Resources for Parents: Helping Your Child Manage Dyslexia

This is the first entry in our Resources for Parents series. If there’s a topic you’d like to see covered in a future Resources for Parents article, please let us know in the comments.

Dyslexia affects as many as one in five Americans. If your child is among them, you may be wondering what you can do to help them manage this challenge. We’ve compiled this collection of useful resources to give you the tools you need to help your child.

Understanding What Dyslexia is Like for your Child

For many parents of dyslexic children, the hardest part is simply having patience. You may go to proofread your child’s essay and find a multitude of spelling errors; you may try reading together with your child, only to give up when their reading speed and comprehension fail to improve. It’s a perfectly understandable feeling. As a tutor, I know that it can be tremendously frustrating to work with someone who cannot do or understand things that you see as basic.

But when working with children, it is absolutely vital to keep one’s patience. If you give up on your child’s reading or writing abilities, they’ll know it, and they’ll give up too. Children with learning differences often feel abnormal and less able than their peers, because the one-size-fits-all classroom doesn’t fit them. Parents can play an important role in countering this and helping children build their confidence and self-worth, if they provide encouragement and remind their child that dyslexia doesn’t make one any less smart or any less capable of greatness.

It’s a lot easier to support and encourage your child if you understand how they feel. This article that we linked to a few weeks ago includes a reading exercise to held non-dyslexics understand the experience of dyslexia; more reading, writing, and comprehension exercises can be found here, here, and here.

In addition to dyslexia simulations that put you in your child’s shoes, there are also a number of articles and videos that provide insights into the experiences of individuals with dyslexia. This article relates the experiences of an adult (and Yale graduate) with dyslexia; this one gives a more general overview of how dyslexics perceive the world. This page has links to eight videos about living with dyslexia. It might be good to watch some of them with your child and discuss them together; since those with dyslexia typically process auditory information much more easily than text, a video can be a great way to kick-start a conversation.

You will probably notice that many of these articles and videos have rather positive outlooks – as well they should. When managed properly, dyslexia need not hold someone back from reaching their full potential.

Understanding What Dyslexia Means for your Child Academically

Not for nothing is dyslexia classified as an LD (learning disability or learning difference). The condition causes difficulties in learning how to read and write, as well as difficulties in reading comprehension and spelling. This can impact students’ performance in English and reading classes, but also in math – to a dyslexic child, an equation is just as hard to read as a word is. Dyslexia is also associated in many cases with attention deficit issues, time management issues, organization problems like forgetting to complete or turn in homework, and difficulties with presenting or comprehending complex ideas in a written format. (Source: Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.)

As an important corollary to that, it’s important to note that the effects aren’t all bad – studies suggest dyslexics may have more detail-oriented visual perception overall than non-dyslexics do, as well as a predisposition to see “the big picture.” Other studies have found that dyslexic individuals have better spatial awareness than non-dyslexics. (Sources: Scientific American, Bristol Dyslexia Centre). In other words, dyslexia really is a learning difference, and dyslexics may actually have advantages in certain fields – like science, where attention to detail and the ability to see the big picture are often essential for groundbreaking research. Evidence suggests Albert Einstein may have been dyslexic, and several others with the condition have followed in his footsteps to win Nobel prizes in the sciences. It’s important to keep this in mind as you consider how to combat the negative effects of dyslexia, and equally important to remind your child that dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ and will not hold them back from their dreams.

Many children are diagnosed with dyslexia after parents and teachers notice difficulties with written language. Thus, at least some of the academic effects will already be apparent by the time your child is diagnosed. However, not all effects will manifest immediately, so it will be important to stay alert for future academic difficulties that may result from your child’s dyslexia. This information sheet on K-12 dyslexia, which highlights common issues at different grade levels, is a useful tool in this respect.

Some children with dyslexia have only mild symptoms, and a few interventions here and there will considerably improve their academic prognosis. For children with moderate to severe dyslexia, however, it is often best to seek professional guidance on the best way to coordinate interventions to help as much as possible. If you are unsure of the severity of your child’s dyslexia, or if your child has severe dyslexia and you need consultation on the best strategy for your child’s specific needs, we encourage you to contact an LD specialist or a child psychologist specializing in LD.

Working with Teachers and Administrators to Make Accommodations

Because dyslexia is so common, many schools have strategies in place for helping students to manage it. All HISD schools offer dyslexia intervention programs in accordance with the TEA policy on dyslexia. These programs include reading, writing, and spelling assistance as needed, at grade-appropriate levels, in a small class environment. A number of Houston private schools offer similar programs; to ascertain whether your child’s school is among them, contact the special education administrator or a higher-level administrator.

If your child’s current school does not offer accommodations for dyslexia, or if you find the school’s accommodations insufficient, you may want to consider moving your child to a different school. For children with severe dyslexia, in particular, there are schools which offer highly specialized programs designed to optimize learning for dyslexic students. Briarwood School is a special needs school with specialized programming for learning differences as well as developmental disorders, and Crossroads School caters primarily to students with learning differences.

The most common accommodations for students with dyslexia are specialized instruction (as described above) and extra time on tests. However, there are many more accommodations that could potentially be made in order to help students even more. Education and dyslexia expert Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley advises teachers to allow dyslexic students to make audio recordings of lectures and dictate short-answer responses on tests, and she stresses that dyslexic students should not be asked to read aloud to the class. She also encourages the use of audiobooks for children’s reading assignments. You can meet with your child’s teachers and ask about the feasibility of implementing these accommodations for your child.

There are also a number of helpful interventions that can be made outside the classroom. Audiobooks are worth mentioning twice, as they are perhaps the single greatest tool for imparting large volumes of information to dyslexic students.  They can be used in the home as well at school, for entertainment as well as for academic reading – even as entertainment, they help children built a larger vocabulary, which is always important but is especially so for dyslexic students. This article from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity discusses the importance of vocabulary-building and suggests alternative methods of reading (namely audiobooks and reading aloud to your child) as well as a number of ways for dyslexic students to learn new vocabulary words.

Many in-home interventions are also well-suited to private tutoring. A tutor can work through vocabulary-building exercises with a young child, or even read textbooks aloud to an older child and discuss the material to ensure comprehension. If you are interested in private tutoring with these dyslexia interventions, you can contact General Academic to set up a consultation.

Additional Resources for Further Reading

Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity: For Parents

Child Mind Institute Quick Facts: Myths About Dyslexia

NINDS Dyslexia Information Page

American Dyslexia Association: Dyslexia

Understanding Your Dyslexia

Dealing with Dyslexia

Know Yourself! – Living with Dyslexia

Living With Dyslexia: The Social and Emotional Consequences of Specific Learning Disabilities [Note: this is a full-length e-book and costs money.]

Feature Image Courtesy of CanStock Photo.

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