What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurological condition which affects how language is processed in the brain. Dyslexia impacts reading, spelling, and writing, but also other areas that you might not automatically consider, for example Executive Functioning Skills (organisation). At home, parents may notice their child struggling. It may be with multi-step directions, organising themselves and their belongings, language acquisition, and telling the time. Dyslexia is not a problem with intelligence. In fact kids and adults with dyslexia are often highly intelligent, and often very creative.
Dyslexia especially impacts the ability to recognize small units of sound (phonemes) and associate them with the symbols that signify them (graphemes). So, for example, recognizing that the letters ‘ph’ sound like ff in the word ‘phone’. This makes decoding (or, breaking down) unfamiliar words when reading very difficult, which slows reading down and often affects comprehension.
The daily struggles often experienced by children with Dyslexia can often lead to problems with self-esteem and/or emotional difficulties. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, and your child will not outgrow it. However, with careful support from school and home, children can learn how to manage their Dyslexia, understand it, and excel
Tips for supporting a child with Dyslexia at home
The most beneficial thing you can do for your Dyslexic child is show understanding and support their emotional process. Educating yourself on what your child is experiencing is the best way to give them the support they need.
For those of you interested in learning more about how it feels, this simulator, Through Your Child’s Eyes, by understood.org is highly recommended. Here you can hear children’s stories, alongside expert analysis. Run several simulations which emulate the experiences of children with Dyslexia.
Once you feel confident in your knowledge of the condition, make sure to help your child to understand too. Some children feel overwhelmed when they struggle with something other kids pick up seemingly effortlessly. This can sometimes lead to them feeling inadequate or unintelligent. This is absolutely not the case. Educating your child on their condition will help them to understand their own strengths and need. And ultimately lead to them being able to advocate for themselves and manage their learning independently. Nessy.com, a fantastic academic resource for children with Dyslexia, has produced this child-friendly eBook, Dyslexia Explained. It is available for free download and explains Dyslexia clearly and in a way that children can connect with.
Support reading skills
Decoding (breaking down) words
Children with Dyslexia need explicit teaching of phonics, often to a far greater extent than offered in the mainstream classroom. They should be offered additional classes at school. But you can support this at home by providing opportunities for repetitive learning and plenty of review. When reading with your child, covering parts of the word to show how they are built up of different sounds is helpful (reveal d-i-ff-i-c-u-lt words in chunks). For many adults, the idea of teaching phonics can be daunting. This may be because it was not the way we were taught ourselves. There are some fantastic programs and resources available to provide the in-depth tuition and practice your child needs. Systems such as Nessy.com structure the learning logically. This means you can work on them with your child to see what needs reinforcing when you are reading with them.
Children with Dyslexia may never grow up to be fast readers. That is okay. Try not to worry too much about fluency and focus more on comprehension (deriving meaning). Read together often, taking turns to read aloud, and discuss the texts. Asking comprehension questions covering key reading skills is highly beneficial. For example, ‘what do you think will happen next?’ (prediction), ‘why do you think *character* did that?’ (inference), ‘what do you think they/that place looked like?’ (visualising). Creating visuals to support comprehension is always beneficial. It can be anything from doodling as you read, to full comic book style retelling. Tapping into the visual strengths of the Dyslexic reader is an incredibly effective support.
Additional tools for reading
Most children will benefit from a reading ruler, to keep the lines distinct and keep track of where they are up to. Some children with Dyslexia, although not all, also suffer from visual stress when reading. A coloured acetate overlay or reading ruler can help to reduce stress on the eyes, improving fluency and reading stamina. Many children prefer green overlays, but a pack of several different colours is inexpensive. You can experiment to find the colour that your child finds most useful. In more severe cases, coloured lenses in reading glasses perform the same function with less likelihood of losing your overlay!
Make reading fun
The difficulties in reading that come with Dyslexia, are putting your child at risk of becoming disengaged and resentful of the reading process. It is important to take the pressure off reading, and focus on enjoyment and comprehension, rather than any considerations of reading levels, or where you feel they should be up to by now. Re-reading favourite books, taking turns to read together (time to practice your booming character voices!), and branching out into different text formats, for example graphic novels and audiobooks, are all great ways to keep the magic of reading alive for your child. Give them time to read alone, both quietly and aloud, act as a role model and read quietly with them, talk about books and stories, and foster an environment where books are an enjoyable part of life – not a dreaded homework chore to struggle through.
Support writing skills
Remember: Writing is more than spelling
Many people disproportionately equate writing skill with spelling ability. Some children will never be exquisite spellers and that too is perfectly okay. Spelling is one small skill in a much wider range of writing skills. In the modern world, we usually use technology for our writing, and the tools that come with that will help your child immensely. Teaching your child coping skills despite difficulties in spelling will ultimately be far more useful to them than excessive focus on spelling accuracy.
Support organisation and planning
Children with Dyslexia may need extra support in organising their ideas to create a coherent piece of writing. Planning should be done using key words and visuals, not large chunks of text. Help your child to plan larger works using concise bullet points, or key points on separate sticky notes, so they can be reorganised if needed. Either of these strategies can be used to expand key points into full sentences later. Planning using pictures is also often very effective. Try creating a storyboard to plan a story – this looks like a comic book layout, where your child can visually plot the narrative and descriptive elements they want to cover. Most children with Dyslexia will require extended time to complete writing tasks, and it is best to provide this is several smaller chunks of time to prevent fatigue.
Make the most of technology
Writing by hand will always be important, in fact many studies have shown a link between handwriting and retention of information, but the fact is the vast majority of writing we produce as adults is created using technology. Whilst encouraging small daily activities practicing writing by hand, simultaneously encourage your child to take advantage of the technology available to them. For academic writing, spell check functions, dictionary apps, and speech to text programs can all take a huge load off your child – freeing them from struggling with spelling and allowing them to focus on ideas and content. This is not cheating. These are valuable tools to minimise the impact of Dyslexia on academic achievement and can allow your child to achieve to their (often very high) potential.
Once planning is complete, writing using typing or speech to text can significantly improve speed, accuracy, and legibility. When choosing a speech-to-text program, it is worth investing in a paid version with sensitivity to accents and the ability to learn your child’s voice and adapt accordingly. Some less-sensitive programs can cause further frustration to the child, as they incorrectly type what is being said, and lead to a lengthy and frustrating editing job.
Support general organisation skills
You child may well need support for their general organisational skills. Teaching them how to break down complex tasks into several smaller tasks is very helpful. Create checklists where the child can mark off each smaller task as they are completed. This method can be used to keep track of progress for school tasks, but also more complicated everyday tasks around the house. When giving instructions without a checklist, make sure to limit them to two instructions at a time, for example ‘brush your teeth and then go get your pyjamas.
Implement solid schedules at home and use colour coding to reinforce different tasks. Ensure schoolbags are packed the night before, and that there is a go-to place for essential school items somewhere in your home (preferably close to the front door). You can help your child by putting essential items in their correct place at first, but the goal is to teach them to do this independently. It is a skill they will need for life and getting them to learn early is going to pay dividends in the long run.
Struggling with tasks that seem easy to other kids can take a toll on your child’s confidence. They will need love, support, and plenty of patience to help them through what can be a stressful experience. If your child is showing signs of low self-esteem, or withdrawal, it is important to act quickly to build their confidence. Acknowledge their difficulties but make it clear how proud you are of their perseverance and achievements, no matter how small. Don’t react negatively to school reports or grades but help your child to look through feedback for the positives and choose just one or two small learning goals to work on.
Focus on strengths
Many children with Dyslexia will have significant strengths in other areas and helping them to recognize these will be great for their overall concept of self-worth. They need to understand that they have many strengths as well as the specific difficulties they are experiencing. Learn about and share details of successful people with Dyslexia who have achieved incredible things in their lives. Businessman Richard Branson and all-round genius Albert Einstein are two well-known success stories who did not let Dyslexia hold them back.
Acknowledge the difficulties
Acknowledge the difficulties your child is experiencing and allow them time and space to vent if they need it. But then bring it back to a more productive conversation about the specific challenges they are facing and help them to understand why this is happening (this is where a good understanding of Dyslexia will help you to help them). It might also help to share your own difficulties with your child. Understanding that people they look up too have difficulties too, whatever they may be, will help them to gain a more rounded perception of themselves.
Most importantly, understand and help your child to understand that they can and will learn to read. It might just take a little more time and effort. Help them to believe that they can succeed – and then enjoy watching it happen!
The single most important skill you can teach a child with any learning difference is self-advocacy – or the ability to stand up for themselves and ask for what they need to succeed. Open, honest conversation about difficulties and the strategies and tools to overcome them, such as outlined above, will equip your child to take care of their own needs. This is a lifelong skill that is useful for everybody, including those with additional needs. Below you will find some ideas for further reading. Educate yourself, help your child to help themselves, and enjoy watching them blossom!
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FURTHER TOP QUALITY RESOURCES
We hope this article has given you some starter points for your journey of support. For further high-quality information, the following resources are highly recommended:
If Your Child Has Dyslexia: Tips for Parents. WebMD.
6 Ways Parents Can Help. Nessy.co.uk
Understanding dyslexia. Child Mind Institute
What can I do at home to help my child?… Dyslexia Assist
What Parents Can do / Ten Things to Help Your Struggling Reader. The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
For Families. Understood.org