it and make use of it…”.  Our firm conviction to this day is that each child has a gift and our intentional approach is to find it and give the child every opportunity to grow it. We want to help our pupils to have the freedom to grow and develop, to flourish.  In practical terms, we do this through our detailed knowledge of each child, our extensive Outdoor Education, sport and activity programme that facilitates pupil and staff interaction in less formal situations.  This knowledge of each child also gives a strong sense of belonging and in the context of belonging, a child can make mistakes knowing they are secure and have people around them to pick them up, dust them down and say, “Well done, let’s try that again…let’s start again”.  One of my personal convictions, proven to me through first-hand experience, is that giving a young person a “compassion opportunity”, is so powerful in providing emotional strengthening and   Sarah Marsh teaching young people in Uganda. resilience.    Let me tell you about 18-year-old Sarah.    She joined St David’s College 6 years ago, with no hope of an academic future, or of any achievement in school.  Sarah is Dyslexic and her self-esteem so low that she never felt she deserved any accolade as she would never achieve.  This summer she joined my team going to Uganda on projects I have been developing for over 25 years.  This year the project work was to be different, adjusted to the team members but to fit the needs on one of our projects – a Vocational Training College we are building in a remote rural area.  The task was to teach students and teachers a 4 day intensive CAD course using Autodesk Inventor.  We took out 4 brand new laptops with the programme loaded, they took out drawing assignments designed to take the students and teachers through the elementary stages and become familiar with the programme.  Would Sarah be able to muster enough self-confidence and assurance to be able to stand in front of a class of 20 and deliver the course?  Sarah did not know the answer to this question until the moment came.  With each session her confidence grew, her command of the classroom was impressive to watch.  Sarah taught for 6 hours each day assisted by her 6th form friend who had also studied design for A Level!  Her students were eating out of her hand.   I wrote this about Sarah in her post trip report: “I have been reflecting on your contribution to the trip.  I think Lucy’s comments during the review draw it all together, ‘Quietly inspiring, full of beautiful smiles, the obvious one in the group to bring everyone up when they are down, energetic for everything…’.  In the classroom, teaching CAD to teachers and students, I saw a confident, self-assured and natural teacher.  You completely owned the classroom”.  When asked about her level of confidence now Sarah said " The opportunities that I have been given and the people who have supported me at St David's has given me the confidence that I have today."  Unsure of what she wanted to do as she moved on from school to University, this experience in Uganda has given her the self-assurance to accept a place at Brighton University to study Architecture – something she could not have even contemplated at the end of the school term."  For more information on the Uganda trip click here.   Final Comments As a parent and as someone who goes into schools working with young people to build their confidence and motivation, more and more I see a value making every effort for the child to feel comfortable to be themselves on the good days and the bad and give them the space to find their own way knowing that they can ask for help whenever they choose to need it.  Bring them opportunities to thrive in non-academic activities, such as the St David's Ugandan trip as they will learn about themselves, but also build that rapport which tells that child that they can trust you with anything and without judgement knowing that you have their back as they make their decisions about life.   Many thanks for Tim at St David's College for contributing to this article.   If you are looking for suggestions for supporting young people with special educational needs in school then do click on the banner below to download St David's e-book packed with tips from their SEN Team.
Sarah Marsh teaching for the first time in Uganda.

One of my personal convictions, proven to me through first-hand experience, is that giving a young person a “compassion opportunity”, is so powerful in providing emotional strengthening and resilience.

Let me tell you about 18-year-old Sarah.  

She joined St David’s College 6 years ago, with no hope of an academic future, or of any achievement in school.  Sarah is Dyslexic and her self-esteem so low that she never felt she deserved any accolade as she would never achieve.  This summer she joined my team going to Uganda on projects I have been developing for over 25 years.  This year the project work was to be different, adjusted to the team members but to fit the needs on one of our projects – a Vocational Training College we are building in a remote rural area.  The task was to teach students and teachers a 4 day intensive CAD course using Autodesk Inventor.  We took out 4 brand new laptops with the programme loaded, they took out drawing assignments designed to take the students and teachers through the elementary stages and become familiar with the programme.  Would Sarah be able to muster enough self-confidence and assurance to be able to stand in front of a class of 20 and deliver the course?  Sarah did not know the answer to this question until the moment came.  With each session her confidence grew, her command of the classroom was impressive to watch.  Sarah taught for 6 hours each day assisted by her 6th form friend who had also studied design for A Level!  Her students were eating out of her hand. 

I wrote this about Sarah in her post trip report: “I have been reflecting on your contribution to the trip.  I think Lucy’s comments during the review draw it all together, ‘Quietly inspiring, full of beautiful smiles, the obvious one in the group to bring everyone up when they are down, energetic for everything…’.  In the classroom, teaching CAD to teachers and students, I saw a confident, self-assured and natural teacher.  You completely owned the classroom”.

When asked about her level of confidence now Sarah said " The opportunities that I have been given and the people who have supported me at St David's has given me the confidence that I have today."

Unsure of what she wanted to do as she moved on from school to University, this experience in Uganda has given her the self-assurance to accept a place at Brighton University to study Architecture – something she could not have even contemplated at the end of the school term."

For more information on the Uganda trip click here.

 Final Comments
As a parent and as someone who goes into schools working with young people to build their confidence and motivation, more and more I see a value making every effort for the child to feel comfortable to be themselves on the good days and the bad and give them the space to find their own way knowing that they can ask for help whenever they choose to need it.  Bring them opportunities to thrive in non-academic activities, such as the St David's Ugandan trip as they will learn about themselves, but also build that rapport which tells that child that they can trust you with anything and without judgement knowing that you have their back as they make their decisions about life.

Many thanks for Tim at St David's College for contributing to this article.

If you are looking for suggestions for supporting young people with special educational needs in school then do click on the banner below to download St David's e-book packed with tips from their SEN Team.



Download this useful email today.







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