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How to Help Dyslexics Learn to Read

Updated on May 17, 2019
Very close examples of what text can look like to dyslexics.
Very close examples of what text can look like to dyslexics. | Source

I was diagnosed as dyslexic in kindergarten. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I later learned that I was lucky to be diagnosed that early. Because my parents and teachers knew I needed extra help, they were able to help me learn how to read and write.

The concept of reading is pretty complicated in and of itself. Although symbols representing real world meanings have been around for centuries, language has progressed beyond the pictograms of our cave dwelling ancestors. When rules and immaterial concepts are taught in a way a child’s mind can’t grasp, that student will struggle and ultimately fail without accommodations.

With this in mind, a dyslexic reader needs support on multiple levels. The two areas which need the most attention are academics and the behind the scenes world.

At Home Teaching and Studying Methods

There are several different study and teaching methods that can help dyslexic students learn how to read more easily. The following three have been studied by educational professionals and have helped me personally.

Multi-sensory Learning
Although the term might sound complicated, all it means is using more than one sense to teach lessons.

Something as simple as reading aloud while the child follows can help them make connections between the words themselves and the way they sound. Take turns doing this, and don’t rush the child when it’s their turn. If practice is done in the safety of home, eventually he or she will become more comfortable with the material.

If they lose their place easily, the child can keep track with a finger or something with a straight edge, like a bookmark or piece of paper.

Another method which has helped with the fundamentals of reading is by having the person you’re helping write letters and words in sand with a finger. Because the child has a physical sensation to associate with the letters, they’re more likely to recall them.

This is a screenshot of my word program as I was writing this article. Grey is a little easier on my eyes. Light blues and peaches sometimes help, too. There are colored glasses available from some specialists for reading books, as well.
This is a screenshot of my word program as I was writing this article. Grey is a little easier on my eyes. Light blues and peaches sometimes help, too. There are colored glasses available from some specialists for reading books, as well. | Source

Assistive Technologies
iPads and computers have a wide variety of reader programs available. These operate along the same lines as reading out loud while the child follows along.

However, many of these technologies can also change background color and font. There has been research indicating that the white background most common to reading materials can fatigue the eyes and therefore worsen dyslexia.

In Microsoft Word, for example, when my eyes start getting tired, I’m able to change the background to a different color and the font to something bigger. Those steps have helped me fend off headaches and prolong my working time.

Different colors will work with different people, so never be afraid to experiment.

Spell check, of course, is also my best friend.

An example of color coding to teach word pronunciation.
An example of color coding to teach word pronunciation. | Source

Color Coding
The use of colors can be very helpful in differentiating different types of sounds, consonants or vowels, parts of speech and different types of words. Various colors help the child to make associations needed on multiple levels, and will ensure concrete memory of the different principles needed in reading.

Teachers may already be using a version of this in school. Speaking with them about different color methods could help the student’s progress when used at home as well.

Beyond the Classroom

Understand the Disorder
When applied to reading, there is the aspect of letter and word reversals, but also watch for other manifestations.

Word confusion is extremely common. A good example is “lead” as in “to lead an army” versus “lead” as in “the pencil lead wore down”. Dyslexic minds often have problems with context, which may seem to have nothing to do with the disorder. Have patience and give the student time to sort out what they’re trying to read.

Look into the benefits dyslexia affords a person, too. This type of neurology often offers distinct advantages in visualization, relationship recognition and story telling. If the student shows a distinct interest or talent in something, incorporate that into the lessons and at home study.

Many successful people have dyslexia, including Will Smith, Anne Rice, Simon Pearce and Stephen Spielberg. All three individuals work in areas which involve a strong recognition of relationships and telling stories. Making sure your fledgling reader knows about successful dyslexics can help inspire them to continue on with their efforts.

A trailer for a documentary on dyslexia feat. Whoopi Goldberg, Charles Schwab, Stephen Spielberg and others

One of the most important things that a parent can do is advocate for their child. Although educational institutions are required by law to provide disabled students accommodations, they are less able to be effective without parental input.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the child about educational decisions. Being involved early in their school career will prime them for future self advocacy. It’s not a question of if they’ll need to stand up for themselves. It’s a question of when.

Through connecting with other dyslexic students and their families, students won’t feel quite as alone as they would otherwise. This will enable them to find confidence in the moral support offered by those who know how they feel.

Parents can draw inspiration and tips from other parents who are facing similar problems. Learning how to read will be easier because the pressures of isolation and misunderstanding will be lessened.

Watch for Emotional Problems
This is something that’s all too often ignored, but it’s just as vital as the other three points covered above. Many dyslexic individuals suffer from low self esteem, high anxiety and depression. The combined stresses of school and a world that seems set on destroying a person at every turn would get to anyone.

Whenever possible, open yourself up to their concerns. If you notice the student is struggling, reassure them of their worth and that people are rooting for them. If they’ve already progressed to the point of depression, help them get the treatment they need.

A child won’t learn the way they should when they’re weighed down by this emotional burden. However, with continued support from people around them, any student will learn how to work with their dyslexia.

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