Having a child with dyslexia can be a frustrating experience. They have difficulties keeping up with their peers at school, and start to develop anxieties around learning. Schools also find it difficult to support our dyslexic children; teachers are not trained in best practice remediation, nor do they have the resources to provide the intensive one on one approach that best works for our children. It falls to us, the parents to help our children through a system that seems to set them up for failure. Where do we start to help our children?
To me, we can help our children best with a 2-step approach. Firstly, we must help them see their strengths, and the advantages of having dyslexia. We must allow them to feel success; if not through schooling, then through other outside activities. Secondly, we must help them to conquer their weaknesses, so they have more access to learning. This article focuses on the remediation aspect of dyslexia only.
How does dyslexia affect my child?
Dyslexia impacts people in varying degrees, so the symptoms may differ from one child to another. Generally, symptoms show up as problems with accuracy and fluency in reading and spelling. But in some children, dyslexia can impact writing, math and language, too.
Students with dyslexia often exhibit weaknesses in underlying language skills involving speech sound (phonological) and print (orthographic) processing, and in building brain pathways that connect speech with print. The brain pathways used for reading and spelling must develop to connect many brain areas and must transmit information with sufficient speed and accuracy.
Most students with dyslexia have weak phonemic awareness, meaning they are unaware of the role sounds play in words. These students may also have difficulty rhyming words, blending sounds to make words, or segmenting words into sounds. Because of their trouble establishing associations between sounds and symbols, they also have trouble learning to recognise words automatically (“by sight”) or fast enough to allow comprehension. If they are not accurate with sounds or symbols, they will have trouble forming memories for common words, even the “little” words in students’ books.
What does a good remediation program look like?
There are many methods for helping teach children with dyslexia to read. A growing body of research is pointing to the need for programs that are:
Focused on the structure of language
The programs also become more effective when teamed with multisensory learning; involving the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways simultaneously to enhance memory and learning of written language. Links are consistently made between the visual (language we see), auditory (language we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (language symbols we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.
Margaret Byrd Rawson, a former President of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), said it well. “Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from that employed in most classrooms. They need to be taught, slowly and thoroughly, the basic elements of their language—the sounds and the letters which represent them—and how to put these together and take them apart. They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for conscious organisation and retention of their learning.”
What does a good tutor look like?
First and foremost, your child needs to like and relate to their teacher. Learning to read with dyslexia can be an extremely frustrating experience, and it helps the journey if you like the person who is teaching you.
The teacher must be good at flexible or individualised teaching, and have a teaching plan that is based on careful and continuous assessment of the student’s needs. Every children will struggle in different areas, and the teacher must be able to adapt to any curve ball.
A good tutor will communicate with you, your child, and your child’s teacher. They will suggest things you can work on at home, talk about accommodations they could receive at school, and care about the development of confidence and self-esteem in the child.
Where do I find a good tutor?
The best way to find a good tutor is by talking to other parents and teachers about the progress other dyslexic children are making with a tutor.
Look for a program that is direct, cumulative, explicit, and uses a multi-sensory approach. Programs that use the Orton Gillingham approach are considered the gold standard for successful remediation.
About the author
Julie is a dyslexia tutor based in Titirangi, Auckland. She works with a number of amazing dyslexic children, helping them to become their best self at school. She uses the Barton System of remediation, which has at its heart, an Orton Gillingham approach. While the children Julie tutors are all making incredible progress with reading, she is most proud of their improved motivation, self-esteem, confidence and belief in themselves.