11 ways to help children with dyslexia
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a distinct learning disability that usually causes difficulty in reading, but can also create adversity in spelling, writing, and speaking. The process of reading can be quite complex as it demands the connection of the letters on a page to sounds, the organization of those sounds in the correct order, and the stringing together of those words into sentences and paragraphs.
Children with dyslexia often have trouble pairing letter sounds with symbols and then blending them together to form words. Dyslexia is usually diagnosed from preschool to second grade and affects roughly 20% of the population. It is classified as a neurobiological condition and is generally inherited from an immediate family member.
There is no correlation between overall intelligence and dyslexia, but it can create difficulty in spelling words correctly, learning a foreign language, and the fluency of speech. There is not a way to “cure” dyslexia as it lasts your whole life, but with the right guidance, children with dyslexia can mature into highly intelligent and successful adults.
Ways to help a Child with Dyslexia
1. Early Diagnosis
The earlier the better. Kids diagnosed before 5th grade showed the best response to reading intervention. Recent research has affirmed this notion and proven that early intervention has lead to more activity in the brain regions affected by dyslexia and improved reading capabilities. Children with dyslexia have a brain that is wired very differently than a child without dyslexia, and these differences can be noted as early as a few days after birth. Many institutions currently provide affordable dyslexia testing such as the International Dyslexia Association or you can even use a free online dyslexia assessment such as test dyslexia as a first step to see whether your child needs a more formal assessment.
2. Phonemic Awareness Activities
Phonemes are single sounds produced by letters that make up words. An example of this would be that the word “cow” comprises of 3 phonemes: /c/ /o/ /w/. In this activity, children would receive practice breaking down and manipulating phonemes such as replacing the “c” with an “n” to make the word “now.” Other activities that improve phonemic awareness are making a list of words that rhyme, splitting a word into different parts, and counting the number of syllables in a word. This type of sorting is key in helping a child with dyslexia learn to read and understand words as a whole.
3. Attention, Memory, and Vocabulary exercises
To help with locating patterns and building overall comprehension, children can perform exercises involving attention, memory, and vocabulary. This type of exercise is quite easy and can involve everyday situations. Some examples of this would be the continuous reminding of names of streets, family, friends, and other words that are seen over and over again. Outside of just naming items, it can also help to play games observing the difference between two images or memorizing certain positions or names of variables. All of these methods share a common theme of the repetition of basic information in a very casual and relaxed way.
4. Building self-esteem and confidence
Often children with dyslexia worry that there is something wrong with them or are told repeatedly that they are not trying hard enough. The consequence of these messages can be detrimental in a child’s ability to succeed later in their life and build self confidence. An unfortunate side effect of dyslexia is an inability to use expressive language, and this can socially isolate a child. As a parent or guardian it is important to build confidence in your child and reinforce the idea that they are capable and smart.
As of April 11th, 2018
5. Enter your child into a group with other children with dyslexia
Once a school identifies a child with dyslexia, it will often enter the student into special classes with other dyslexic students. However, this is not always the case, and some schools can accidentally isolate a student away from their classmates in order to receive special instruction. It is paramount to make sure that your student not only gets a chance to interact with other students but can meet other children with dyslexia and have the realization that they are not alone. This vital connection can be made through group meetings or inquiring if your child is in school with other dyslexic children. One organization that makes this connection is Eye to Eye, which connects college students and elementary-aged students with learning disabilities.
6. Read to your child on a daily basis
Reading to your child on a daily basis can help them improve comprehension without having to go through the trouble of decoding. It can also spark creativity and interests in reading as many children with dyslexia are often only able to read very short books that lack depth. By reading longer books aloud, your child is able to focus on the meaning of the content and use their imagination. In addition, your child will also be able to get into books that his peers are reading and hold interest in those books because they are age appropriate. There are many great books about people who learn differently such as the Percy Jackson series, Tacky the penguin, Thank you Mr Falker, and The Dunderheads just to name a few.
7. Multi-sensory learning
Activities using multi-sensory learning help children with dyslexia process and retain information. One way to employ this type of learning is making words with tactile objects such as spaghetti, Legos, sand, or dominos. Another way could be creating a game thats involves putting letters together or spelling words. These strategies can not only help children with dyslexia but also can help other children retain knowledge.
8. Utilize technology
There are currently many tools that can help a child read by making it easier for them to focus. Tools such as a line reader can highlight the part of the text that needs to be read and can blur out the other parts so that a child can focus on a certain part and avoid the “swimming” effect. The swimming effect is when children with dyslexia perceive the words on the page as floating around and switching order. Another technology that can be used is a pocket spell checker. A pocket spell checker can allow the child to enter a word how they think it is spelled and it will return the correct spelling of a word. This can help a child memorize the correct spellings of words on their own. Another technology related tool that can help children with dyslexia is colored keyboards. Colored keyboards can make typing a lot easier as the letters can be bigger and a child will be able to differentiate between them with ease.
9. Advocate for accommodations
If a student is diagnosed as having dyslexia, they can receive accommodations such as extra time to help even the playing field. It is important to get your child diagnosed in elementary school, as it can be more difficult to get certified in higher grade levels. These accommodations can carry on all the way through college if they are continuously necessary and approved. While the process may seem complex and long initially, it can help your child greatly, especially with standardized testing later in their life.
10. Developing good habits
Children with dyslexia often feel pressured to keep up with their peers and can sometimes develop bad habits in order to not fall behind. It is essential to make sure your child develops habits such as reading slow and reading a paragraph twice to make sure that they take away as much information as possible. It should be encouraged to not feel ashamed to use their extra time and that it is always important to do their best. Having a competitive outlook can be damaging for these children as they will develop a weak foundation that will hurt their educational trajectory years later. An influential perspective on improving yourself and not comparing to others can go a long way for these children in their most formative years.
11. Having fun
While this may sound cliché, having fun is the most important advice given so far as having an intrinsic motivation to keep learning is vital to long term success. Dyslexia (if not addressed properly) can turns kids away from school and lead them down the wrong path. It is important to make learning fun for your child and keep them interested in the curriculum. There is a delicate balance between being comfortable, being challenged, and staying interested. School should be a positive experience, as it is important to make sure your child is learning in a safe space and does not feel overwhelmed. As the famous dyslexic Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a trees, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
To keep your child engaged over the summer, there are some extraordinary camps in Austin designed for children with dyslexia. These camps can not only help your child catch up or get ahead but can also help them know that they are special and believe in their abilities.
Reversing Dyslexia Day Camp is a camp started by Dr. Phyllis Brooks that helps treat dyslexic children without using drugs. This is a 2-week summer camp that can get students prepared for the year and help relieve any pre-existing tensions.
Another great camp in central Texas is the award winning Rawson Summer School. This camp is close to a month long and uses many of the techniques listed above to aid your child in learning critical knowledge that they will require in school. Your child will be placed in a small individualized group and be able to focus on the subjects that need attention.