How To Support A Child With Dyslexia

Maybe you noticed something while home schooling earlier this year, or perhaps it’s always been at the back of your mind, but child dyslexia is far more common than you might think. In fact, it’s estimated that 5-10% of children in the UK are dyslexic – many of whom never receive an official diagnosis. The good news is there’s plenty of support for children who have difficulties reading and writing, both at school and through online resources. To mark Dyslexia Awareness Month, we asked four experts to share their insights.
ISTOCK/BRIAN A JACKSON

Let’s go back to basics, what is dyslexia?

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that causes trouble with reading, spelling, and writing. Phonological awareness, the ability to match letters and combinations of letters (phonemes) with the sound that they make, is difficult for dyslexic people. Dyslexia is one of the most prevalent learning disorders in children – approximately 5-10% of school-going children suffer from it. However, it’s worth noting that these challenges have nothing to do with overall intelligence.” – Lisette Kuijt, child psychologist at GoStudent

What are some of the early signs to look out for?

“Sometimes, it’s possible to spot symptoms of dyslexia before your child even starts reading or writing. At a young age, dyslexia mainly manifests itself in speech problems. As a parent, you may notice your child has trouble pronouncing longer words, finding the right words to express themselves, or putting sentences together in the right way. Rhymes are likely to be difficult for them to understand, too. When children start going to school, the symptoms become more obvious in their reading and writing. While learning to read, your child may have more problems learning the names and sounds of letters. Reading out loud and spelling words will be very difficult and when they write, your child will make mistakes when writing down the letters – the most common error is confusing the letters ‘b’, ‘d’, and ‘p’. Handwriting in children with dyslexia is usually less developed, as is their memory and attention span – some children with dyslexia can really struggle with this and are more likely to have additional diagnoses relating to concentration, such as ADHD.” – Lisette

What else constitutes or qualifies as a learning difficulty?

“There are lots of different types of learning difficulties, and they show up in varying degrees. Difficulties, including dyslexia, can manifest in lots of ways – a child might show a resistance to learning, find it challenging to read, or have an inability to visualise what they are reading which affects their understanding. It’s important to point out that some behaviours might appear to be a learning difficulty, when they’re actually more of an emotional response. Children who are stressed or anxious, for example, might display behaviours that can be interpreted as a learning difficulty.” – Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, child psychologist and therapist

How should you talk to your child about dyslexia?

“Children with dyslexia are more likely to struggle with self-esteem issues due to their symptoms. As other children around them are achieving academic success with ease, your child has to work a lot harder to develop their writing and reading. When you talk to your child about dyslexia, it’s very important that you clarify that their struggles have nothing to do with intelligence or other cognitive abilities. Children are often very relieved to know that there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that other children experience the exact same thing. Your child needs more support and positive input, so be sure to celebrate the small victories.” – Lisette

“The best time to broach the subject with your child is during an activity. For example, when doing homework together, ask them how they feel. What don’t they like about it? Do they find it stressful or difficult? Ask them what will help them – perhaps it’s standing instead of sitting or listening to music. Avoid shaming or blaming them. Try to use ‘we’ language where possible so that the child understands you are with them and not against them. For example, ‘What could we do to make things easier for you?’ Talk to the side of them that has the most potential, empower them and encourage them with new skills or techniques. Unconsciously, we project our thoughts, feelings and emotions on to our children, so it’s important that we project positive messages.” – Dr Kalanit

Tell your child that dyslexia can be a real gift and a bit of a superpower. This can help to show them that anyone can achieve their dreams if they have the right support.
Dr Louise Karwowski, head of science at Cognassist

Why is comparison a bad idea?

“When your children are young (aged three and under), keep an eye on their development but try not to compare them with other siblings, cousins, or friends of the same age. Children can develop at very different rates so just because they appear behind on something, it doesn’t mean there’s a serious problem.” – Dr Amanda

“It goes without saying that all children are different, so try not to compare them to others. That said, if you have young children, try avoiding screen time where possible, or at least minimising it to ensure they are developing as best they can. Allow plenty of free time, outside if possible, to play, explore and move. Let your child follow their instincts, whether they want to dance, climb, run or jump. Anything that involves movement allows them to learn about themselves. Play is one of the best ways for children of this age to learn, grow and develop.” – Dr Kalanit

If you suspect a problem, who should you speak to first?

“If you suspect a problem, you should first contact the teacher of your child. They will have more insight into the development of their reading and writing. If both of you have ongoing concerns, you can contact your GP to rule out any other issues that can affect their learning abilities. Sadly, dyslexia is a learning problem that can’t be solved. What we can do, however, is support children with dyslexia in their development by offering them the right tools. Most schools already offer extra time for students with dyslexia to finish homework or tests."

“Teachers can also try the ‘multi-sensory learning approach’. In this approach, they try to teach a student with more than just speech and writing. This can involve pictures, diagrams, or games. For example, writing words with glitter, clay, or toys. Children with dyslexia experience a lot of difficulties and frustration while trying to learn to read and write. These negative experiences may create even more reluctance to continue learning, so teachers can try to create a positive environment to encourage the learning process and their self-esteem.” – Lisette

“Ask about the teacher’s experience too, rather than feeding them your own thoughts. It’s important to listen first. Ask how your child is doing socially, academically, in different subjects, with friends, as a human being – not just about how they are performing academically. This will help you to give you a holistic view of the situation. Then, you can share your concerns and discuss what you can do to support your child. Set a date for another meeting in a few weeks’ time so that you can continue to review and monitor their progress.” – Dr Kalanit 

“With the school’s support, the next stage would be to approach the local authority for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment of your child to see if they qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is key to getting the support your child needs and if an EHCP is issued, the local authority will be responsible for funding the support your child needs.”– Dr Louise

How else can you support your child?

“Spend time reading aloud with your child on a regular basis and make this part of their routine to make reading a familiar habit. If they struggle with reading, introduce them to alternative formats with different font styles, sizes, and colours. Help them with their homework and talk through problems together. If they struggle, try to use real-world examples to make subjects come to life. There are also lots of videos on BBC Bitesize or YouTube that are great at explaining subjects in a more visual way they may find easier to take in. If they are struggling, be patient. Take a breath, take a break, and spend a few minutes talking about something they enjoy doing before coming back to the task.” – Dr Louise

Parents can be a huge support and motivator if they use a positive approach to build their child’s confidence and resilience. It may take a while, but the results can be life changing.
Dr Louise

“Offer praise and positive affirmations based on effort or behaviour, rather than the end result or their personality traits. Whether a test result is good or bad, praise their dedication, effort, their ability to learn from mistakes, their patience, persistence and the way they took hold of responsibility. Focus on the process instead. If they got 90% in a spelling test, congratulate them on the hard work they put in to achieve it, not the mark. If they have improved or performed better than they have in the past – down to persistence for example – subtly mention it to them. You might say ‘I noticed that you stuck with it even though it was challenging. Great persistence!’.” – Dr Kalanit

Finally, are there any other helpful resources to know about?

NaturalReaders.com is a great resource which converts text to speech. Reading long texts or web pages can be challenging for students with dyslexia, so this converter can help them do their homework. Simply add the extension to your browser and it can narrate everything from YouTube videos to passages of text. The AI voices sound natural and friendly, too, which can aid with learning.”

The Village is a great online parenting community led by experts. Parents can meet other parents while receiving free resources and advice from leading experts in all stages of child development. It’s a safe space for parents to seek support, modified by reputable and trustworthy experts. They also run live Q&As, online courses and group discussions, and it’s totally free to sign up. I also recommend looking up groups on Facebook and other online forums for practical and emotional advice.” – Dr Amanda

“There are lots of charities available to help with different diagnosed or suspected learning difficulties. The British Dyslexia Association is an invaluable resource and Cognassist has a great handbook on how to support neurodiverse learners which has lots of tips and support strategies for dyslexic children.” – Dr Louise

For more information visit GoStudent.orgGetTheVillage.comGoodPlayGuide.com, and Cognassist.com

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