“How to Manage Dyslexia”
Over the past 13 years I have been through an incredible journey with my four dyslexic children. It has been more of an adventure than I ever imagined I would have as a mother. Getting the right help and the right programs has made all of the difference in my children’s progress and even their self esteem. It has given us all a quiet confidence that soothes our worries, doubts, fears and frustrations. And it gives us the knowledge that it IS possible for those who battle with dyslexia to eventually overcome their struggles and be very successful.
We found a wonderful lady named Ann, who is a research professor at a prestigious university specializing in reading and spelling difficulties. What she taught me has literally saved my family….and it can save yours.
What I was Taught…and What You Can Learn From It
1. She taught me that I had been doing a great job with my children, and that I had instinctively used some techniques on my own that were really good. She praised me for the way I had read a lot to my children and worked hard to help them keep a positive attitude and self esteem. That helped me remember that as a mother I really know my children, and that Heavenly Father had given me many inspirations that had blessed my children and their learning. So remember to believe in your role and influence as a mother or father! No one knows your children like you do, except your Father in Heaven who will bless you with insights that will specifically bless your children! You are their biggest advocate!
2. You must read Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, who is a leading researcher and expert in dyslexia from Yale University. This book was easy to understand and taught me just about everything I needed to know about dyslexia and how to help my children. I call this my Dyslexia Bible. You should read this book before you do anything else!
3. Get your child formally tested. This will be important if your children are required by your state to take end of year tests, and when they are taking high school or college level classes. So make sure you get some kind of professional testing on record. (Specific testing is discussed in the book referenced above.)
4. By her example, Ann taught me to acknowledge to my children that their struggle was real, their frustrations were justified, and that what they were doing WAS very hard for them! Then she told them that the things we were doing, even though they were difficult, are proven to help, so we must keep trying…and that one glorious day reading would not seem so hard to them! When one of the children would get teary eyed while doing a 10-word flashcard drill because they just could not remember the words, even after going over them a zillion times, she would get on their level eye to eye and tell them that she knew how hard it was. She was compassionate and loving and did not take their frustrations personally (or baby them). She acknowledged how hard it was for them, and then gave them an inspiring pep talk. So please remember to be sympathetic of their true struggle, and inspire your children! Do not criticize or tell them that if they just “tried harder” they could do it.
5. A “researched program” was the only way to go – a program that was based on and created from scientific research, and the completed program had also been tested and proven effective on dyslexics. Sally Shaywitz’s book discusses several options for comprehensive language programs, but below is a list of a few supplementary programs that have really helped us. Each is computer based, interactive, and effective for all ages of children and adults.
Reading Horizons - This is an interactive computer based program that teaches and drills phonics and sight words. It is something the child can do on his own with very little “mom help.” With so many dyslexic children, this was a huge plus for me. I credit this program for most of the successes we have seen in their reading. There are 2 programs, one for younger children, and one for older children and adults.
Read Naturally (Software Edition) – This is a computer based program that helps readers improve their level of fluency, expression, speed and comprehension. My children love seeing their progress and comparing it to what they did in the previous session.
Other Important Tidbits I have learned:
1. Short term memory issues often come with dyslexia.
2. Dyslexics have to practice words a zillion times successfully to be able to correctly recall it later. So practice, practice, practice sight words. It may take much longer than you think for them to get a correct “picture” of that word in their brain!
3. There are “Text to Speech” programs out there that can be purchased at a very reasonable price and downloaded to your computer…some have free downloadable versions. It will read aloud just about any document on the computer, including web pages. Text Aloud, Read Please and Natural Reader are ones we have used over the years.
4. Dyslexia can be hereditary. My husband is also dyslexic, but he was never formally diagnosed. He struggled intensely in school and had to take remedial reading and writing classes before he could be accepted full time into his local 2 year college. He is now a successful Civil Engineer.
5. Dyslexia can also greatly affect a child’s progress in math. One struggle is that they can’t read the problems or directions well, and they can’t always remember what they have learned. Constant review is vital.
6. Practicing concepts 3 times a day really helps improve memory and mastery. Reviewing sight words for 5 minutes in the morning, in the afternoon, and again right before bed is better than one 15 minute review that day.
7. Writing and spelling are harder than reading for a dyslexic. It is recommended that a struggling reader learn to type well and use the computer proficiently. It will actually help them learn letter patterns and will be their saving grace because of the wonderful programs modern technology provides.
8. Many Universities (even Harvard and Yale) will allow special accommodations for those with dyslexia and other learning issues. Each person will have their own set of special accommodations, but one of the most common accommodations is allowing extra time on tests. This does not give the dyslexic an advantage over the others in the class…it just levels the playing field. (There is an entire chapter on Accommodations in Dr. Shaywitz’s book.)
Myths About Dyslexia (as written by Dr. Shaywitz, with my personal comments added.)
- People who are dyslexic see words backward ("dog" as "god" or "was" as "saw"), or they write words or letters backward. This assumption is wrong. My comment - My daughter, who is my only NON dyslexic child, often wrote mirror image backward in kindergarten and first grade. My dyslexic children could hardly write anything when they were that age, and they still get these letters and numbers confused: 9, p, d, b. They say that they all look the same.
- Children outgrow reading problems. They don't. This means that it is imperative that dyslexia be detected early and treated seriously. My comment – Even if it is not caught early, there is still hope. It is never too late for intervention and help. My 11th grade son did not get proper intervention until the middle of the 9th grade, and he has made huge strides.
- Dyslexia affects only (or mostly) boys. Dyslexia affects comparable numbers of boys and girls. My comment – I think my boys (ages 17, 13 and 11) are more wiggly and distracted, and therefore struggle more than my 9 year old daughter, who loves to try to read and write. She is always drawing love notes and cards and asking me how to spell words. My sons avoid those types of activities as much as possible and spend their fun time outside!
- People who struggle to read are not very smart. On the contrary, some of the very brightest boys and girls struggle to read. Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence, average, above average, and highly gifted. Children who struggle with dyslexia often see the big picture when others don't, and they often excel in life. My comment – My two children who are the most severely dyslexic are also my smartest children. They are deep thinkers and problem solvers and have very high IQ's.
- Dyslexia only occurs in languages that use the alphabet and so it does not occur in countries like China and Japan whose languages are logo graphic (based on characters or pictures). Studies have shown that reading problems are as prevalent in these countries as they are in the United States and that struggling readers in China and Japan tend to make the same types of phonological or sound-based errors as do their counterparts speaking English or other alphabetic languages. My comment – You need to read Dr. Shaywitz’s book. It explains the actual processes that occur in the brain when we try to read. It is different in a skilled reader than in a struggling reader, and the processes even happen in a different location in the brain! Very fascinating!
For more information about dyslexia, please go to The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. You will find a wealth of knowledge and support here!