In my former position as a dyslexia interventionist, I treasured the responsibility of being able to sit beside parents of children who had been identified as dyslexic and ease their concerns by explaining exactly what dyslexia is and how we could provide interventions to help. I always felt that at the end of our conversations, parents left with a better understanding of dyslexia, and the peace of knowing that their children were going to be okay. That’s where I am with this blog post today. If you know your child has dyslexia (or if you are concerned that he or she may), I want you to pull your seat up next to me and let me teach you about dyslexia and how it affects your child, and give you any reassurance that you need. My hope is that when you finish reading this post, you will know your child better, and feel confident in being able to help them with reading at home in addition to understanding the dyslexia interventions they should receive at school.
There are three parts to reading: decoding, which is “sounding out” words, comprehension, which is understanding what you read, and fluency, which is how quickly you read. Although students with dyslexia may struggle in all three areas, the underlying issue is decoding. Because they are unable to figure out what a word says, it slows down their reading, and causes issues with understanding what they have read. Simply stated, dyslexia is a reading difficulty in which students struggle to sound out words, spell words, hear similarities in words, and manipulate words.
If you haven’t already, check out my post about what dyslexia is and what it isn’t. To briefly review, if your child has dyslexia, you may notice the following characteristics of their reading:
- Slow reading speed
- Difficulty spelling
- Difficulty understanding books that they read themselves (This is because the child gets so focused on figuring out what the word is, he/she loses the mental focus to think about what the story is about.)
- Avoids writing
- Difficulty “sounding out” words
- Difficulty recognizing common sight words
These are the areas that a dyslexia intervention program typically addresses, but there are things you can do at home as well to support your child’s reading growth. It’s like if your daughter made the basketball team, and you know that when she is at school, she is receiving great instruction in basketball from her coaches. Still, when she gets home, you likely have the expectation that she should continue to practice. The same goes for dyslexia, or reading in general. Your children are likely getting quality instruction at school, but they will improve far more if you work with them at home as well.
Here are a few things you can do at home to help your child with dyslexia improve reading:
- Read, read, read, and read some more. Read a lot. If he/she does not enjoy reading, read TO him/her. Make it a fun, shared experience together. Just make sure you spend time reading every night. (See my post on Treasure Bags for more ideas on making this fun!)
- Look closely at words and talk about how they’re put together- As you are reading, notice characteristics about words. For example, for a younger child, you could say “this letter starts with C, just like C in your name, Carter!” You may also notice patterns in the book such as “look, all of these words end with ing!”
- Make writing a natural and fun part of your home life- together with your child, create a habit of writing in a journal every night. It can start simple with writing one sentence about your day, or writing one thing you’re thankful for. You can have your child write your grocery list, write a letter to a relative, or write a joke. The key is, make sure your child is writing every day. Resist the urge to focus on spelling. In fact, I wouldn’t even correct it in this setting. Write for the sake of writing, and practice spelling when it’s time to practice spelling.
- Practice sight words frequently in a fun way- one mom I know has a stack of sight words in her car that her child practices every time he is in the car. You can also post 5-10 around the house in places that your child frequently sees, and have him/her call out the words each time he/she walks by one. You can also have your child write sight words in chalk on the driveway/sidewalk and call them out as they jump around on them.
- Most importantly, a positive attitude about reading in your home will impact your child. Children who are positively motivated can learn the skills needed to compensate for their dyslexia. This is another reason it is important to allow your child to choose his/her own books.
A heavy emphasis in a dyslexia program is likely spelling rules. It would be wonderful if you could also take the time to learn a few common spelling rules so that you can discuss with your child why words are spelled the way they are. I have an e-course coming soon on spelling rules if you need a refresher. The reason spelling tends to be so difficult for dyslexic students is because students with dyslexia struggle significantly with what educators call “decoding” skills, which simply means the ability to look at a letter, associate it with the sound it makes, and blend it with the other sounds to make a word. The opposite is true as well. It is much harder for students with dyslexia to hear a word and be able to separate it into the sounds it consists of and associate those sounds with letters (what we naturally do when we spell.) This is why knowing the rules for spelling is a great tool they can keep in their back pockets to help account for this difficulty. Dyslexia cannot be cured, but children can learn the skills that they need to compensate for it.
Your child may have dyslexia, but he/she can absolutely still become a strong reader. Reading comes very naturally for many children, and others have to really work at it. Either way, both children can be equally successful.