8 Tips to Help Your Dyslexic Child With Learning
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 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
- Visit the School's Special Needs Teacher
- Teach Your Child to Read
- Get Organised and Establish a Routine
- Make Writing Easy
- Understand That Handwriting Is Important for Self-Esteem
- Watch out for Bullying
- Help Your Dyslexic Child With Organisation
- 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!
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!
Run your finger along the lines under each word—this helps them develop tracking skills.
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.
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!
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!
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 Can Be Proudly Displayed
5. 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.
What to Do When They're Required to Write in Pen
- It rubs out so well that it comes with a warning not to write bank cheques with it!
- It writes smoothly and the ink is free flowing.
- It's a nice shape and sits comfortably in the hand.
- It rubs out totally using the end of the pen, so you don't need a special eraser.
- You can write over the erased mistake immediately.
This pen has made our life so much easier! Weirdly, the writing fades in the heat, but the ink comes back if you put it in the freezer for a few seconds!
My only criticism is that they run out of ink a bit quickly, so in my house, only my son is allowed to use them.
Examples of Supported and Rushed WritingClick thumbnail to view full-size
'Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.'— Albert Einstein
6. Watch out for Bullying
All kids really want is to be like their friends. If they struggle with classwork, other kids may call them stupid, and they are at greater risk of being bullied by classmates.
Sadly, and all too often, teachers make matters worse by unwittingly humiliating them in class. They make their dyslexic students' weaknesses public by asking them to read aloud, or making displays that show how many times tables individual children know by heart! Believe me, my son's name was always at the bottom of that display! Usually, teachers do this sort of thing because they know very little about dyslexia and are undertrained.
Even with all my experience and knowledge, I couldn't protect my son from bullies at his first school. It was a total disaster. He was bullied so badly that I can't bear to think about it, and I'm not going write about it here. We moved schools, which helped.
Sadly, bullying is the way of the world, so it's important to teach your children how to cope. We have taught our son coping mechanisms for incidents that still happen sometimes. The trick is to teach your child to tell you about bullying, no matter how small, as soon as it starts.
If anything positive came from our experience of being bullied, it is that my son tells me when it happens, and we are able to deal with it immediately and directly.
7. Dyslexia and Organisation
See the circles? We call them vignettes—I don't know why. We draw circles to make our point or to record facts. Each one is about the size of a tea cup.
The circles help organize his thoughts and ideas. We discuss and research facts and decide which are important and worth recording. Then he draws the images while I color them in.
We don't draw directly in his notebook. We draw the circles on separate paper and then cut them out when they're ready to glue into his notebook. Then we decide how to arrange them on the page. That way he can relax, knowing that if he makes a mistake we can start again. It cuts down on a lot of stress and anxiety.
Now that he's older, he still draws circles, but he uses them as a memory aid and to write paragraphs. It's easy and great fun.
And P.S., his teacher loves them.
Give Your Child Frequent Breaks
Typically, my son will start to yawn about ten minutes after starting his work, especially if it's math. He is not alone, and it shows that he is working very hard. People with dyslexia have to work much harder than their peers to process words and numbers. It is exhausting. Remember to continually praise them for their efforts.
8. Build Your Child's Self-Esteem
I have left this tip for last, not because it's unimportant, but because I hope you will remember it. Praise, praise and praise again! Encouragement and support from parents is priceless.
Doing homework together gave me so many opportunities to compliment my son for something real. Empty praise is almost useless, but a good piece of homework is something they can really feel proud of, and it's your chance to reinforce that you are proud of them.
Dyslexic children can be very different from other students in school. Here are some examples of their challenges:
- Fidgeting and rocking on their chairs.
- Getting too close to people when they speak.
- Struggling with banter and not being able to respond quickly to friends' jokes. Peers often don't have patience and move on without waiting for a response.
- Following directions is very hard because of their weak short-term memory.
- Confusing left from right.
- Feeling very tired in the mornings and during the school day because sleep disorders are common.
- Being labelled 'lazy' when they are actually working much harder than others.
- Being scared of the dark and/or bright light.
- Having trouble with team sports.
- Being unable to tie shoelaces.
- Being unable to tell the time.
- Being unable to memorize timetables.
These types of difficulties can lead the dyslexic child to be down on themselves or discouraged. So the most important thing we can do as parents is to work on their self-esteem.
Helping them return to school with some great, beautifully presented homework gives them the chance to show off their hard work with pride.
Here are some other things that have worked for us:
- We NEVER put him down, and name-calling is not permitted in our house.
- We sit around the table and eat together as a family every day. We chat and listen as he tells us stories about his day. This is when we can see if there's anything at all bothering him. It's a good thing to do.
- We never blame each other when things don't go well.
- We always try to resolve issues and arguments before going to bed. We apologize.
- We keep our teachers well informed of the difficulties our son is facing.
This hasn't been easy, and my son's self-esteem is still fragile and can be destroyed in a second, like popping a bubble. I've made mistakes, and I know there are plenty more to come, but fundamentally, my son loves school and doing his homework. So I must be doing something right! He even sat and helped me write some of this article!
I focused on what my son was truly interested in and made sure he had time for that every day. For my son, this was music. It doesn't matter what it is—giving energy and respect to something that interests your child raises their self-esteem.
Some Typical Homework Issues for Dyslexic Children
- His homework isn't 'differentiated', which basically means it is too hard for him. Usually it involves too much writing or copying.
- An assignment that would take a child without dyslexia 10 minutes to complete, could take my child up to two hours! It's a soul-destroying thing to have to put any child through. And you should NEVER do that.
- The work should always be at his intellectual level. He may understand the concepts because he is bright and very interested in school work, but the problem is he can't write quickly and clearly enough. He can't express himself in writing because as soon as he thinks of something to say, he forgets it as his brain switches to coping with the mechanical skills of writing.
- He works slowly and laboriously, so a page of writing is not something he should be asked to do, unless of course, he wants to.
- When he does ask to write, I always give him a sharp pencil. I rub out his mistakes as we go along as sensitively as possible and tell him why.
- I always help him with spellings, and I always insist that he uses his best writing. He is usually able to cope with about a paragraph before asking me to take over.
Ask the Teacher to Write Down Homework Assignments
Remembering and writing down homework assignments can be a big problem. Make sure the teacher gives plenty of support with this. Ask them to write the homework assignment down EXACTLY as they want it to be done. Or even better, ask if they could send the whole class an email!
An Example of How to Get Feedback From Your Child About Their Homework
At the bottom of the homework page in corresponding colors, I write:
'Homework Difficulty Rating: RED AMBER GREEN'
If the assignment is too difficult, my son ticks RED. If it's too easy, GREEN. If it's challenging but doable, AMBER. Then I write the time it took to complete the assignment at the bottom.
Example Assignment: Write your own sonnet using the iambic pentameter and rhyme! (I reckon Shakespeare himself would have found this a challenge!)
I shall compare you to a holiday
You are more fun and more carefree to me.
Hard work does make a very laboured day
Slaving away teachers keep us busy!
In the morning I see you sitting there
And remember the term will soon be done,
With the sun shining on your bright red hair
I yearn for the holidays soon to come.
So long as we are free, and can have fun
Long live holidays, and love which is young!
By: Anonymous thirteen-year-old
Homework Difficulty Rating: RED AMBER✓ GREEN
Time: 1hour 45mins
NOTE FROM MUM: Too difficult for independent work. Together we used Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day as a starting point, and my son thought of the rhyming word 'holiday'. Ideas progressed from there. He really enjoyed it.
An Example of How to Make Homework Fun
The homework assignment was: 'Write about an animal and talk about it in class'. Instead of writing in a notebook, we made a display that he could hold up and show the class while he talked. This helped him not be as nervous.
- To keep the writing to a minimum, he wrote the facts he learned in the form of a poem instead of a paragraph. He copied his poem carefully in his best cursive handwriting.
- We cut out bits of a shark drawing and wrote questions and answers in a lift-the-flap form.
- Next we made a simple collage using colored paper, which is so much easier and more effective than coloring in.
- My son enjoyed drawing the sharks while I cut them out and colored them in for him. We then glued everything down on a piece of cardboard.
The whole process was much more enjoyable and memorable than simply writing laboriously in a notebook. His teacher loved it, and it was on display outside the staffroom all term!
A teacher of a younger class showed it to her students as an example of an excellent project. He was so proud!
It may seem silly, but presentation is important. I'm always working on his self-esteem, and he feels more proud of himself when the project is beautiful.
Neatly Written Project That Was a Confidence BoostClick thumbnail to view full-size
Are You Confident Helping Your Child With Homework? Comments From Parents.
Yes, I am because...
No, I am not because...
I don't have children. But, I am confident when I help kids with homework because I don't need to be perfect, just give them the knowledge I have—which is what learning is about. - Laura Brown
I don't have children of my own, but I was a severely dyslexic child. My dad did not have the level of education necessary to help me with most of my homework, but my parents made sure I got extra help from my public school and a private tutor as well. It's possible to overcome dyslexia without the help of a parent, but I agree that parents who are able to help should. - Christy Kirwan
Right now I am, but I'm afraid when chemistry and trig come along I won't be! - shauna1934
You make a very important point here Christy. I know very well that parents of dyslexic children are very often dyslexic themselves and do not have the confidence to work on school work with their children. I would advise them to do just as your parents did—get a tutor, and if that's not affordable, then ask the school for extra help. Many schools have homework clubs that are staffed by teachers—they should make sure their children go to them. Thank you so much for your visit and for your feedback. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
@shauna1934: I know what you mean about the harder subject when kids get older. You are not alone in this. My advice is to keep close contact with the teacher. Use the computer to teach yourself the basics. You as a parent have to know just enough, you don't have to be an expert, because it's the teachers' job to teach. If kids have homework they can't do—the teacher has to be told, and adjust or repeat the lesson. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
Thanks for sharing your expert knowledge of dealing with dyslexia. Your child is blessed to have such a devoted mother. Your presentation deserves the HOTD award. Congratulations! - Dora Isaac Weithers
Our children are both grown up now but we always used to sit down and help them with their homework, but it is an eye opener the day your children turn round and decline your help by saying 'no its ok I know more about this subject than you do' and the really annoying thing is when you know they are right! - grrbtn
Hi, this is a wonderful and helpful hub. I have a boy who comes for guitar lessons and it's taken longer but he is playing. Great work thank you. - Stella Vadakin
@grrbtn: It's a wonderful day when they do that. My son is only 13 and he's already done it with his guitar. I can't help him any more he's way too good at it! Thanks for your comment. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
My son plays the guitar. I always ask his teacher to write his homework down in a notebook he takes to lessons. That way we know what to focus on when he's practicing at home. It's a great way of communicating with the teacher for me. I tell him if we've had a good or bad week for example. My son knows that we are supporting him in this very simple way so he can relax and get on with playing. Thanks so much for your visit. I really appreciate it. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
My kids are grown, but I can certainly see what wonderful inspiration and assistance this would be to a dyslexic child. You've done a beautiful job, not only on this Hub, but also with teaching your child. Your point about reading to a young child was well received here with me, because my Daddy always read to me when I was little, which caused me to love reading and books. - Nancy Carol Brown Hardin
I don't have kids, but I have worked with them for years. Giving them confidence is the most important thing I think. Once they have that they don't mind how much you know or don't know. - Lisa Marie Gabriel
Thank you very much indeed for your feedback. I found it really hard to stop writing and adding things so I was concerned that it is too long for a hub. I hope not. I think I need to write a second one though as I have merely scratched the surface!! Thanks for your visit. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
That is so true. Children with low self-esteem and confidence make the wrong decisions and are at risk of either becoming bullies or being bullied. It's a very serious issue that effects all children but particularly dyslexics and kids with other special needs. - Giovanna Sanguinetti
What a wonderful teacher and parent you are. This article will truly be helpful to those who live and work with children with dyslexia and other learning issues! - Rebecca Mealey
Thank you so much for your amazing comment. I am truly touched. I have the utmost support of a wonderful husband too—I owe him so much :) - Giovanna Sanguinetti
BBC Articles on the Benefits of Reading to Children
This Video Is Brilliant
A panel of parents of dyslexic children share their experiences. This is insightful and uplifting.
A Touching Video for Parents of Dyslexic Children
© 2013 Giovanna