What are the Symptoms of Dyslexia?
How to Support a Child with Dyslexia
A child with dyslexia will face many challenges, both academically and emotionally. However, there are ways that you can support your child and make these challenges a little less scary. By helping to create a positive learning environment, supporting your child emotionally, and learning about technology that can help your child, you will be able to make their life more rewarding. If you are a teacher, you can support students with dyslexia by using instructional techniques that make learning more manageable.
Help Finding Resources and Talking about Dyslexia
Supporting Your Child at Home
Read to your child every day.Reading regularly to your child is always important, but this is especially true for children with dyslexia.Set aside time every day to bond with your child over some books, magazines, or even the newspaper comics pages.
- Reading to your child will help them build positive associations with reading. It will also ultimately make it easier for them to learn to read, since it will expand their vocabulary, enhance their thinking skills and creativity, and help them build familiarity with the basics of reading.
- Do your best to make reading with your child a positive and happy experience for both of you. Find reading material that your child finds interesting and make it a fun daily ritual.
- You can also try listening to audio books with your child, then reading the same book together once your child is familiar with the story.
- When you’re reading to your child, choosing material that they find exciting and interesting is more important than selecting something at their reading level.For example, even if your child isn’t ready to read chapter books on their own, you can still start reading more advanced books to them if they’re interested.
Play word games with your child.Children with dyslexia may benefit from games that encourage them to think about letters, words, and sounds. Try to incorporate these little games into everyday conversation with your child.
- For example, if your child is a toddler, try doing nursery rhymes and poems that go along with gesture games, like “Patty Cake.” You can also point out words that rhyme during regular conversation. E.g., “Let’s look for a book. Hey, ‘look,’ ‘book’—that rhymes!”
- For older kids (e.g., pre-k and elementary school aged), try more complicated games. For example, you could ask a riddle, like “What rhymes with ‘hat’ but starts with c?” You can also ask them to sort objects into groups based on which letter sound each word starts with (e.g., buttons, books and beads versus cups, cans, and clothes).
Look into applications and assistive technology for your child.Some kids with dyslexia can benefit from technological aids that help them read and write. These tools give kids greater control over their reading and writing experience, boosting confidence and making it easier for them to do schoolwork or read and write for fun. Examples of assistive technology include:
- Text-to-speech software, which can allow kids to see text visually while listening to it aloud at the same time. You can find free text-to-speech tools, like Balabolka or Natural Reader, online.
- E-readers and tablets that allow users to control font size, screen contrast, and other aspects of the display that can make the text easier to read. Many tablets, such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nexus 7, also support text-to-speech.
- Predictive text apps, which help kids learn to write and spell by suggesting words as they type. The Ghotit Dyslexia Keyboard App and WordQ are both good options.
Designate a comfortable study area for your child at home.Set aside a quiet, clean, well-organized space where your child can read, write, and do schoolwork. Make the space special for your child by letting them pick out supplies and decorations for their workspace, and work with them to set aside regular work and study times.
- Let other members of the household know that your child should not be disturbed while they are working in their special study space, especially during a designated study time.
Invite your child to participate in decisions about their care.Involve your child in decisions regarding the education programs they enter and the learning tools they use. Allowing them to be a part of the decision-making process will boost their self-esteem and widen their awareness of their condition. With increased awareness, they will also feel more confident in their ability to overcome the challenges they face.
- For example, you might discuss the pros and cons of different reading apps or e-reader devices with your child and let them help with the final decision in which option you choose.
- Older children will probably be better able to participate in complex decision-making than younger kids. However, even toddlers or preschool-aged kids will appreciate being offered simple choices (e.g., “Which book should we read tonight?”).
Talk with your child about their condition.Explain dyslexia to your child. At the same time, let them talk about what they are experiencing. Let them talk about themselves, what they are going through, and how they feel about it. You can also help them to analyze their condition, look at their strengths, and come up with a plan to overcome their challenges.
- Assure your child that having dyslexia does not mean that there is something “wrong” with them or reflect on their value as a person—it just means that they may have different challenges (and strengths) from some of their peers.
- Explain dyslexia by focusing on specific challenges that your child faces. For example, “You know how you have a hard time with getting certain letters and numbers mixed up? That’s because of your dyslexia.”
- Children with dyslexia face a lot of challenges, but they also tend to have special strengths. These may include strong visual thinking and causal reasoning skills. People with dyslexia often have an aptitude for science.
- You could say something like, “Your dyslexia makes it harder for you to read, but it also gives you some awesome skills—like being really good at playing ‘Eye Spy’ or spot-the-difference games!”
Offer your child love and support.Realizing that there are people around them they can fall back on for support is very comforting. Help them take pride in who they are and what they have achieved.
- If your child is feeling down about their academic progress, sit down with them and make a list of their strengths and accomplishments. This will help them focus on areas where they are doing well and encourage them to keep up the good work.
- Focus on the journey, rather than the goal. This will encourage your child to feel good about the work they are doing. For example, say, “Your hard work on these writing exercises is really paying off! I’m so proud of you!”
Be patient with your child.It may take your child extra time to figure out skills and complete tasks that seem basic to you. Remember that they are facing special challenges. It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes, but try not to express those feelings to your child.
- Take a break if you need to—if you’re feeling frustrated, chances are your child is, too.
Working with Your Child’s Care Team
Get familiar with the symptoms of dyslexia.While every child learns at a different pace, certain types of learning delays and challenges are characteristic of dyslexia. You might start seeing early signs of dyslexia (such as difficulty learning new words, mispronouncing words, and problems following multi-step directions) by the time your child is preschool aged.Once they are school aged, you may notice that your child:
- Has difficulty mastering letters, numbers, and colors.
- Struggles to read at their age level.
- Has a hard time distinguishing between similar letters, numbers, and words.
- Has difficulty spelling even simple words.
- Takes an unusually long time doing tasks that involve reading or writing.
Make an appointment with your pediatrician.If you know or suspect that your child has dyslexia, your pediatrician can help you monitor your child’s progress and develop the best possible treatment plan. Make an appointment as soon as possible if you suspect dyslexia, since early intervention can give your child the best chance of developing the skills and strengths they need to succeed in school and later in life.When you meet with your child’s doctor, they may ask about:
- Your child’s general medical, psychological, educational, and family history.
- Your family and home life. E.g., who lives in the home? Are there any particular stresses your child is dealing with (like a recent divorce or a move)?
- Any symptoms or issues your child is experiencing, even if they don’t seem relevant to your child’s dyslexia.
Get tests done as recommended by your pediatrician.Your child’s pediatrician may recommend a variety of tests and assessments for your child. These tests can help determine exactly what types of challenges your child is facing, as well as rule out other possible conditions that may be contributing to their reading problems or general academic difficulties. Some types of tests may include:
- Vision, hearing, and neurological tests, to check your child’s senses and brain function.
- Psychological testing, to determine if your child may be dealing with any emotional or mental health issues related to their dyslexia.
- Tests of your child’s reading, writing, and other academic skills.
See a specialist if your pediatrician recommends it.Depending on your child’s specific needs, your pediatrician may refer you to a variety of specialists who can help your child. Some specialists (such as neurologists, ophthalmologists, and hearing specialists) can rule out other possible causes for your child’s learning challenges. Others (such as speech/language therapists) can help your child master the skills they need to succeed academically and to cope with the special challenges of dyslexia. Specialists who can help your child might include:
- Speech/language therapists
- Developmental child psychologists
- Hearing specialists
Work with your child’s teacher to establish an education plan.Your child’s school will play an important role in their dyslexia treatment. Share your child’s medical records with their teachers and school administration, and discuss your child’s special needs and strengths. Depending on where you live, a variety of resources may be available for your child.
- For example, if you live in the U.S., your child should qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). With an IEP, your child’s teacher will work together with other specialists (such as child psychologists, reading tutors, and speech/language therapists) to develop a special education program just for your child.
- In addition to special exercises and teaching geared to helping your child strengthen their reading and writing skills, your child’s school may provide special accommodations (such as giving your child extra time to finish tests and assignments).
- Your child’s teachers can also give you advice about how to help your child at home.
Find a counselor for your child if necessary.Children with dyslexia may also suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or other emotional symptoms related to their condition.If your child is struggling emotionally, they may benefit from seeing a therapist who can help them cope with these issues.
- Ask your pediatrician to refer you to a therapist who has experience working with children who have dyslexia.
Check in frequently with your child’s care team.The members of your child’s care team are there to help you and your child. Meet with them regularly to discuss your child’s progress and any new issues that may develop. Work with them to develop a care plan that works best for you and your child.
- If you feel like your child isn’t getting the help and support they need in school or from their medical team, speak up. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child.
Supporting Children with Dyslexia as an Educator
Focus your instruction on problem areas for the child.Children with dyslexia usually need special help with reading and writing. When creating an education plan for the child, focus on problem areas, such as:
- Phonology, or the rules of sound structure in speech. Children with dyslexia may struggle to understand concepts such as rhyming, syllables, and the individual sounds (phonemes) that make up words.
- The association between sounds and symbols (e.g., the sounds that particular letters or letter combinations make).
- Morphology, or the different elements that make up words (such as prefixes, suffixes, and roots).
- Syntax, or the rules that govern word order and function within a sentence.
- Semantics, or the meanings of linguistic units such as symbols, words, phrases, and sentences.
Keep written directions simple.Since reading is a particular challenge for children with dyslexia, it’s important not to overwhelm them with text. Instead of offering the child a paragraph (or more) of written instructions, try breaking the instructions down into a concise, bulleted list or highlighting the most important points.
- Talk to the child to make sure they understand the directions, and encourage them to ask questions if they need help.
Ask the child to repeat your instructions.Dyslexia can cause problems with both reading and auditory comprehension and memory. You can help reinforce your instructions and make sure the child understands them by having them repeat the instructions back to you in their own words.
- You can also ask the child to repeat instructions back to their peers if they are working in groups.
- Break your instructions down into individual steps and sub-steps so that you don’t overwhelm the child with information. Offer them 1 piece of information and have them repeat it back before you move on to the next part.
Give the child small, manageable amounts of work.A long and complicated assignment can feel overwhelming and scary to a child with dyslexia. Try breaking assignments down into smaller parts and presenting them to the child 1 part at a time.
- For example, if the students in your class are working through a workbook, cut out individual pages and let the child with dyslexia complete each page individually.
Offer additional guidance and supplementary materials.Children with dyslexia sometimes need extra help understanding the material they are working with. They may have an especially hard time isolating the most important information. Provide guides and supplements to help them focus on the most critical content.For example, you might offer:
- A summary or reading guide for long texts.
- Extra practice activities to help them master skills they struggle with.
- A glossary to help them learn unfamiliar vocabulary.
- A checklist for the child to take home each day to help them stay on track with their assignments.
Establish a consistent daily teaching routine.Routines are important for children who deal with learning challenges like dyslexia. Keep your routine in the classroom consistent from 1 day to the next, so that the child feels comfortable and knows what to expect.
- Offering daily checklists for the child can also encourage them to maintain learning routines at home.Talk to their parents about the importance of routines.
Use instructional methods that involve multiple senses.Multisensory input can help children with dyslexia absorb information more effectively than instruction that engages only 1 or 2 senses.Supplement written or verbal instruction with visual illustrations and even tactile experiences. This will help reinforce the information with multiple sensory associations.
- For example, if you’re teaching the child to recognize letters and their sounds, give them cards with sandpaper letters on them. Trace the shape of the letter with your finger while saying the letter sound, then have the child do the same.
Let the child have extra time to complete assignments.It can take children with dyslexia a long time to complete tasks involving reading and writing. If the child is struggling, allow them some extra time to complete tests, readings, and written assignments (such as essays).
- It is still important to set limits, however—a child who is spending multiple hours a day on a short homework assignment will end up feeling exhausted and frustrated.
- For example, a child in 4th-6th grade should spend no more than 45 minutes on a homework assignment.If you need to, adjust the assignment so that it’s doable in that timeframe.
Incorporate assistive technologies into your classroom.Assistive technologies can greatly benefit children with dyslexia. Talk to your school’s administration about what types of tools are available for your students. Helpful technologies may include:
- Tablets and e-readers
- Electronic dictionaries and spellcheck tools
- Text-to-speech software
- Caring for a child with special needs can be difficult. There may be times when you will need support, too. If you feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a therapist or finding a support group for other parents and caretakers of children with dyslexia.
Sources and Citations
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