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According to the Mayo Clinic, Dyslexia is a learning disability “due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding).” Affecting approximately 20 percent of the population (but significantly under-diagnosed), dyslexia is not caused by lack of intelligence or any other physical problem; according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, it is, “an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader.” They add: “While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.
Early signs of dyslexia may be present in early childhood. A young child might have trouble telling left from right, rhyming or spelling words. However, a formal dyslexia diagnosis usually doesn’t happen until around six years old, when reading instruction begins and students start testing below their grade level.
During the course of their education, a dyslexic child’s learning difficulties might extend to other areas. They might have trouble following directions or classroom instructions, telling time or learning a foreign language.
These academic struggles often come at a psychological cost, hurting the child’s confidence and self-esteem. Getting them to sit down with a book — often the first nightly ‘homework’ a child receives at school — might feel like an impossible task that just makes kids more resistant to learning. But if parents know that if kids don’t put in the time, they’ll miss out on the chance to grow intellectually and develop passions.
The academic and psychological challenges facing dyslexic students need to be approached together. First, they need to hone their decoding — with the help of a specialized reading program. While public school students with a formal dyslexia diagnosis receive accommodations as laid out in an IEP (individual education plan), homeschooling students already have total flexibility, customization, and one-on-one attention built in to their everyday experience. However, parents who aren’t trained in supporting a struggling reader may consider finding support from a local learning center that specializes in teaching reading to dyslexic kids, or taking advantage of online resources from the International Dyslexia Association.
But here’s the other part of the challenge: kids will be more successful — and struggle less — if they approach their schoolwork with a love of learning rather than a resistance to it.
The specifics of how to help a child with dyslexia at home will depend on their grade level and the kind of support they are receiving at school, but the following suggestions should be effective to support a dyslexic child’s learning in general.
Every subject at school requires proficiency in reading, whether its instructions for a science experiment or a word-problem in math. To flourish, a dyslexic child needs alternative ways to access information.
To read instructions, they can take advantage of text-to-speech tools that read outloud to them, and to answer long assignments, they can use dictation tools to bypass the fatigue of writing and let them focus on their ideas. (We recommend this free plug-in, Google Read&Write.) Audiobooks are a great way to help kids with dyslexia to access books at their intellectual level, allowing them the pleasure of a great story or the excitement of delving deep into a topic of interest.
While technology can serve as a much-needed accommodation, it’s crucial to encourage kids to push beyond their comfort zone and work on developing stamina as a reader. Before they use the text-to-speech feature, encourage them to read what they can on the instructions. When they listen to an audiobook, ask them to read along with the physical copy in front of them.
As Prisma learning coach, Claire Cummings, explains, “Reading and listening to a book at once gives their brain a chance to see the words as they’re flying along. That way, they aren’t getting dependent on their ears but practicing that mind-mapping that happens when you see and hear a text.”
By encouraging kids to stretch and supporting their use of accommodations, you help convey a powerful message: They aren’t cheating when they use dictation tools or listen to an audiobook. As Cummings says, “These are necessary accommodations that allow kids to flourish.” They’re building reading skills and allowing themselves to develop their ideas — exactly what every learner needs to do.
Reading is foundational to all areas of education. That’s a given. But there are so many great ways to access information beyond just reading texts. At Prisma we curate libraries of resources that include articles, but also podcasts, videos and infographics. This kind of education helps kids orient to the ever-shifting multimedia landscape that’s all around them. At the same time, for kids who struggle with reading, being able to access information — stress-free! — goes a long way to helping them (re)build a love of learning.
With all the focus on reading, dyslexic students need time to develop their interest in other subjects. A love of another subject can be a great motivator to help students build stamina in reading: If they love science, encourage them to read science-themed books. “A kid will read if they like the book,” Cummings says. “That's pretty much it. You won’t have to designate a number on the minutes.”
At Prisma, learners pursue the subjects they love — which means taking an approach that suits their interests, talents and strengths. Kids for whom traditional reading and writing doesn't come naturally might enjoy expressing themselves through different technologies and assignments: building a website, making a business plan or inventing a new product. The satisfaction that comes from pursuing your interests in a real-world context leads to the kind of hard fun we advocate at Prisma — and leads to a life-long love of learning.
It’s equally important to allow kids to build their self-esteem outside of the classroom. Leave plenty of time for other activities, in areas in which they excel, whether it’s athletics, arts or outdoor adventuring. A sense of mastery outside the classroom can build a growth mindset that then translates back to their academic world.
As your child works to overcome their reading difficulties and (re)connect with their love of learning, they’ll benefit from emotional support. Celebrate the wins, even the small ones. As Cummings suggests, “If a child is struggling to sit for thirty minutes with a book, start with just five minutes and build from there.”
A great way to keep things in perspective is to foster a dialog with your child’s teacher - and keeping your child in the conversation. At Prisma, a one-on-one coaching model ensures that parents, coach and student are on the same page, with students taking initiative in establishing their goals — and coaches and parents ensuring that those goals are just the right size.
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