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Parenting a Child With Dyslexia

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Yuliss is a mother of four girls ages 9, 7, and 5-year-old twins. She has volunteered with children of all ages and abilities.

As a new parent, you have researched and prepared for your bundle of joy. You have listened to other people’s experiences of everything, from labor and delivery through the early years. You rejoice in the good stories, and empathize with sad ones–but still, you have no idea what to really expect.

Our firstborn daughter needed minor resuscitation at birth. She came out floppy like a rag doll. She was not crying at delivery and she had a very slow heart rate. She started to cry quickly after efforts where initiated. The next six months were an adaption to many new situations. We watched our baby’s development towards what we thought were reasonably normal milestones.

My two daughters at ages 3 years and 6 months old.  My oldest was later formally diagnosed with dyslexia.  You can’t tell a dyslexic by “looking” at them.  For many families, childhood dyslexia can be confusing, stressful and frustrating.

My two daughters at ages 3 years and 6 months old. My oldest was later formally diagnosed with dyslexia. You can’t tell a dyslexic by “looking” at them. For many families, childhood dyslexia can be confusing, stressful and frustrating.

Our Daughter's Early Dyslexic Language Development

The more we watched and read and heard, the more we started to notice some inconsistencies with language learning. At 12 months old, our daughter could barely say “mama” and “dada.” She was not as verbally expressive as other kids her age. She was very calm and would occasionally coo or babble quietly and laugh when appropriate. So when she used “mama” or “dada,” she meant it! “Mama” and “dada” were the two syllables that gave her connection with our world. She did not engage the way typical toddlers did. She did not point to and name items. She could not say any other simple words, like colors or shapes. She never asked for “more” of anything, and when most children where learning language very rapidly, our daughter was slowly focused on two duplicated syllables which gave her meaning and a sense of belonging in our world.

Our Daughter's Signs of Dyslexia During Preschool

She enjoyed listening to us read to her, and she enjoyed the discussion of the picture book images. But when you asked her a question about the images and characters, she was not able to answer. We would prompt the answer ourselves in hopes that she would learn how to respond on her own someday.

As she became 2 and 3 years old, she did start to get more vocabulary. It was slow-going and very repetitive. One day she learned the word “sister”. She was really impressed with this new word because she had a baby sister at home at that time that our second child was only a few months old. Our older daughter started to repeat the word “sister, sister, sister…” constantly, almost as if it was a tick. I used validation and distraction but still she would repeat “sister, sister, sister” for quite some time, until she was ready to stop.

At this age children like to ask constant questions, including the well-known “why?” to everything. Our child never asked anything. We tried to teach her how to ask questions, and found this really challenging since until this point language learning is all repetition. However, the ability to ask questions shows a more active role in language learning and language reciprocation.

Early Elementary School: Finally Some Answers

As she became school aged she struggled with reading, writing, and math. Teachers said she was falling behind. We were doing lots of things to help her at home. We were encouraging learning, and reading and writing. We were helping her with her school work and discussing her school days at home. So why was she still having difficulties?! She would seem to formally learn something one day and completely forget it the next. She liked school; she enjoyed being social, but teachers reported difficulty focusing and retaining information.

In conversation, she would express unrealistic ideas of events that occurred, such as "I went to the fair when I was a newborn," but she was really six years old at the time and it was a year ago, rather than six years previous. Accuracy with dates and numbers, ages, and times was hard to grasp. The school urged us to have a psycho-educational assessment done.

The The results of her psycho-educational assessment came back showing dyslexia. But with so many signs of dyslexia mimicking other conditions what narrows it down to dyslexia? Through the journey we have been able to rule out attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism, and any kind of behavior or mood components.

This is an example of a note for me from my daughter.  She was 6 years old at the time and wrote it without assistance.  You can see the trouble with letter sound and organization.  The note was meant to read “I love mom, she’s the best”.

This is an example of a note for me from my daughter. She was 6 years old at the time and wrote it without assistance. You can see the trouble with letter sound and organization. The note was meant to read “I love mom, she’s the best”.

Signs of Dyslexia in Children

Here is a generalized list of signs of dyslexia children. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon to have a one or two of each and not be dyslexic at all. Dyslexics usually display many of these signs in all categories. It is also not meant to give any one or anyone’s child a formal diagnosis. Please see the appropriate healthcare professional for that, as there are many overlapping behaviors with other conditions. It takes a professional and clinical testing to evaluate a proper diagnosis.

Signs of Dyslexia to Look For

According to International Dyslexia Association (IDA), 2019.

During Early Childhood or Primary School

  • Difficulty with rhyming, blending sounds, learning the alphabet, linking letters with sounds
  • Difficulty learning rules for spelling-spell words the way they sound (e.g., "lik" for "like"); use the letter name to code a sounds ("lafunt" for "elephant")
  • Difficulty remembering “little” words that cannot be “sounded out”: the, of, said
  • Listening comprehension is usually better than reading comprehension—the child may understand a story when it's read to him but struggles to read the story independently

During Middle and Secondary School

  • Reluctant reading
  • Slow, word-by-word reading; great difficulty with words in lists, nonsense words, and words not in their listening vocabulary
  • Very poor spelling: misspell sounds, leave out sounds, add or leave out letters or whole syllables
  • Non-fluent writing: slow, poor quality and quantity of the product
  • When speaking, may have a tendency to mispronounce common words ("floormat" for "format"); difficulty using or comprehending more complex grammatical structures
  • Listening comprehension is usually superior to performance on timed measures of reading comprehension (may be equivalent when reading comprehension measures are untimed)
  • Weak vocabulary knowledge and use

For more signs, read Signs of Dyslexia in Young and Elementary School Children.

How Parents Can Help Their Dyslexic Child

First and foremost—be the parent. It can be stressful, perhaps, to watch your child struggle at school early on. It can even be frustrating to have your child diagnosed with dyslexia later in life, when as a parent, you may have suspected literacy and other academic challenges early on.

As much as you want to help—and you will be given tones of professional advice— remember that your child needs you to be their parent first. They need to feel that love and acceptance no matter what they are able to achieve socially or academically. Make sure to talk with your child about the things they enjoyed about school today, instead of only how much they accomplished.

How to Help Your Dyslexic Kid

  1. Get creative and tactile: see suggestions below.
  2. Do whatever you can to find fun, engaging reading material.
  3. Use all the tools that are available to you, like audiobooks and online reading programs.

Each of these tips is explained fully below. For more, read 8 Tips to Help Your Dyslexic Child With Learning.

My daughter working on her own after school with our “tools” to learn her reading and writing.  20 minutes a day can be fun and makes a big difference. Note the ordinary “tools”, white board, alphabet letters.  Things many parents already have.

My daughter working on her own after school with our “tools” to learn her reading and writing. 20 minutes a day can be fun and makes a big difference. Note the ordinary “tools”, white board, alphabet letters. Things many parents already have.

Get Creative and Tactile

Help your child with the academic work by finding creative ways to make it fun. As for dyslexics, we have found they are very tactile. Touching and learning go very well together. For younger learners play-based learning is great with Playdoh, magnetized alphabet letters, or gel boards. Families with young children may already have many of these toys already around the house. Turn basic toys into essential learning tools!

These are some of our favourite books!  Most are graphic novels.  Chose books that highlight your child’s interests.  My daughter loves unicorns, so those are most popular for us.  Author Raina Telgemeier presents content for the pre-teen.

These are some of our favourite books! Most are graphic novels. Chose books that highlight your child’s interests. My daughter loves unicorns, so those are most popular for us. Author Raina Telgemeier presents content for the pre-teen.

Find Fun Reading Material That is Engaging

For older elementary school learners, try finding material they enjoy reading. We found graphic novels to be the perfect mix of pictures and words that are not overwhelming. Remember, your child probably feels some level of anxiety looking at a full page of paragraphs since phonetics is challenging. Graphic novels are basically comics; they have a light plot, light humor, but still have some dialog relevant to the “conflict” of the development stage of your child. This shared common experience keeps your older child engaged in the story and wanting to read more. You can also use the simplistic themes to engage yourself and your child in more realistic discussions about growing up and expectations, or a time to see where they are at. Taking time to connect through stories is a communication tool that will help you with discussions for years to come.

My daughter using an online reading and listening audio program.  The images are user friendly and the icons are large and easier to click on.

My daughter using an online reading and listening audio program. The images are user friendly and the icons are large and easier to click on.

Use Online Reading Programs With Audio

See if your school can recommend an online academic-based reading program that offers a chance to read as well as have the content available by audio in a “follow along” format. I can recommend Raz Kids but I am not sure if this is suitable for everyone. There is a free trial, but also see what your school can do for you.

This is not a dyslexic tool specifically; it is for any and all children to encourage academic learning of all sorts. The reading component is fantastic. It has audio, visual and record options. Children earn “rewards” as points for accomplishments and build their own avatar for their account. It is a very individualized learning program.

For early learners, Khan Academy is a great free application. The application is also not specifically for dyslexic children but for children of all abilities. This is a reading and learning play-based program that incorporates simple questions and answers, reading, drawing and simple math. This application is great for preschoolers and children heading into kindergarten and Grade 1.

For us, a variety of experiences is important.  Academics is great, but so is unstructured play.  Children learn a lot about sustainability, life cycle, spatial perception and math from gardening.

For us, a variety of experiences is important. Academics is great, but so is unstructured play. Children learn a lot about sustainability, life cycle, spatial perception and math from gardening.

Professional Suggestions to Improve Reading and Writing

Many resources for dyslexic children will push for “intense tutoring”, and they encourage daily practice with a “professional". They recommend specifically, Orton-Gillingham Tutoring methods for dyslexic children to learn reading and writing. Orton-Gillingham sounds good, and I am sure it would work when done as directed, “intensely and daily.” However, we have chosen not to do it for our daughter. Orton-Gillingham tutoring sounds very “intense”, it is expensive, and we do not want the whole focus of her life to be academic. There is plenty of time for that later if she wants.

If you are interested in Orton-Gillingham Tutoring techniques for your child, you can learn more here: Orton-Gillingham Tutoring Information.

Be Your Child's Parent and Life Educator

We believe in a more balanced approach. Language learning has a valid academic component, sure; but language is also passively learned through enriched play, socializing, eating with family and friends, drawing, dancing and being creative. If we focus too much on academic tutoring of a young child daily, we lose time for these other fun and enjoyable activities during crucial developmental stage of life.

Getting outside, learning about the world, learning about life are just as important as academics. Find the balance that works for you and your family.

References:

International Dyslexia Association

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Yuliss

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