Dyslexia – perceptions and support for members from ethnic minority communities

By Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten, Associate Professor in Childhood Studies, University of Portsmouth and Mrs Sonia Carr, Wiltshire Racial Equality Council (WREC)


Our work with families from ethnic minority communities highlights gaps in services and practices that are either inadequate or inappropriate to their needs. Members from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be unsatisfied, because they do not receive a service, than to be dissatisfied with the support that they received. Moreover, there is evidence that when help is needed, most minority ethnic families are more likely to first seek help from other family members and friends. Yet, close-knit communities can generate social isolation, and families experiencing acute stress feel shame about their difficulties. This is no different when it comes to dyslexia, which though neurological and present worldwide, is experienced through culture. 

Research on education and attainment in the UK consistently highlights a number of inequalities in relation to teacher support/expectations, language barriers, socio-economic disadvantage and institutional racism, affecting children from a wide range of ethnic minority communities. Without identification of dyslexia, difficulties with reading and writing are often attributed by others such as teachers, peers and/or parents to low intelligence and/or lack of effort. While some people with dyslexia will actively reject and challenge this understanding, others tend to internalise it. Moreover, mixed White/Black, Black and Gypsy/Roma pupils are nearly 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded, compared to White British pupils; at the same time Gypsy/Roma pupils have the highest rates of overall absence and persistent absence, and Black pupils the lowest (UK Government, 2019; 2020). In the UK there is a lot of research and data with a focus on the ethnic minority attainment gap, but rarely do these studies directly engage with the voices of families from a variety of ethnic minority communities. Instead, educational inequalities are reproduced and exacerbated, due to a lack of engagement with the needs/challenges that families from a variety of ethnic minority communities may face, as well as cultural insensitivity and exclusive practices on the part of educational settings. 

Perceptions and experiences of students from ethnic minority communities in relation to dyslexia highlight that there is a need to get to know the person first and match up support workers appropriately with students and develop and stimulate positive self-perceptions and coping strategies. Identification of dyslexia provides a means of making sense of difficulties, bolstering self-belief in intelligence, and initiating changes in support and personal motivation. In UK universities, the number of students possessing a dyslexia diagnosis continues to increase. There is generally a high degree of positivity towards dyslexic students and a willingness to make reasonable adjustments, yet this is combined with inadequate awareness of how dyslexia may affect members from different ethnic communities and their related needs. Notable consequences include confusion and feelings of inadequacy around how best to meet the needs of dyslexic students, a resultant reliance on generic reasonable adjustments, and disinclination to fully engage with related equity issues. This can mean that services do not meet people’s needs, and more guidance on working with people from minority ethnic groups can help local service planners and developers address this. In addition recent years have seen an important increase in the numbers of people from so called newly arrived communities – people who have not previously settled in the UK and who may have cultural and other needs that are unknown to statutory agencies and educational settings. There are an increasing number of local areas with a very wide range of different ethnic minority groups, presenting a great challenge in engaging with local people and communities. Local work is beginning to show that there are people with learning difficulties in these newly arrived communities for whom local agencies should be in a position to offer support. 

Bios:

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Childhood Studies in the School of Education & Sociology at the University of Portsmouth. Wendy is a BPS Chartered Psychologist, and has researched (and published) in the areas of mental wellbeing of vulnerable children, such as children in care, care leavers and children from disadvantaged and marginalised communities, in local (Portsmouth), national (Scotland, London, Wiltshire) and international (Egypt, Canada, Indonesia) contexts; she has also researched issues around bullying and childhood obesity. Her work has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, as well as charities and Portsmouth City Council. Wendy is the coordinator of the Mental Health in Childhood & Education (MICE) Hub (www.micehub.port.ac.uk) at the University of Portsmouth and co-editor for the BPS (British Psychology Society) Psychology Teaching Review. She is also Associate Editor for the Journal of Social and Political Psychology and a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Psychological Therapies.

Sonia Carr has been an active member and Chair of the Wiltshire Racial Equality Councils for over 15 years. She has given numerous talks around diversity and inclusion training across Wiltshire and the UK and supports vulnerable families from a range of ethnic minority communities. Sonia has a BA (Hons) in Fashion from the University of West England and a Masters in Design from Bath Spa University