How to Help a Child with Dyslexia

Four Steps for Parents

Finding out your child has dyslexia [link to what is dyslexia brief] often asks parents to re-envision their plans for their child’s education.  Some parents may have familial history and have been watching for the signs as their child grows.  Other parents may find themselves in uncharted waters.  Whether or not you fit into one of these groups, you may be looking for a simple guide of how to help your child.  Here are four steps to become the helper and advocate your child needs.   

Step 1:  How are they being taught to read?

Find out what the school is using for phonics instruction.  Children who have dyslexia need a curriculum that involves explicit and systematic instruction for phonemic awareness and phonics.  Systematic instruction teaches how letters relate to sounds in an organized way that builds upon information previously taught.  Explicit instruction teaches letter-sound relationships by providing all of the information and practice necessary for a child to master that idea or skill.  This provides your child with a framework for decoding unknown words.  

To gain more information about how your child is learning to read at school, you can ask any of the following questions:

  • Does the program teach phonemic awareness and phonics systematically and explicitly?
  • Has the program been reviewed for effectiveness?  This could be either in a peer-reviewed scientific journal or by the National Reading Panel.  
  • Does the reading program provide for reading practice, fluency development, vocabulary building, and comprehension development?  How does it do these things?
  • How are children taught to approach an unfamiliar word?  What kind of feedback is given to the students when they don’t know or misread a word?
  • How is the program individualized for students at different levels?
  • What assessments or tools are used to measure reading growth?

If phonics and phonemic awareness are not being taught systematically and explicitly in the classroom, ask for your child to receive instruction that includes these components as part of their educational plan with a qualified reading specialist.  If that isn’t available in school, consider enlisting the help of a private tutor.  

Step 2:  Design a curriculum specifically tailored to your child    

Once you know how reading is taught in the classroom, work with a reading specialist or learning support team to design the educational plan your child needs.  The educational plan should involve training in phonemic awareness and a multisensory phonics program.  As your child progresses, it can grow to include fluency practice and vocabulary development.  The educational plan could involve extra support in the classroom, if the classroom is using a reading program that provides for your child’s needs.  It could be pull-out instruction with the reading specialist two or three times a week.  It could also be a private tutor who specializes in working with children who have dyslexia.  

No matter what the arrangement, the reading specialist will likely use a multisensory phonics program.  There are several programs designed specifically for teaching a child who has dyslexia.  A testing psychologist or reading specialist can look at your child’s learning profile to let you know which multisensory phonics program may be the best fit.  

Step 3:  Help your child use and build on their strengths

Your child has so many strengths.  Children who have dyslexia often excel in creative thinking.  They generally have strong comprehension and understand the big picture well.  They can remember lots of details and information about things that interest them.  These are the places to build upon their knowledge and interests.  Here’s how:

  • Set up real-life experiences and hands-on activities to learn about topics.  Afterward, talk about what they enjoyed or remember.  
  • Read to them: both fiction and non-fiction books they are interested in.  More is always better.
  • Discuss the vocabulary and related information involved in the topic or books. 
  • Let one topic of interest lead to another.  You can model this by starting with an “I wonder…” statement.  
  • Talk about words, provide synonyms and antonyms, and play word games.  Keep it fun.

Step 4:  Be the helper and the advocate

In general, parents should be the helper, not the teacher.  You can help by providing practice time for assignments sent home by the reading specialist or teacher.  You can also help by explaining the phonics rule when your child gets stuck on a word.  If you’re not sure of the rule, check with the reading specialist or teacher so you will know for the next time.  You could also sound out the unknown word yourself and let them blend it.  Remember to only do this a few times during each reading session.  Otherwise, it can begin to feel frustrating.  Reading together should be fun; if your child is frustrated, offer to read aloud to them and let the reading specialist or teacher know.  They will guide you on what you can expect from your child at that time.  

Advocating for your child can be both challenging and rewarding.  As their advocate, you will have to regularly check on their progress and ask lots of questions.  Know that the teachers and reading specialists want to help you to feel knowledgeable and empowered.  You have them as part of your child’s team with everyone working toward the same goal of your child learning to read.  

LightSail hopes to be part of your child’s team, too!  LightSail’s elaborate library and gamification make reading in LightSail more fun for children.  Parents of children who have dyslexia will find a number of features that will support their reading growth.  Parents can set the Personalized Reader to limit the number of lines seen, divide multisyllabic words into syllables, or change features to create more focus on the text.  When a child reads in LightSail, they know they can rely on the features to help decode or provide unknown words.  LightSail’s library has thousands of books with something to interest every reader. 

Posted on 8.Aug.21 in Struggling Readers

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