To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017, Val Bell, Assistant Director at Changing Lives, explains some of the challenges that people with dyslexia can face and how we're aiming to support them better.

Every day, Changing Lives staff work hard to remove barriers that stop people from getting the help they need or reaching their personal potential.

We strive to provide tailored support for people with complex needs and we are proud to approach everyone we work with as an individual.

However, often having to focus on visible and immediate needs – such as mental health issues or addictions – meant we had missed one area that quietly affects the lives of so many. Dyslexia.

It was early this summer when one of the people we work with disclosed that she thought she might be dyslexic, and asked for help to arrange being assessed.

This got us thinking, how many other people we work with could be in the same boat, either diagnosed or undiagnosed?

For many of the people we help, school may not have been a great experience due to undiagnosed dyslexia or other learning differences. The long-term effects of being labelled ‘thick’ or unacademic can limit people’s self-confidence and personal potential long term.

Ironically, research shows people with dyslexia are some of the most intelligent people and often the so-called ‘thick’ people at school may just learn in a different way.  With appropriate support, these individuals may have achieved so much more.

We carried out some internal and very informal research and discovered that dyslexia features as an issue for many of the people we work with and for many of our staff.  Now we have recognised this, it allows us to work in a different way to support their different learning styles.

A number of Changing Lives staff from across the organisation, supported by the British Dyslexia Association are in the process of being trained to carry out initial assessments so we can identify if people are dyslexic or have other learning needs.   We will be champions and first point of contact for anyone wishing to be assessed.  Following assessment and if required people will then be referred to a qualified dyslexia specialist who can give advice on support available to manage their specific dyslexia.

York University are very interested in this piece of work and we are working together on carrying out research over the next couple of years to measure how changing our way of working impacts the people we support.

It is very exciting. In fact, we’re thinking of it as a breakthrough in our work to enable us to give the people we support the best support that meets their needs.

This raises questions too: for example, do we need to challenge our education system?

Do you have personal experience of dyslexia or someone in your family?  It would be great to hear your story.