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How to Help a Dyslexic Child Read

Dyslexia affects many people and can be difficult to deal with if you are not properly equipped. People with dyslexia often struggle with poor spelling, self-regulation skills, and handwriting skills, in addition to being unable to properly comprehend the written language.

Unfortunately, the skills of students are often compared to one another, leaving dyslexic children at a significant disadvantage. However, dyslexic children can drastically improve their ability levels with a handful of effective strategies and plenty of help from their parents. 

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia, in its most basic form, is a learning disability that inhibits one’s ability to comprehend written language. It can also negatively affect one’s speech and causes great difficulty with transcription skills. 

It is important to note, however, that dyslexia does not represent a lack of intelligence on the part of the afflicted. In fact, most people with dyslexia – typically 6- to 11-year-old children – are just as smart and hard-working as their peers in spite of the challenges posed by their disorder.

Dyslexia is fairly common as far as learning disabilities go: about 5% to 10% of Americans display symptoms of dyslexia, including (but not limited to) a lack of reading skill, difficulty writing, and frequently mixing up words in everyday speech. 

Unfortunately, despite its prevalence in modern society, there is still a negative stigma attached to dyslexia. Because of this, children who have trouble reading may feel too embarrassed to explain their difficulties – as such, many people with dyslexia are only diagnosed later on in life when the demand for reading becomes unavoidable. 

Regardless of when a person receives their diagnosis, however, it is important to remember that people with dyslexia are not unable to learn how to read. With a little bit of effort, persistence, and – most importantly, patience – dyslexic people can eventually learn how to read proficiently.

How Can You Help Your Child Learn to Read?

There is no doubt that being able to comprehend written language is a vital skill, though it is frequently taken for granted. No one is born with the innate ability to read – it is a skill that is developed through a complex process, which is important to understand before you attempt to teach your child how to read.

How Are Reading Skills Developed?

The process of learning how to read begins with a phenomenon known as phonemic awareness: recognizing the individual sounds that make up a word. In scientific terms, these sounds are referred to as “phonemes”, and we know plenty of them. For example, the word “car” has three phonemes, one for each letter. 

This is important to understand – before a child can write (or read), they must first be able to connect the sounds they hear (phonemes) to the symbols they say. Eventually, children learn to connect larger units of sounds to the words they say, which are known as “sight” words. This entire process is called “phonics”.

It is here where the troubles of dyslexia begin to make themselves apparent and where your effort needs to be concentrated when it comes to teaching your child how to read.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn to Read?

Often, traditional schooling makes no room for children with dyslexia, which can put them at a severe disadvantage, limiting the potential outcomes for students. The U.S. Department of Education is notoriously unforgiving to kids with learning disorders.

Additionally, your child’s preferred learning style may be incompatible with what they are taught at school. Therefore, the responsibility of staging interventions for students often falls to their parents despite their lack of qualifications. 

While special education services exist, they are sometimes too costly for some households to afford. Reliable special education teachers can also be hard to find and often only cater to elementary and secondary school students.

Teaching a dyslexic child by yourself can be daunting. However, there are a few ways to teach your child how to read and plenty of things you can do to motivate them. By following a simple structure and setting small, concrete goals, you can help your child overcome their learning disorder and give them the proper foundation they need to be successful.

Acknowledge Your Child’s Talents

Before you even begin to teach your child how to read, it is important that you first acknowledge their strengths. For example, your child may not be as academically inclined so much as they are artistic. Likewise, your child may be an excellent football player but a poor student. This is perfectly normal, and you should take the time to give your child praise and encouragement.

Unfortunately, many parents of kids with dyslexia overemphasize their child’s disability which can be harmful to their mental health. Additionally, it can inhibit their reading and phonological skills even more. 

By acknowledging and encouraging your child’s unique strengths and talents, you set a much better precedent from the outset, which will make your child more open to their studies and more likely to improve their reading level and ability on vocabulary choices. 

Kid learning to read. Phonics flash cards.

Start with CVC Words

One of the simplest instructional strategies to kick-start your child’s reading skill development is to lay out a set of alphabet cards in two rows, one for vowels and one for consonants.

Start with only six letters – s, t, n, p, i, and a – and prepare a few pictures in advance which demonstrate the words that can be made with these letters. Some examples would be “tap”, “sit”, and “pan”, among others.

The main goal is for your child to identify both the initial sound and the end sound, then choose the corresponding letter. Once they have both consonants, ask them to identify the correct vowel. Finally, you should also ask them if another word can be made using the same consonants while substituting the correct vowel with the other. In the case of “tap”, another word would be “tip”.

Have your child write out each word to cement it in their memory, which will also improve their self-regulation strategies. This will give you a good writing sample to see where they are struggling the most. Don’t be afraid to help them out if they are struggling. For every session, add another letter – over time, their vocabulary will drastically improve, and they will be able to spell simple CVC words with ease. 

Progress to Onset-Rime Flip-Books

For this exercise, you will need to create a flip book, split in half. The left half of the book should contain onsets (word beginnings), while the right should contain rimes (word endings). The onsets should be single consonants, while the rimes can range in length though we recommend that you keep them short for the time being.

To start, leave the first onset unchanged (for example, “s”), then flip through the other half of the book and have your child identify as many “real” words as possible by matching the onset to the correct rimes. At the end of the session, have your child write out the words they have come up with.

Focus on one “word family” per session – stick with “s” and all of its possible combinations to begin with. Again, if the complexity of writing proves to be too much for your child to handle right now, don’t be afraid to help them out. This will help them with their phonological skills and poor spelling.

Where Should You Go From Here?

Effective strategies for teaching dyslexic children how to read are constantly being developed and improved upon. These two basic exercises are enough to get you started, but we would recommend checking out the Journal of Learning Disabilities, the Journal of Special Education Technology, the Institute of Education Sciences, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and numerous others.

If you are unsure of where to go to help your child, contact your local special education services or get a special education teacher to assist you.

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