Beyond the Classroom: How Can I Help My Child With Dyslexia?

by:  Linda Siegel, retired professor from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada.  Linda is the author of Understanding Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities published by Pacific Educational Press and also available from Amazon.


It’s become fashionable to speak of the “gift” of dyslexia, but it’s not that simple.  Dyslexia brings emotional struggles.  I think that many would choose to “regift” it if the opportunity arose.  The most important way of coping with dyslexia is to help children find their abilities and be proud of their accomplishments.

Peer Pressure

“Lisa, why don’t you take that dark red lipstick?  It’ll look good on you.  Just slip it into your purse. No one will notice.”  Lisa was a 13 year old with dyslexia, and two of her “friends” urged her to shoplift the lipstick.  Dyslexic young people are especially vulnerable to peer pressure because they want to gain the admiration of their peers.  In their minds it can make up for the humiliation that they experience in school.  Adolescents are particularly vulnerable.  Exposing the issue and role-playing this situation can help them learn to cope with the pressure.


The other side of peer pressure is relentless teasing and bullying. Teach children to recognize bullying and tell them to let their parents and teachers know what’s happening.  Of course, they may be threatened or be afraid of being called a “baby.” Recognize their dilemma, and reassure them that they’ll be safe and that parents and teachers will pay attention to their concerns.

Survival Skills

Parents can help their children develop survival skills by:

  1. Recognizing Abilities
    People with dyslexia often have considerable abilities in areas such as dancing, music, art, mechanical skills, and sports, among others. Find those strengths and encourage them.
  1. Teaching Persistence
    Struggling with reading, spelling, writing, and/or mathematics isn’t easy. Help them break the long-term goal into small steps along the way. For example, rather than master all the spelling words or the entire multiplication table, start with only three spelling words or the five times table.
  1. Promoting Self-Advocacy
    If your child is 12 or older, help him become an advocate for his rights.  For example, he has a right to accommodations, whether it’s extended time for examinations, taking tests in a quiet room, having access to a calculator, using a computer, or anything else that helps him deal with his learning disability. Teach your child to advocate for himself in middle school.  Being an advocate is important at all educational levels, middle school, high school, college and university.Part of self-advocacy is disclosing the problem.  People with dyslexia have a dilemma.  Should they disclose it to teachers or employers?  Disclosing can get accommodations, but it can cause resentment and hostility.Another part of self-advocacy is asking for help when you need it.  Maybe he didn’t understand an assignment or a concept.  Teach your children not to be afraid to ask for help.  He may encounter unsympathetic people but, hopefully, he’ll find patience and kindness.
  1. Encouraging Teamwork
    Studying with a small group helps many students with dyslexia.  People have strengths in different areas; working with a group increases the chances of problem solving. Working on group projects can take advantage of each individual’s strengths; some are good at writing, others at drawing, others at research, and others at building models.  Hopefully the school environment will recognize the value of teamwork.
  1. Assuming Responsibility
    Help your child to understand when he needs the help of others and when it’s necessary to do something without anyone’s help.  There’s a fine line that requires a careful balancing act.  Parents need to provide a supportive environment for their children with dyslexia, but they also need to let them fly.  Resist the temptation to overprotect them.
  1. Providing Humor
    “I’m not a slow learner; I am a fast forgetter,” one 16 year old told me.  She added, “If you cannot laugh at yourself, whom can you laugh at?”  Humor can diffuse a lot of situations if a person is equipped to use it.
  1. Finding the Positives
    Some people feel that struggling with dyslexia made them more sympathetic and interested in helping people.  Some parents of dyslexic children think that dealing with the problems that their children have faced has made them stronger.Another key to staying positive is turning other people’s negative comments into something positive. For example one 13-year-old boy said when someone says, “You’re disorganized,” respond with, “No I see things from different points of view at the same time.“ If someone says, “You’re hyperactive,” she can say, “No I don’t tire easily.”

Helping Your Child Understand

A young child of 7 will ask, “Why can’t I read like everyone else?”  The simple, but true answer is that everybody’s brain is different.  It’s important to add,  “You can swim very well, (play the guitar, draw lovely pictures or whatever). Your teacher will find ways to help you.”

Please never say, “Try harder.”  These are some of the worst words that a dyslexic person can hear.  I know from experience.  I cannot carry a tune.  As a school child when we had singing in class, teachers told me to try harder and listen carefully but I really was doing my best.  One children’s chorus conductor told me she could teach anyone to sing.  When I shyly sang for her she said, “You’d be a very difficult case.”  No amount of trying harder was the solution in my case just as trying harder is not the solution for the struggling reader with dyslexia.

Copyright © 2016 International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

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