Most of us have heard of dyslexia and have some understanding that it is a condition that affects a person’s ability to read, write and spell. Many people may not realise, however, that dyslexia can also affect the way someone processes visual and auditory information and may sometimes impact on their organisational skills. In some cases, it occurs alongside other conditions such as autism, dyspraxia or ADHD.
Needless-to-say, because of all these factors, school can be extremely challenging for dyslexic children. Fortunately, neuroscience has come a long way in recent years and there are now many strategies available to teachers and tutors so they can help students with dyslexia to access learning and thrive.
Self-Confidence is Key
But what about the home environment? Is there anything families can do to support their dyslexic child?
The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has a lot of free information on its website for parents and carers. The most important thing, they say, is for mums and dads to boost their child’s self-esteem as there’s a risk of children with dyslexia feeling inferior to classmates who don’t face the same struggles.
‘Trying new things at school, particularly in the area of literacy, may not be a positive experience for them. Consequently, probably the most helpful thing you can do for your child is to provide them with opportunities to experience new things where they can succeed and feel good about themselves.’
Suggested activities for free time include:
- Active play
These help to release mood-boosting chemicals. Visual stimuli such as watching TV or Youtube videos can also improve a child’s vocabulary, they say, as can audiobooks. Parents can then discuss what their son or daughter is listening to or watching to stimulate discussion, broaden understanding and help the youngster to put thoughts and feelings into words.
Parents’ Support is Vital
Hannah, now an adult with a degree in English and drama, and a mum herself, says her childhood diagnosis of dyslexia came as a huge relief as it explained why schoolwork had been so stressful. Her mum, she recalls, was instrumental in finding ways to support her, reading books and attending workshops to further understand the condition.
“On the practical front, I needed a lot of sleep. My brain was working twice as hard as other people’s and coupled with teenage growing, I was exhausted,” Hannah explains. “I’d have to sleep most days after school but my mum gave me the space and time and that is where she was so supportive in really responding to what I needed.
“But the best tip I got was to learn to touch-type,” she concludes. “It took just a few hours at a local college and it has made the single, biggest difference to my life and career. It enabled me to quickly get thoughts out of my head and onto the page.”
Parents aiming to boost literacy at home should try and spark an interest in reading by choosing books that appeal to the child, says Kim Brown, a specialist adviser on the British Dyslexia Association helpline. “Shared reading – where you read the same piece of writing aloud with your child, saying the words at the same time – also encourages reluctant readers, particularly disengaged boys,” she comments. “This helps them ‘feel’ the sense of fluency and fluidity so when they get to a word they can’t read, they can lean on you. You say it so they’re hearing the word, learning the word and saying it. It’s a teaching tool”.
A scanning pen – a computerised device which ‘speaks’ when placed on top of a printed word – can be a great help when children are stuck on a particular word, says colleague Julia Clouter. She adds that Kindles can also be useful in providing audio versions of many books. “Some parents think it’s ‘cheating’ and children are not finding the words themselves but we’d say the opposite – it helps make reading effective and pleasurable.”
Take the Pressure Off and Praise
Above all, the BDA advises parents not to become too anxious about their child’s academic struggles or discuss concerns about their progress within earshot. Resist the temptation to criticise your son or daughter, they say, if, for example, they forget school books, and remember that a young person needs time to relax at home, just as adults do.
It’s also important, they point out, for mums and dads to be realistic and recognise that schoolwork will always be challenging for their child.
‘It’s probably going to be difficult and involve sustained effort for him/her to learn to read and write legibly. So, empathise with him/her and recognise and praise the efforts they are making.’