Dyslexia is a specific learning disability. This means it affects the abilities a person uses for learning, such as reading and writing. Particularly, dyslexia makes it difficult to match letters with the sounds of individual letters and combinations of letters. It’s not a vision disorder.
According to Shawna Newman, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, approximately 10% to 15% of children have dyslexia. She adds that the condition is common and often undiagnosed, so the rates are likely even higher.
Usually, dyslexia is diagnosed when formal reading education begins. This typically occurs in the first grade, at about 6 years old.
Since dyslexia is not a disease, there’s no cure. But it’s possible to manage the condition with strategies that can be used throughout life.
If you have a child with dyslexia, you can play a major role in managing their condition. Here’s how you can help a child with dyslexia when they’re outside of school.
There are many things you can do to support your kid with dyslexia at home.
Read with your child every day. The activity will promote closeness and bonding, which will support your child’s ability to learn over time.
“This shared experience in learning encourages development and growth in tandem with improved reading skills,” Newman explains. It will also help children create a sense of security in learning while encouraging their own independent reading, she adds.
Focus on sight words
Sight words are words that are frequently used in writing and books. They’re called sight words because recognizing them on sight is essential for developing reading skills.
For children with dyslexia, sight words can be difficult to recognize. But since the words appear so often, it’s important for them to learn these words.
As Newman explains, children can use sight words as building blocks to improve their fluency in reading. That’s why it’s essential to add sight words into your children’s learning program.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeating and reviewing skills can help a child with dyslexia. This is often done in the form of repeated reading.
According to LD Online, repeated reading is a technique for children who have difficulty reading. It involves reading the same passage multiple times to improve reading fluency.
Create a nurturing space to study
“Providing a comfortable, supportive, and nonjudgmental atmosphere is most helpful for learning, especially for children with learning disorders,” Newman explains. This includes those who have dyslexia.
For parents and caregivers, this also involves practicing patience, as all children learn at their own pace, Newman says. In doing so, you’ll create an environment that allows your child to learn in a way that works best for them.
Create a calendar to help them track progress or tasks
Visual tools, such as a calendar, are an excellent option for tracking a child’s progress and tasks. According to Newman, this can help put both improvements and challenges into context. It can ultimately help them engage with their own learning.
“Utilizing a calendar provides visual clues, which can inform the child how to think about the process of their own learning,” Newman explains. This can be done by displaying tasks and activities related to learning on the calendar.
As Newman notes, when small learning achievements are visually expressed on a calendar, it can provide encouragement and celebration. Similarly, when difficulties are presented visually, it can help a child better understand what they need to work on.
Make sure they get enough sleep
“Sleep is a vital [factor] for healthy development and learning,” Newman says. However, “children with dyslexia are at a higher risk for sleep disorders.” Examples include sleep latency or sleep apnea.
But according to Newman, poor sleep can negatively affect learning processes. So it’s important to ensure they get enough rest.
This may be done by:
- establishing a sleep schedule
- creating an ideal environment for sleep
- limiting social media and electronics before bed
- developing a sleep routine
The ideal amount of sleep depends on the child’s age. According to Newman, children between 5 and 13 years old should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Teenagers between 13 and 18 years old need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep.
Praise their success and effort
As Newman explains, reading difficulties caused by dyslexia can negatively affect a child’s confidence. For example, “a child’s sense of not measuring up to their peers [and being able] to perform as expected can be discouraging,” she says.
On the other hand, encouragement and praise can have a positive effect on your child’s learning. So instead of focusing on their struggles, call out their successes and effort whenever possible. Celebrate their achievements, no matter how small.
By highlighting positive aspects, you can encourage your child to keep moving forward. This will also boost your child’s confidence in their own learning.
Use mnemonic devices
A mnemonic device is a technique that helps you remember a piece of information. It’s also called a memory aid.
- spelling words in the form of songs
- letter or word imagery (like a letter “d” that looks like a dog)
According to a 2017 research review, mnemonic devices can enhance memory in children with dyslexia. It can also improve problem-solving skills and reasoning. Using mnemonic devices at home can help enhance their learning progress.
Find a tutor
During your child’s summer break, consider getting them a tutor. According to the International Dyslexia Association, this can help them catch up on certain skills and get ready for the next school year.
If possible, select a tutor who will communicate with your child’s teachers. This will ensure they are focusing on your child’s specific needs.
There are several reading programs for children with dyslexia. Some of the most successful ones include:
- Orton-Gillingham Approach: The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a widely used approach created specifically for people with dyslexia.
- Wilson Reading System: The Wilson Reading System includes one program for children from kindergarten to third grade and one for fourth grade and up.
- Lexia-Herman Method: The Lexia-Herman Method has programs for early reading, primary reading, and older students.
The symptoms of dyslexia are different for everyone. It also depends on age.
Yet there are some common characteristics. These include:
- difficulty learning common nursery rhymes or songs
- trouble recognizing rhyming patterns, like “cat” and “bat”
- mispronouncing common words
- difficulty recognizing their own name
- reading slowly
- avoiding reading out loud in any situation
- pausing often while speaking
- using vague language
- confusing similar-sounding words or names
If you notice your child has difficulty learning, visit their pediatrician. They can do a preliminary checkup.
Depending on your child’s symptoms, their pediatrician might have you visit the following experts:
- child psychiatrist
- school psychologist or counselor
- speech-language pathologist
These professionals can perform an evaluation and diagnose learning disorders.
Diagnosing dyslexia involves several steps.
Typically, your child will likely be screened for hearing and vision problems first. If they have no hearing or vision concerns, you’ll need to visit a mental health expert.
A mental health expert can use various tests to diagnose dyslexia. These are designed to evaluate certain skills, such as:
- oral language
Your specialist will choose the most appropriate tests for your child’s symptoms.
First, it’s important for a child with dyslexia to know about their condition. This will help them understand why they have reading difficulties, which can be empowering and relieving. Explain that their mind simply works in a different way.
During these discussions, be positive. Focus on their achievements so far, rather than their learning delays. Let them know that there are people who care and are ready to help.
It’s also important to avoid treating reading difficulties as “abnormal” or “bad.” Instead, Newman says to “focus on the pleasure, information, and independence that reading and learning brings.”
Additionally, if you’re the parent or caregiver and have also experienced reading difficulties, let your child know. As Newman explains, gently communicating your own challenges with reading can help kids see that they’re not alone.
Dyslexia is often diagnosed in early childhood when reading education begins. With proper support and condition management, it’s possible for a child with dyslexia to thrive.
Caregivers can provide support by creating a nurturing space for learning and tracking progress on a calendar.
Other techniques include reading together, repetition, mnemonic devices, praise, and focusing on sight words. It’s also helpful for children with dyslexia to get enough sleep and work with a tutor.
If you think your child has dyslexia, visit a mental health professional. They can evaluate your child and help guide your child’s learning journey.