October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Dyslexia Awareness Month is being celebrated internationally through various events that raise awareness, including conferences and seminars, trainings and information days. All in order to become more aware of dyslexia or reading difficulties, to exchange knowledge and experiences, and to discuss good practices. The aim is to recognize the difficulties better, and to know how to use effective teaching methodologies and support methods in this field.

According to estimation as much as 20% of school children and youth suffer from reading difficulties and/ or difficulties in learning to read. In many cases the symptoms of reading difficulties diminish considerably over time, however these might not vanish entirely even in adulthood.

Following the initiative of the Estonian Reading Association’s (EstRA) dyslexia division, a contest was organized, through which enough materials were gathered to publish 5 sets of reading games in collaboration with Koolibri Publishers Ltd. During the period 2005-2009 five collections were published under the name „Lugemismängud“ (Reading games). The authors of the published games are educationalists who in their daily work teach children to read and write and who therefore are well aware of the need for such materials, as well as the conditions and guidelines these materials have to follow. The authors of several published games are specialists in dealing with children who have reading difficulties (speech therapists, special pedagogues). Thus, the above mentioned games work very effectively in case of teaching children who have difficulties remembering letters and corresponding them to sounds, decoding the letters and syllables, and comprehending the meaning.

Dyslexia day is celebrated already for the 4th time under the direction of EstRA dyslexia department. Mainly our information day participants have included educationalists: teachers from schools and preschools, special pedagogues, speech therapists, assistant teachers. We have discussed the essence of dyslexia, its distinctive features, shared information about the options for finding help in Estonia, listened to advice from psychologists and the experiences of parents. Interest in difficulties that occur when reading and literacy learning in general, and how to deal with these, is great.

Current year’s Dyslexia Awareness Month’s information day focused on parents, to whom we offer two events: dyslexia training day with narrower and more practical approach, and more general dyslexia information day that is aimed at a larger circle of parents.  With the talks and practical activities during the training day on October 5th we aimed at raising awareness, skills and courage of parents in supporting their children when learning to read. The program of the dyslexia information day that will take place on October 18th will be even more diverse and versatile. The organizers of dyslexia awareness events are very grateful to Tallinn Central Library, who has hosted our events for years and we wish long live to our kind cooperation.

With our dyslexia events we wish to maintain and grow positive attitudes towards life, show that life is possible with reading difficulties and to find ways for diminishing obstacles that can arise along the road.

One of the thoughts arisen from the parents’ training day on October 5th I would like to share here.

During the parents’ training day, I noticed the overall bright, warm attitude of the parents present, readiness to expand their knowledge on the topic and their steadfast wish to help their children in their educational progress. Parents are ready to cooperate with the teachers, are willing to impart the knowledge to teachers and encourage them to notice and support students with such difficulties. I see in parents’ readiness a tremendous potential to tackle the topic of reading difficulties.

The educational situation in Estonia today is characterized by sharp need for supporting specialists. The law decrees study support in each school, but the real situation is that the resources to apply this law are extremely low or lacking altogether.

In this situation each parent’s and teacher’s attitude, knowledge and skills that help to manage, have become critically important. If it is hard to access or even impossible to rely on outside help, you need to be skilled in the field yourself. Again, the parents’ optimism mentioned earlier, and the good old practical wisdom make up a good foundation and give hope.

Reading difficulty (dyslexia) is mainly the problem of developing children and youth. Well organized support systems and the use of effective study methods support and intensify the development of reading skills for many children and youth who have such difficulties. In the best scenario, we can even witness overcoming the reading difficulty. However, quite many young people become adults with reading difficulties. Reading skills improve when the child grows, but the difficulties might not disappear. These people – may they be children or adults – live their daily lives, and hopefully it is wonderful. They are the companions of all of us, our children and family members, students and colleagues, neighbors and hobby companions. These people need our understanding and support.

During Dyslexia Awareness Month it is the right time to call for noticing and supporting a companion, whose reading and/or writing does not go as smoothly and quickly as is the norm, who flounders when reading or searches longer for the right letter combination when writing. If someone asks us to read something for them or to check their writing, then let’s do this! Let’s do this with an encouraging smile. This has a tremendous impact.

Kadi Lukanenok

Estonian Reading Association, member of the board, head of the dyslexia department

Tallinn University, special pedagogy lector