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8 Tips to Help Your Dyslexic Child With Learning

Giovanna was an SEN teacher and is constantly looking for ways to help parents with school-aged dyslexic children cope with school workloads

All children love to color.

All children love to color.

Dyslexia in Children: Parenting Matters

As a parent of a child diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia and a special needs teacher, I have worked with children with learning difficulties for many years, and I know what it is like to watch them suffer at school. There are many factors that contribute to their frustration and self-doubt, some of which I have listed at the end of this article in the section on raising self-esteem.

Homework Makes Things Difficult

Homework is a very difficult area for them to cope with, and they need a great deal of support at home. Typically, dyslexic children can't complete their homework as beautifully or efficiently as other children do.

All kids really want is to be like their friends, and when they have homework assignments to hand in, they always, without exception, wish that theirs was as good as any other classmates'. As soon as they feel that they are not keeping up with their peers, their self-esteem takes a tremendous blow.

These eight tips are things that I have found to be successful in helping my son with his schoolwork and self-esteem. The last one is the most important!

Eight Tips to Help Dyslexic Children Succeed

  1. Visit the School's Special Needs Teacher
  2. Teach Your Child to Read
  3. Get Organised and Establish a Routine
  4. Make Writing Easy
  5. Understand That Handwriting Is Important for Self-Esteem
  6. Watch out for Bullying
  7. Help Your Dyslexic Child With Organisation
  8. Build Your Child's Self-Esteem

1. Visit the School's Special Needs Teacher

It's amazing how many parents fail to do this. Some parents are in denial, others have dyslexia themselves and feel overwhelmed, but it is vital that you go and talk to the school.

Early intervention is crucial. If you suspect that your child has dyslexia (or any other learning difficulty), contact the school WITHOUT DELAY. Research shows that early intervention is important. Apart from anything else, it will help your child maintain high self-esteem and a positive attitude.

I told everyone in the school who was willing to listen that my son was dyslexic. I told his class teacher that we would be doing his homework together and that I would be supporting him in every way that I could. I told them that most of the time, he would be drawing his homework and I would be writing down his words, unless he wanted to write.

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) will be sympathetic, and they will make sure the whole staff is aware of any arrangements you agree upon. That way, there is no confusion over your child's needs, and grading will be customized to their unique curriculum! It's amazing how much I achieved just by going to the school and talking to the staff.

Also, it is vital that you get your child properly assessed. Dyslexia Action is packed with information about this if you are in the UK. In the US, Dyslexia Reading Well is a good starting point—it is full of advice on what to do and how to do it.

Make sure you take time to visit dyslexia-specific websites for inspiration and great advice from professionals in the field of dyslexia.

Gender Ratios for Dyslexia

Current research shows that approximately 17% of the population has dyslexia, and girls are just as likely to be dyslexic as boys. Boys tend to misbehave at school, so they get identified early, while girls tend to hide their difficulties, making it harder to identify.

Consider Using a Fidget Cushion or Wobble Seat

My son was given one of these in class because he had issues with sitting still. Dyspraxic children feel uncomfortable when they're asked to sit still for long periods of time, and some even suffer physical pain and feelings of sickness. They need to move in order to make sense of the world around them. This can be very distracting to other children in the class. A wobble cushion worked well for my son and other children I have worked with. They also help relieve backaches!

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2. Teach Your Child to Read

I know I sound like a teacher, but reading is the most important thing you can do to help your child through life. You'll have to trust me on that one! Here is a BBC Literacy article that talks about how research shows that fewer children are reading in their spare time.

Teaching your child to read requires patience, commitment and determination on both your parts. Dyslexic or not, start reading to them when they're young and stick with it.

Shared Reading Is a Tremendous Help

Dyslexic children are just as inquisitive as everyone else, and they enjoy hearing stories. Reading to them every day for about 30 minutes will help them in all aspects of their literacy skills—they don't even have to do the reading themselves to benefit, they just need to be read to!

Read to them and they will pick up many skills. Start with simple picture books, and don't pressure them to read. Let them relax and enjoy the story. Every day!

Steps We Used to Teach Our Son to Read

A friend once asked how we managed to get my son to be a reader. This is what worked for us:

  • Read to your child from an early age. My husband read to him every night starting when he was very little—before he was even talking and hardly able to sit up! We had no idea that he was dyslexic at the time. I have a video of him sitting on the kitchen floor in his nappy, looking through board books pointing at all the pictures.
  • Encourage your child to read simple words and sentences. We continued to read to our son until it was time for him to start reading simple words and sentences to us. A lot of praise was key. We began to suspect dyslexia when he was about four years old, but we continued reading to him every single night and made it as much fun as we could by choosing the right books. Children's librarians are wonderful at giving suggestions of what might be the right books for your child.
  • Gradually choose harder books. We slowly chose books that were gradually harder. That way our son was able to become a very good reader at his own pace.
  • Share daily reading time no matter their age. Now that my son is 14, he and my husband continue to share their reading time. They sit next to each other and read their own books silently, and then after they read on their own, my husband reads to him for a while from a book that is more challenging and with more difficult language. This way he hears more literary language while enjoying another great story. It's a pleasure to watch them both.

My husband is also a very experienced special needs teacher, and I have a lot to thank him for. As for my friend, her response to all this was, 'But what about me time?' Did I mention that you have to be committed?

How to Choose Books to Read

Before my son started to read, there was a wonderful period when he was excited about every book we showed him. One of his favorite books is Come Along, Daisy! by Jane Simmons. It has:

  • a very strong main character (we even had a little, soft Daisy toy),
  • wonderful illustrations,
  • and a clear and simple story with emotions.

After a while, my son knew it so well he could recite it to us. He was so young when he first saw it, he could only say 'coo'. It really had staying power and kept him interested. He eventually grew into all of his books—but in order for him to want to read them, they had to have beautiful illustrations.

dyslexia-in-children-2

3. Get Organised and Establish a Routine

As soon as my son gets home from school, he goes through the routine: wash hands, eat a snack, and do homework.

While he eats, I look through his books and see what his homework is for the day. I often have to phone a friend to ask what the assignment is because he forgets to write it down. I try to be patient and never tell him off for this. I know he doesn't do it on purpose; it's his dyslexia.

When he gets home, I have everything set out on a table. Pencils, crayons, and other supplies are ready to go so we don't have to waste time searching for them.

Anxiety makes matters worse, so I set parameters. I tell him how long we’ll be working and how we’re going to make it fun.

Also, I have a small a treat ready, usually some chocolate. I'm all for a bit of a bribe!

Homework Difficulty

Always inform the teacher if the homework is too hard and/or is taking too much time after school.

4. Make Writing Easy

Children with dyslexia find writing difficult. It often takes every ounce of their effort, and it's exhausting work!

Instead of leaving him to write alone, we work together. We talk, discuss, research and make beautiful books. This takes dedication and time on my part, but it's totally worth it because it works.

So What Does He Do Instead of Writing?

I write and he draws! I act as scribe. I write his words and then he draws a picture.

An example of this is the picture below. I wrote the title and he traced over it. On the opposite side is the assignment, written by me. The homework was, 'Retell the story we heard in class today'. My son could do that beautifully, so no problem!

He traced over the title I wrote and then drew a picture to go with the story.

He traced over the title I wrote and then drew a picture to go with the story.

Type Assignments Rather Than Writing Them Out by Hand

During school, dyslexic children struggle to write notes, copy from the board or complete written tasks. I've found the most effective way to help them with this to let them type.

We didn't use the computer with him when he was young (I don't advise putting children in front of screens), but when he was 12 my son started using a word processor. Instead of buying him computer games with handsets that use only the thumbs, we bought him a couple of games that he could play using only the keyboard. Now, at 14, he types very well and is up to speed. It actually didn't take very long for him to master.

I have worked with many children who have also benefited from typing. When my son gets home from school, we log on to our computer, read through all his school work together, make corrections and do our homework.

This makes homework time much less stressful because we no longer argue about neatness and penmanship. This has been the case for all the dyslexic kids I've worked with who use computers in class.

A legible project ban be proudly displayed: A shark project.

A legible project ban be proudly displayed: A shark project.

5. Recognize That Handwriting Is Important for Self-Esteem

High self-esteem is one of the most important things children with dyslexia need to develop. Other kids can be so unkind, and handing in messy homework can be embarrassing.

In order to combat this, when I work with my son, I always:

  • Draw lines if the page is blank.
  • Give him a sharp pencil and eraser, or an erasable pen.
  • Make sure he sits up straight and holds the page still with the other hand. I remind him that writing needs both hands.
  • Ask him to tell me what he wants to write. Sometimes I write it for him in his notebook and other times I write on paper and then he copies it; while he is copying, I spell out the words.
  • Listen and respond when he tells me he's tired. I take over the writing to get the homework done.
  • Give him frequent, short breaks.
  • Remind him of the letter shapes by speaking the shape of each letter out loud as he is writing: up, down, round, etc.
  • Give him praise, praise and more praise.
  • Ask him to tell me where on the page he is most proud of his handwriting.
  • Decorate the page. I usually do this for him and I often color in his drawings.

Try a Pencil Grip

Something like a pencil grip may help your child's handwriting. They are certainly worth a try. They work brilliantly with some children but not so well with others. My son didn't like using them, but I have worked with children who have really improved their writing skills just by using a pencil grip.

Handwriting Practice Is Hard Work!

I helped my son develop his handwriting during the summer holidays because he was too tired after school.

We always go to Italy, and because it's too hot to go outside in the afternoons, we stayed inside and wrote diaries together. We have six of them in total. Here's an example of one of his early ones.

dyslexia-in-children-2

What to Do When They're Required to Write in Pen

The Pilot FriXion Erasable Pen is the best erasable pen I have found—it's brilliant.