10 Ways to help your child cope with dyslexia
Dyslexia in a nutshell
First of all, as a parent, it is important to understand that dyslexia does not have a definitive list of symptoms. It is a learning difficulty that is made up of many different traits and your child will have some of these traits to varying degrees. Therefore, if you have been told by your child's school that your child has dyslexia it is important that you ask how this diagnosis has been made (I.e. do the school use a computer based package?) and what traits your child is showing. Once you are armed with this information you will be better able to understand how to help your child cope both at home and at school.
1. Recognise that your child has unlimited potential
It is important to note that having dyslexia does not mean that your child has low intelligence. Children with dyslexia often have many talents and recognising and building on those talents will help build your child's self-esteem. For example, your child might be highly creative, have excellent logical thinking skills or be inventive; all skills that can be very helpful in building a successful career later in life. Encourage and praise your child as often as possible.
2. Work on strengthening your child's organisational skills
Many children who have dyslexia exhibit poor organisational skills at home. Their bedroom may be a mess, they may often miss their favourite TV programmes because recognising the time is an issue, they may frequently forget the things they need for school and organising homework will be an on-going issue. On a daily basis these features can all add to the stress of family life. However, there are ways you can help your child to feel more in control. Find ways around the home to help your child keep track of their belongings. Ideas include:
- Having a designated place to put certain items such as homework until they are completed.
- Pin your child's school timetable to the fridge and colour code the different subjects - this will help your child to organise the equipment they need for the day ahead (especially if they are now at high school). Your child will also feel more prepared to deal with the day ahead if they are clear about what they will be doing that day.
- Encourage your child to wear a watch but find out which version of the time they find the easiest to understand. For example, if your child finds it easier to recognise the time on a digital clock, encourage them to wear a digital watch each day and spend a little time each day working on the different times things will happen such as the time you arrive at school, playtime, dinnertime and home time.
3. Support your child with their homework
Homework can be a challenging experience for both your child and you at the best of times but if your child has dyslexia this can add to the stress and leave the child feeling frustrated. First of all if you are having issues with your child's homework then you should speak to the class teacher and ensure they are aware of your concerns. They may be able to adapt the homework to suit your child's needs. You have a right to expect your child's education to be inclusive and in line with their abilities. There are also other ways you can help:
- Encourage your child not to leave their homework until the last minute as this will add to the stress.
- Find ways to incorporate computer work into your child's homework if they find this more enjoyable e.g. can their work be presented as a Powerpoint rather than an essay or maybe they could type their essay using a word processing package that can check their spelling and grammar at the end? This will ease any frustration with constantly erasing or crossing out incorrect spellings.
- To relieve some of the pressure of writing from your child ask the child's teacher if they would allow you to scribe for your child. For example, your child can attempt the first paragraph and then dictate the rest to you whilst you write it for them. Using this method your child is still being given the opportunity to express themselves without the pressure of having to think about word order, spelling etc.
4. Ease the pressure
Many aspects of home life that you and the rest of your family might find easy can be a challenge to a dyslexic child. These may be things that you would not normally associate with dyslexia:
- You may find that it is very challenging organising your child to get dressed and ready in time for school in the mornings. From a young age it will be helpful to teach your child to get dressed in the same order each morning and follow the same routine of brushing teeth, hair etc. If your child is experiencing difficulties with this routine from a young age then it might be helpful to draw and colour in a sequence of events that can be put up on your child's bedroom wall.
- Velcro fastening on shoes instead of laces will be helpful to a child struggling to learn to fasten their shoelaces. They will get there eventually with this but let them do this in their own time. First thing in the morning or after PE at school is not the ideal time.
- Consider press studs instead of buttons where appropriate.
- If you are going to encourage your child to wear a watch (as discussed above) try to find a watch with a Velcro strap.
- Most important of all do not stress about what your child cannot do but think of all the things they can do!
5. Helping your child to learn to read
Struggling to learn to read can be one of the first indicators to a parent or teacher that a child may be showing signs of dyslexia. This may be as a result of problems with visual memory that will make it difficult for a child to recognise and retain information about word patterns. Or it may be as a result of phonological difficulties meaning the child will struggle with hearing and processing the sound patterns in words.
Helping your child to read can be achieved by using a step-by-step approach.
- Buy a good book that will show you each letter sound and how to teach it. There are many good books aimed at parents who want to help their children. The approach that may be most helpful to the dyslexic child is the association of a letter with a picture - this will aid memory. (You could try Phonics the Easy Way, Annis Garfield).
- Search the internet for computer games and You Tube videos that show children how to pronounce letters and sounds - a good place to start would be Jolly Phonics.
- Look out for educational programmes that your child will enjoy watching on channels such as CBeebies (Alphablocks and Numberjacks).
- Once your child has mastered some of the initial sounds you can begin to work on blending CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words such as c-a-t. This is something that your child may not master easily but please be patient as it will happen with time and patience.
- Make sure that you do lots of shared reading with your child. This will encourage reading for enjoyment and you can model to the child what fluent reading sounds like. Make sure that you spend time with your child choosing books that she/he will enjoy.
- If your child has reached upper juniors or high school and has only just been identified as dyslexic, you may consider having a look at Toe-by-Toe. This is a reading programme aimed at helping older children and adults. http://www.toe-by-toe.co.uk/
6. Helping your child with spelling
- Practice sounding words before writing them e.g. c-a-t is cat.
- Identify your child's own personal spelling difficulties and work on these at home. Also ask your child's teacher to write any spellings your child needs to practice in their homework book.
- Show your child how to use a dictionary.
- Do not place too much emphasis on spelling as this can be very frustrating for a child with dyslexia. Picking up on every spelling mistake will destroy your child's self-confidence. Little and often is the key.
7. Encourage your child to take up a hobby
Hobbies are a great stress reliever. If you find that your child shows a keen interest in a particular hobby then do your best to support their interests. If appropriate, you can find them a club to join. This will provide the added advantage of helping your child to find friends with the same interests. If your child would like you to have a go - give it a try!
8. Focus on maths
Many children who show dyslexic tendencies will also have problems with certain aspects of maths. For example, they may have difficulty recognising the difference between 17 and 71 or 12 and 21. Dyslexic children can also have difficulty with the times tables (especially those past 2x, 5x and 10x) and division. Abstract examples are especially difficult.
You should always have high expectations of your child but you may have to accept that these problems will always be a challenge for your child. There are things you can do to help though:
- Have a times table square on hand for your child to use at home when doing maths homework.
- Show your child division using pictures to show what is happening.
- Teach your child visual ways to work out questions involving division and multiplication. E.g. for 10 ÷ 2 you could draw 2 circles and share out 10 dots between the circles. This will show your child what the question is actually asking.
- Speak to the class teacher and find out what if any problems they have identified.
9. Play memory games
There are games you can play that will strengthen your child's memory. You could try simple matching games using picture cards, sound games, the traditional Simon colour memory game or story sequencing games.
Remember playing games should be fun and there should be no stress on education even if this is your goal.
10. Language skills
Don't underestimate the importance of talking with your child and listening when your child speaks to you. Remember, one aspect of dyslexia is a difficulty with processing the sounds in words. The more often your child hears words spoken the easier it will become for your child to process them and put them into practice.
If your child uses incorrect vocabulary or mispronounces a word you do not need to directly correct them. You can try repeating the sentence back to your child in the correct way e.g. if your child says 'I done dinner' you can say 'oh good, you have eaten your dinner, well done."
Additionally, you can focus on building your child's vocabulary by pointing out interesting items whilst you are out and about.