How to Help your Dyslexic Child with Learning
Dyslexia in Children - Parenting Matters
This is about how I help my son, who is dyslexic and dyspraxic with his schoolwork and with his self-esteem.
Dyslexia in children is something I know a great deal about because I have a dyslexic child, and as a special needs teacher, I have worked with children with specific learning difficulties for many years.
I know what it is like to see dyslexic children suffer at school,and there are many different factors that contribute to that. I have listed some at the end of this article , when I cover the issue of 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 there's was a good as any other kid in their class. As soon as they feel that they are not keeping up their self-esteem suffers a tremendous blow.
Here are 8 top tips for parents - so read down till the end because the last one is the most important!
Tip 1 Visit the School Special Needs Teacher
Meet the class teacher
It's amazing how many parents fail to do this, some are in denial, others have dyslexia themselves and feel overwhelmed. But it is vital that you go and talk to the school.
I told everyone in the school who was willing to listen that my son was dyslexic. I told his class teacher that my son and I would be doing our homework together and that I would be supporting him in every way I could. I said that he would be drawing his homework and that I would be writing down his words, unless he wanted to write, of course.
SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) will be sympathetic, and they will make sure the whole staff are aware of any arrangements you agree, so that there is no confusion and no low grades!
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 how and what to do.
I have come across a very very exciting and useful website called Dyslexia Advantage and I have a blog there too. Do take time to visit the site if you are looking for inspiration and great advice from professionals in the field of dyslexia.
A high self esteem is the most important thing children with dyslexia need to develop. So I help my son with his homework. We call it Our Homework!
Other kids can be so unkind, and handing in poor homework is very exposing.
Always inform the teacher if the homework is too hard and/or is taking too long.
Below is an example of what I do. Notice the work is typed.
Homework Feedback Example
Task: Write your own sonnet using the Iambic Pentameter and rhyme!
Wow 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 XXXX ( he was 13 at the time)
This is what I write at the bottom of each assignment we complete. If the assignment is too difficult my son ticks RED, if easy GREEN, if challenging but doable AMBER. In the book the words are in color.
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 XXX thought of the rhyming word 'holiday' and ideas progressed from there. He really enjoyed it.
Remembering and writing down what the homework is can be a big problem.
Make sure the teachers give plenty of support with this.
Ask them to write it down in the back of your child's book EXACTLY as they want it done.
Or even better they could send the whole class an email!
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AlphaSmart Word Processor - A dyslexia friendly way of writing
In class dyslexic children struggle to write notes, copy from the board, or complete written tasks. The most effective way to help them with this that I have found to date is to let them type.
My son started using one of these Alpha Smarts when he was 12. I have worked with many children who also benefited from them.
NB: Unfortunately they have decided to stop making Alpha Smarts but you can still get a second hand one - and I think it's worth buying one while you still can especially since they company still offer support to customers..
I highly recommend Alpha Smarts
- It is better than a lap top because it's tough and can be dropped and knocked around at school without damage.
- it is affordable, and there are second hand ones often available on Amazon. Bargains!
- they come with online support and help is available on the phone too.
- it is simple to use, and it has no distractions, for example you can't change the font or print size and there is no internet connection. This means that you just use it for writing.
- When my son gets home we connect it to our computer, and we read through all his school work together, make corrections, and do our homework.
The Alpha Smart has given my son a new lease of life, as writing is much, much easier for him when he types.
This makes homework time much less stressful, and the work is always presentable. We just don't argue about writing the way we used to.
And this is the case for all the dyslexic kids I've worked with who use one in class.
Tip 2. Teach your Child to Read Well
It requires patience, commitment and determination on both your parts. Dyslexic or not. Start reading to them when they're young and stick with it.
I know I sound just 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.
Dyslexic children are just as inquisitive as everyone else, and they enjoy hearing stories. Sitting with them every day for about 30 minutes will help them with all aspects of their literacy skills - they don't have to read - you do!
Read to them and they will pick up many, many skills. Start with simple picture books and don't put them under any pressure to read. Let them relax and enjoy the story. Every day!
Run your finger along the lines under each word - that will help them develop tracking skills.
I remember a friend once asked how we got my son to be a reader. We told her what we did:
- My husband has read to him every night since he was very, very little, when he was not yet talking, and hardly able to sit up! We had no idea that he was dyslexic at this time. I have a video of him sitting on the kitchen floor in his nappy looking through board books pointing at all sorts of pictures.
- This continued till it was time for him to start reading simple words and sentences to his daddy. A lot of praise was necessary. We began to notice his dyslexia at this point - he was about 4 years old, but we continued every single night and made it as much fun as we could by choosing the right books. Children's libraries are absolutely excellent for giving this sort of advice.
- The books very gradually became harder, and in this way he slowly became a very good reader. Now that he is 14, my husband reads his book while he sits next to him and silently reads his own. It's a pleasure to watch them both.
- Then my husband reads to him for a while from a book that is more challenging with more difficult language. This way he hears more difficult, literary language and enjoys another great story.
My husband is also a very experienced special needs teacher. I have a lot to thank my husband 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!
One of my Son's Favourite Books - How to Choose Books to Read
Before my son started to read there was a wonderful period when every book we showed him was received with great enthusiasm. Here's an example of one of his favorite books. It has:
- a very strong main character (we even had a little soft toy of Daisy)
- wonderful illustrations
- a simple clear story that has emotion
In the end my son could recite it to us he knew it so well. But he could only say 'coo' when he first saw it. He grew into all his books - but they do have to be beautiful.
BBC Programs and Articles
This talks about the maths advantage for children who read for pleasure:
Tip 3 Dyslexic children hate change and surprises so... Get Organised and Establish a Routine
As soon as he gets home from school my son knows the routine: wash hands, eat something, and get homework done.
While he eats, I look through his books and see what homework he has. I often have to phone a friend to ask, because he forgets so many things. I never tell him off for this because he never does not do it on purpose. It's because he's dyslexic.
I have everything set out on a table, pencils, colors etc so we don't have to waste time searching for things.
Anxiety makes matters worse, so I always tell him how long we’ll be working for and what it is we’re going to do to make it real fun.
Also, I have a small a treat ready (usually a bit of chocolate) a bit of a bribe!
Tip 4 Make Writing Easy - Children with dyslexia find writing difficult - it takes every ounce of effort on their part - it's exhausting work!
Instead of writing alone we work together. We talk, discuss, research and make beautiful books. This takes dedication and time on my part, but it works, so it's worth it.
Typical Homework Issues
- Much of the homework he is set isn't 'differentiated', which basically means it is too hard for him. Usually it involves too much writing and even copying.
- An assignment that would take a child without dyslexia 10 minutes to complete, could take mine up to 2 hours! It's a soul destroying thing to have to put any child through. And you should NEVER do that.
- The work is always at his intellectual level. He understand the concepts, because he is bright and very interested in school work and the world, it's just that 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 trying to cope with the mechanical skill of writing.
- He works slowly, and laboriously so a page of writing is not something he should be asked to do, unless he wants to of course.
- 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 usually copes with about a paragraph before asking me to take over.
So what does he do instead of writing?
I write and he draws! I act as scribe. I write his words and he then draws a picture.
An example of what I do is in the picture above I wrote the title and he traced over it. On the opposite side is the writing, written by me. The homework was "Retell the story we heard in class today" My son could do that beautifully. So no problem!
492 out of a possible 570 people a gave this pen a 4 or 5 star Amazon rating. This is a set of different colors, but you can buy single ones too.
The time will come when they need to write in pen
Here's the best erasable pen I have found - it's brilliant.
- It rubs out so well that it comes with a warning not to write bank cheques with it!
- It writes really well, smoothly and free flowing.
- It's a nice shape, and sits in the hand well.
- rubs out totally using the end of the pen, so you don't need a special eraser
- and, most amazingly, you can write over the erased mistake immediately. This pen has made our life so much easier!
Apparently 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 only my son is allowed to use them.
A Project Can be Displayed - A Shark Project
An Example of How to Make it Fun
The homework assignment was: "Write about an animal and talk about it In Class". Instead of writing in a book or filling pages with lots of writing we made a display that he could hold up and show the class while he talked.
- To keep the writing minimal he wrote a poem full of his facts, which, he copied out carefully in his best cursive handwriting.
- We cut out bits of a shark drawing and wrote questions and answers in 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 stuck everything down on a cardboard box.
The whole process was much more enjoyable and memorable than simply writing laboriously in a book. His teacher loved it and it was on display outside the staffroom all term!
Also, a teacher of a younger class showed it to her kids as an example of an excellent project.
Presentation is important because I am always working on his self esteem and he feels proud if it is beautiful.
A Closer look - This was displayed for all to see. Talk about self-esteem boost!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tip 5 Handwriting
Suggestions to help create homework that looks cool
Here are a few tips I use:
When I work with my son I always :
- Draw lines if the page is blank.
- Give him a sharp pencil + eraser / erasable pen.
- Make sure he sits up straight and holds the page still with the other hand. Writing needs both hands.
- I ask him to tell me what he wants to write. Sometimes I write it for him in his book and other times I write on paper and he then copies it. While he is copying I spell out the words.
- Listen and respond when he tells me he's tired. Just take over the writing to get the homework done.
- Let him have 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.
- Praise, praise and praise.
- Ask him to tell me which part of his writing he is most proud of. ( I mean the look of the page, not the content.)
- Decorate the page. I usually do this for him and I often color in his drawings.
Dyslexic children often grip their pencils badly
Pencil Grips : Something like the pencil grip may help. 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 really improved their writing skills with them.
Handwriting - more diary pages and - examples of the difference between supported and rushed writing.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The ergonomic pen has some excellent reviews. It enables tension-free writing because it has a "No Grip" design. Works for both left and right handed people. It is retractable and refillable. I've never tried one of these, but the reviews sound good.
I have picked out these two products but if you click on one you will be taken to Amazon.com where there are others to choose from.
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 in the afternoons we sat and wrote diaries together. We have 6 of them in total. Here's an example of one of his early ones.
I also encouraged him to 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 older - instead of buying him computer games with handsets that use only the thumb, we bought him a couple of games that he could play using the real keyboard.
Now, at 14, he types very well indeed, and up to speed. It actually didn't take very long at all to master.
I focused on what my son was truly interested in and made sure he had time for that every day. In our case this was music. It doesn't matter what it is - giving energy and respect to something that interests children raises their self esteem.
Please Watch this - it's brilliant!
A panel of parents of dyslexic children share their experiences. This is insightful and uplifting.
"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new"
Einstein did not talk until he was 3 years old and his teachers described him as mentally slow! Never give up on your dreams and especially those of your children.
Tip 6 Watch out for Bullying
Dyslexic children are often bullied
All kids really want is to be like their friends, but if they can't produce the work they soon get labeled as stupid, and are then at risk of bullying by classmates.
Sadly, and all too often, teachers make matters worse by unwittingly humiliating them in class. They make their dyslexic children's weaknesses public by for example, asking them to read aloud, or making wall displays that show how many times-tables individual children know off by heart! Believe me my son's name was always at the bottom of that display! Teachers do this sort of thing because they know very little about dyslexia and feel deskilled.
However, even with all my experience and knowledge, I couldn't protect my son from bullies and his first school was a total disaster. He was bullied very badly. I can't bear to think about that so I'll not write about it here. We moved school and this has helped.
Sadly, however bullying is the way of the world so we have taught him how to cope with incidents. The trick is to teach your child to tell to you about bullying, no matter how small, as soon as it starts.
If anything positive came from the experience of being bullied, it is that my son tells me when it happens and so we deal with it - directly.
Girls and Boys Equally have Dyslexia
Current research shows that approx 17% of the population has dyslexia.
Girls are just as likely to be dyslexic as boys. Boys tend to misbehave at school so they get identified early, girls hide their difficulties and so they don't get picked up as quickly, sometimes they never get identified!
Tip 7 Dyslexia and Organisation - I help my child organise his ideas and record facts like this...
See the circles? We call them vignettes - 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 book, but draw the circles on paper and then cut them out ready to stick in his book. That way he can relax knowing that if he makes a mistake we can start again. Then we decide how to arrange them on the page.
We work on paper and stick the work in his book, for every piece of work we do. It cuts out a lot of stress and anxiety.
As he gets older, he will still draw circles, but he will use them as aide memoirs and to write paragraphs.
Easy - and great fun.
PS his teacher loves them.
Fidgety 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, some suffer physical pain and feelings of sickness. They need to move in order to make sense of the world around them. This is very distracting to others in the class and this wobble cushion worked a treat with my son and other children I have worked with. They help relieve backache too.
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Early Intervention is VITAL
If you suspect that your child has dyslexia (or any other learning difference) contact the school WITHOUT DELAY. All research shows that early intervention is important. Apart from everything else, it will help your child maintain a positive approach and high self-esteem.
This video is a gift to you as parents - It is so touching.
Typically my son will start to yawn about 10 minutes after starting his work, especially if it's math. He is not alone and it shows that he is working very hard. Dyslexics have to work much, much harder at processing literacy and numeracy. It is exhausting.
Remember to praise, praise, and praise some more! Give them FREQUENT RESTS and let them get up and move around.
Tip 8 Self Esteem - Self Esteem - Self Esteem - An ESSENTIAL thing to work on
I have left this tip till last, not because it's not important, but because I hope you will remember it. Praise, praise and praise again!
Doing homework together gave me so many opportunities to praise my son for something real. Empty praise is useless, but a good piece of homework is a great way for them to earn praise that means something.
Dyslexics can be very different from other students in school. Here are some examples:
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 don't have time to wait, and they move on without waiting for a response.
Following directions is very hard because of their weak short-term memory.
Confusing left from right.
Sleeping disorders - which means they are often very tired in the mornings and during the school day.
Labelled 'lazy' when actually they are working much harder than others.
Scared of the dark and /or bright light.
Not being good at team sports.
Not being able to tie shoelaces.
Not being able to tell the time.
Not being able to memorize timetables.
These are the sorts of difficulties that can lead the dyslexic child to be down on himself. Is it little wonder that the most important thing we have to do as parents is work on their self esteem?
Helping them to return to school with some great homework beautifully presented gives them the chance to show their books with pride not shame.
Here are some other things I would advise because they work for us :
- We NEVER put him down, and name-calling is not permitted in our house.
- We sit round a table and eat together as a family every day, and we chat and listen to his 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. Say sorry.
- Feedback difficulties to the teachers. Keep them informed.
This hasn't been easy and my son's self-esteem is still fragile and sometimes can be destroyed in a second - like popping a bubble. I have also made mistakes, and I know there are plenty more of those to come, but fundamentally my son loves school and doing his homework, so I must be doing something right. He sat and helped me write some of this article!
I hope this article has been useful and I wish you and your children all the best.
Dyslexia in Children - and their Homework
Are you confident when it comes to helping your child with homework?
I'm very happy to answer any questions you may have - about dyslexia in children - or please leave a comment 29 comments
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