Dyslexia support: How to help a child with dyslexia

Dyslexia support: How to help a child with dyslexia

how to help a child with dyslexia

Every parent wants their child to achieve their full potential and be happy at school, but children with dyslexia face a number of obstacles that can make learning much tougher. They can be slower to hit key academic milestones, and this can have a knock-on effect on their confidence, often leading to tears, frustration, and even school refusal. Naturally, all of this can be just as upsetting for you as it is for your child.

But, there are ways you can help your dyslexic child overcome their learning difficulty and achieve their full potential. Here, we’ll explain a bit more about the signs and symptoms of the condition, and share techniques and strategies you can use to help a child with dyslexia. We’ll cover:

  • What is dyslexia?
  • Identifying dyslexia symptoms
  • What causes dyslexia? Can it be cured?
  • How to help a child with dyslexia
    • Boosting their confidence
    • Helping with reading, writing, and spelling
    • Helping them at school 
    • Using technology

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that reduces a person’s ability to learn and process information. It typically affects a person’s reading, writing and spelling, but it can also impact memory, sequencing, time management, and orientation. Dyslexia is classed as a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD), not a Learning Disability.

While dyslexia can make learning and processing information much harder, it doesn’t affect your child’s intelligence, and they are otherwise alert and bright. In fact, many people with dyslexia have stronger than average creative, visual, and problem-solving skills — it’s just ‘decoding’ certain information that they find challenging. For this reason, dyslexia is often described as the gap between a child’s ability and their performance.

Dyslexia isn’t just a childhood condition, either: it is a life-long neurological disorder and is classed as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The NHS estimates that as many as 1 in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia.

While dyslexia can be challenging and frustrating, with the right help and support from parents and educators, dyslexic children can be successful in their learning and schoolwork.

Identifying dyslexia symptoms

Dyslexia is usually diagnosed during the first few years of school, when the focus on reading and writing intensifies. The symptoms usually become more noticeable when a child starts to fall behind their classmates with their schoolwork.

Symptoms vary depending on the age of the child. It’s difficult to establish whether very young children are dyslexic, as the symptoms may have other causes at this stage. However, Early Years children (aged under 5) with dyslexia may:

  • have slower speech development than other children;
  • mix up words and phrases, e.g. ‘flutterbye’, ‘beddy tear’;
  • get the order of words wrong in a sentence;
  • struggle to learn the alphabet;
  • frequently suffer from glue ear and hearing problems throughout early childhood; or
  • show a lack of understanding of rhyming words, or an inability to learn nursery rhymes.

Primary children (aged 5–11) with dyslexia may:

  • say that words and letters ‘swim’ or ‘dance’ on the page when trying to read;
  • have an aversion to reading and writing, which they typically find difficult or even upsetting;
  • have very limited reading and writing ability;
  • mix up their letters in written work, e.g. confusing ‘b’ and ‘d’;
  • confuse similar spellings, e.g. ‘tired’ instead of ‘tried’;
  • use inconsistent spellings, perhaps struggling to spell words that they have previously spelled correctly;
  • have poor phonological awareness and slow progress with phonics; or
  • be articulate and intelligent in terms of verbal ability, but struggle to write their ideas down.

Your child’s teacher will usually tell you if they think your child is exhibiting symptoms of dyslexia.

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

Dyslexia is diagnosed through a screening test with a qualified SEND specialist or educational psychologist. Once the formal diagnosis has been made, the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) and your child’s teacher will work with you to create an action plan and devise study strategies to help your child cope with their learning difficulty and achieve their full potential.

What causes dyslexia? Can it be cured?

Dyslexia isn’t caused by any one factor. It’s a neurological and often genetic condition that people are born with, and it isn’t caused by teaching, environment, or upbringing. It often runs in the family, meaning a child is more likely to be dyslexic if they have parents or relatives with the condition.

There’s no ‘cure’ for dyslexia — it’s a life-long condition. But that doesn’t mean that children who have it aren’t bright, talented or capable of succeeding academically and, with the right intervention strategies in place, dyslexic children can meet their full potential. However, they will need plenty of additional help and support. For parents and carers, that means spending extra time with your children to help them overcome their difficulties.

How to help a child with dyslexia

A child with dyslexia may feel that they are behind at school and that their work is inadequate despite their best efforts to keep up, which, understandably, can be very stressful and frustrating for them. They may even become emotionally withdrawn or exhibit behavioural problems due to the stresses that their condition can cause.

As a parent, there are a number of things you can do to help your child cope with dyslexia. Mostly, it’s a matter of working together to find strategies that will allow them to succeed and meet their potential at school. We’ve shared 4 techniques you can use to help a child with dyslexia.

1.      Build their confidence and self-esteem

Dyslexia often makes children think that they’ve fallen short, so it’s important to help them rebuild their self-esteem. There are a number of ways to do this.

Offer frequent praise and rewards

For a dyslexic child’s spelling, reading, and writing to improve, they need to believe in their ability to succeed. As such, offering plenty of praise, rewards, and reassurance can be very effective in terms of building their confidence back up.

Most children are reluctant to spend time studying outside of school hours, and the prospect is likely to be even less appealing for those with a learning difficulty. So, remember to offer plenty of verbal praise and rewards after home study sessions. Reward charts are a fantastic way to motivate your children to study, because they offer a very clear way for them to keep track of their progress. Children will love our free colourful reward chart, which features all their favourite Busy Things characters and can be used to help them achieve any of their study goals. You can stock up on matching stickers on the Busy Things shop.

You could even offer them an extra incentive by rewarding them with a little prize, like some new stationery, for every 10 or so stickers they earn. Then, once they reach a major milestone — say, after 50 stickers — you could offer them a bigger reward, like a day out of their choice. This will help motivate your children to work outside of school hours, and will show them that hard works pays off.

Teach them about dyslexia

Teaching your child about their learning difficulty will help them to recognise that their slower progress isn’t their fault. This can help them to rebuild their self-esteem and understand that, while it can make learning a little tougher sometimes, it’s not a reflection of their ability or intelligence.

Encourage extra-curricular activities

Nurturing your child’s other talents will boost their self-confidence and help them to recognise their own abilities, so encourage them to get involved with some extracurricular activities. It doesn’t matter what they’re into, as long as it’s something they can enjoy and feel confident doing. You should also be sure to offer plenty of support and praise to let your child know what a great job they’re doing outside the classroom, and to help them gain a sense of confidence in their own unique talents.

Be patient

Be patient and have fun! It’s unfair to expect perfection from any child. All you can ever ask for them is to do their best. Making learning fun can also help to create positive associations with learning, reading, and writing, which will help motivate your child to stick with their studies, even when the going gets tough.

2.      Helping with reading, writing, and spelling

The typical primary school curriculum will teach children to read using phonics, which focuses on the sounds that individual letters can make. These sounds are called phonemes, and children are taught to join them up to make full words. So, when children come across a new word for the first time, they can spell out the word by breaking it down into phonemes and sounding it out.

But for children with dyslexia, it’s much harder to break words down into phonemes. To make things even tougher, many dyslexic children also suffer from ‘visual stress’ when reading, which distorts the way the text appears on the page. Letters will dance, shimmer or appear larger or smaller, or letters will get switched around within words, all of which can be disorientating and stressful. They can also struggle to remember words after they’ve learned them. Understandably, all of these challenges mean that dyslexic children will often be slower to learn to read.

Dyslexia causes similar difficulties with writing, too. Traditional methods of learning spelling, such as ‘look, cover, write, check’, aren’t as effective for dyslexic children, because they struggle to memorise the order of the letters. And, as dyslexic children struggle with word recognition — that is, learning words on sight, without needing to decode the phonemes — learning to spell can take a long time, and progress is often slow.

How you can help a dyslexic child learn to read

The most important thing you can do for them is give them plenty of time and one-on-one attention. Dyslexia can make reading seem like a scary and unpleasant experience, so it’s important to show children that it can actually be something enjoyable and fulfilling. In addition to improving their reading level, reading together regularly will help to form positive association with reading. 

Pick a time when your child is calm and relaxed, like in the evening before bed. Allow your child to choose which book you’re going to read together and let them start reading aloud. If the book is a little too hard for them, read the words together. Let them go at their own pace: if they struggle with a word, give them a few seconds to say the word before telling them what it is. You can also try taking turns to read alternate sentences. At the end of the page, discuss what you’ve read and talk about what happened or what might happen next.

There’s no need to read for a long time if your child isn’t feeling up to it: even ten minutes a day can be beneficial. If reading becomes difficult, or your child wants to stop, encourage them to reach the end of the section or page you’re on before putting the book away for another time. Remember to praise them after your session.

In addition to reading with your child, there are a number of other techniques and tools that can help improve their reading and make it less stressful for them:

  • Reading aids: Coloured acetate sheets or rulers can reduce visual stress and help children focus on individual words and phonemes.
  • Multisensory learning: Tracing letters in sand or paint, or using wooden and plastic letters, can help to create a physical memory of how certain phonemes sound.
  • Using the thumb method: Using their thumb or finger to cover up parts of the word they’re not reading, allows them to break words down into individual sounds.
  • Use audio storytelling: Listening to stories can inspire a love of storytelling, which helps to create positive associations with books and reading. So, make an effort to read aloud to your children. Our traditional tales apps will let children watch and listen to stories, helping them learn to love storytelling and understand why they are learning to read.

Helping dyslexic children learn to write

When it comes to learning to write by hand, one thing is absolutely key: lots of practice! Children with dyslexia will generally take a bit longer to learn to form letters and put them together to create complete words and sentences, so helping your child practise writing at home will allow them to achieve their potential more quickly. There are a few things you can do to make the learning process easier and more fun for your child:

  • Encourage good writing posture: Ensure your child is sitting comfortably at a suitably sized table and chair, and that they are holding their pen correctly in a tripod grip. Using a slanted desk may help with this.
  • Use specialist pen grips: Adding a specialist triangular grip to your child’s pen or pencil can help make it easier for them to learn how to hold a pen using the tripod grip.
  • Use a tablet or phone: Allowing your child to form letters using an art app on a touchscreen device means they don’t need to worry about how they’re holding their pen, allowing them to focus all their attention on the shape of the letter and the sensation of writing it. Plus, as most children love playing on phones and tablets, it’s a lot more fun! Our English and literacy games include plenty of handwriting games and kids learning apps designed especially to help develop these skills.
  • Let them write over letter formation templates: Children with dyslexia may struggle to remember how to form letters correctly by copying from an example. Providing them with a template to write over can help to familiarise them with the way it feels to write each letter.  With a Busy Things for Families subscription, you’ll get access to loads of letter formation templates you can print out and use at home.
  • Use sand, paints, and plasticine to form letters: One way to make writing fun is to put away the pencil and paper and let your child form letters using physical mediums like sand, paint, plasticine, or even glitter. This creates a more engaging sensory experience, and many children with dyslexia find this to be an easier way to learn.
  • Keep sessions short: Stick to 20-minute practice sessions, as this will help ensure your child doesn’t lose concentration or become uncomfortable.

1.      Helping children with schoolwork

While you can’t be with your child every second of the day, there are still ways you can give them a better chance of success at school. Here, we’ve shared some tips to help a child with dyslexia perform well at school.

Work closely with their teachers

Your child’s teacher and the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) should work with you to create a strategy for your child and put the appropriate classroom support in place. They will also give you some guidance on routines you can follow at home to help support your child’s progress.

In addition to this, it will help if you communicate regularly with your child’s teachers to ensure they are progressing as planned. Keeping a homework diary which you can both review regularly is a simple but effective way to check in with them.

Help them with organisation and timekeeping

Organisation and timekeeping can be difficult for children with dyslexia, who may be mystified by traditional text-based timetables. You can help by making visual or colour co-ordinated timetables for their weekly activities, which will be easier for them to decode.

Dyslexic children can also be prone to forgetfulness, so may struggle to remember important things they need to bring with them to school, like their books or P.E. kit. So, be patient, and encourage your child to use visual checklists and their timetable to help them stay on top of their organisation. It may also help to teach them to get into the habit of packing their bag for school the night before and placing it in the same spot, so they won’t forget it in the morning.

Establish a homework routine

When your children start getting regular homework, it’s important to help set a routine, as this will help your child to understand what’s expected from them and when. Set aside a dedicated study area that’s free from distractions and try to start homework at the same time every day.

Children with dyslexia may struggle to concentrate for long periods of time, so it may be helpful to schedule a short break halfway into their study time. And, just like any other child, a bit of bribery can go a long way, so let them enjoy a reward afterwards, like playtime on the computer or their favourite game.

Ensure they’re physically ready for school

Don’t forget about the basics. All children perform better at school when they’re well rested and have a balanced breakfast to fuel them for the day ahead. So, make sure they’re getting enough sleep and that TV or games aren’t keeping them up late, and try not to rush out the door in the morning without giving them something healthy to eat.

2.      Use technology

In recent years, technology has become a valuable tool for parents and educators. Here, we’ve shared just some of the ways that you can use tech to engage and support a child with dyslexia.

Laptops, tablet and phones

Many dyslexic children prefer to use computers, tablets and phones to learn, as they can be easier and more intuitive for them to use than traditional books or paper worksheets. These tools can also help with the problems of letters and numbers ‘swimming’ or ‘dancing’ that many dyslexic children struggle with when trying to read from paper.

And, not only does it make learning easier, but children tend to love spending time using laptops, tablets, and phones — if anything, it’s often hard to tear kids away from their screens! Using tech feels more like playtime than homework, which can help to dispel the fear and anxiety that many dyslexic children associate with learning.

Naturally, you should always remember to keep your children safe by making sure that their time browsing the web is supervised and that access to any harmful content is restricted.  

Fun and games

From a young age, dyslexic children may start to equate learning with stress rather than fun, and this is definitely something that parents and teachers will want to guard against. In order to develop a love for learning, it’s important for children to understand that it’s not just about reading, writing and maths — curiosity, creativity and imagination all have an important role to play as well. So, it’s a very good idea to engage them with some online educational games and apps that will enhance their learning without putting them under pressure to ‘get it right’ every time.

A Busy Things for Families subscription can be a great way to help kids learn at home, as well as boosting their confidence at school. We’ve got hundreds of maths, English and phonics games packed full of humour and animation that make learning as fun as possible, and they’re a great way to connect with the digital generation. Plus, Busy Things offers a style of graphics that appeals to Primary school age children, so dyslexic kids who are currently working at a lower level won’t feel patronised by babyish graphics and content.

It’s not just reading and writing, either: there’s an activity to support every topic in the curriculum, including history, science, geography and even coding games. Alongside the core subjects, there are also plenty of games and activities exploring creative subjects such as art and music, allowing dyslexic children to express themselves and explore their talents outside reading and writing, which can really help to build up their self-esteem.

Content on Busy Things can be easily personalised to suit a child’s needs, and you can create a customised profile filled with games to target the areas where they need the most support. We also provide a range of parent tools, so you can monitor and supervise their screen time and even print and save their work.

Every parent wants their child to succeed to the best of their ability, and to feel happy and confident in the classroom. Now that you know how to help a child with dyslexia, you can support your child as they overcome the challenges of a learning difficulty and reach their full potential.

Remember, we offer a huge array of educational games and apps to support your child’s learning across the both the Early Years and Primary curricula, and they’re so much fun that your child won’t even realise how much they’re learning. If you’d like to see how your son or daughter responds to our games, try our free trial — we won’t ask for your payment details or pressure you into subscribing, so sign up today!

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