Understanding Dyslexia: How Parents Can Support Their Kids

What does it mean to raise a child with dyslexia? How can parents understand it better so they help and support their child in the long run?
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Do you sometimes think that your child is just not trying hard enough despite your repeated reminders to him to complete his homework?  Does it take hours to for him to do his homework? And do you get constant feedback from his teachers on poor results, untidy work, poor attitude and low confidence to even try in class?  Despite your best efforts in providing your child with expensive tuition, this does not bear fruit.  In my case, the tuition centre said they were unable to help my son as he was not doing his part as the other students were!  Imagine being told that your child was not good enough for the class. I have been in your situation, this was before my son, Thomas, then 7 years old, had undergone a full psychological assessment. He was diagnosed to have dyslexia.

The blame, guilt and sometimes shame does impact us as parents.  How we choose to approach and support our child is important.  We need to help them navigate the school system, advocating for them, and helping others to understand the issues that come with a learning difference.  In mainstream schools, children with dyslexia form the largest single group of children with special educational needs and with your voice, they can be successful in their learning journey.

After my son was diagnosed with dyslexia: 

Since Thomas’ diagnosis, my world has not been the same, it was a relief for me, his dad, and most importantly Thomas. I now understood the reasons behind his poor grades at school and why he was failing most spelling tests regardless of his repeated practice, all despite the fact that he had a high IQ.  

Understanding how dyslexia affected Thomas was the key for us to helping him succeed.

So what is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition. It is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.  Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory, and processing speed.  Dyslexia can also co-occur with other learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), Maths Difficulties (Dyscalculia), and as well as issues with concentration, written expression, social skills, and personal organisation to name a few. 

The dyslexic brain learns differently and learning can be laborious and not automatic.  Dyslexia can affect the way information is processed, perceived, organised, and sequenced. Individuals with dyslexia will need more time and more practice to learn what those without dyslexia do and seemingly effortlessly.  Teachers who have a positive attitude in supporting students with learning differences ensure that their classrooms are inclusive have better learning outcomes for their students.

Over the past 14 years as a Senior Educational Therapist at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore and Head of DAS International, I have worked with numerous students who display more than one Specific Learning difference.

As parents, we always want what is best for our children. Having dyslexia is not a barrier to success and we see many examples of famous dyslexics within our communities who despite their struggles went on to achieve. As parents, I believe that we need to create the right environment that ensures that your child’s self-esteem is nurtured and that your support is unwavering.  Thomas is now 22 years old and is in his second year at studying a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at the University of Toronto in Canada.  A dream that seemed impossible when he was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was seven.

Common Myths about Dyslexia:

Myth: Dyslexia is a sort of mental retardation.
False: Dyslexia is a difficulty in learning to read, write and spell, despite traditional teaching, average intelligence, and an adequate opportunity to learn. It is impairment in the brain's ability to translate information received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not result from vision or hearing problems. It is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of intelligence

Myth: If a child can read, he does not have dyslexia.
False: All children with dyslexia can read—up to a point. But the problem they have with processing speech sounds prevents them from hearing all the individual sounds in a word. So they generally do not read by sounding out.

Myth: He can read okay. He just can’t spell. That’s not dyslexia, is it?

False: Poor spelling is highly related to poor reading, and poor spelling shows up first. But it may take until primary three or four for the reading struggles to become equally obvious. Reading and spelling are closely related skills.

Myth: Dyslexia can be treated.
False: Dyslexia is not a disease. It is a lifelong learning difference, children with dyslexia become adults with dyslexia. Given the appropriate specialist teaching, dyslexics can successfully learn to read (and even to spell) and compensate for their learning issues. 

Myth: A gifted child can be dyslexic.
True: Repeated studies have shown that there is very little relationship between dyslexia and intelligence in young children.  Dyslexia occurs across a whole spectrum of intelligence and is as likely to be found in the gifted and talented population as it is to be present in the low-ability, and most of them fall in the middle.

Myth: Dyslexia runs in the family.

True: If one parent has dyslexia then there is a 50% possibility that your child will have dyslexia too!  In some families, one, or both parents, are obviously dyslexic and all, or most, of their children, have the difficulties. In other families, dyslexia is not apparent in either parent and the other children are unaffected.

Myth: Individuals with dyslexia are just plain lazy.
False:  Research shows that individuals with dyslexia use different parts of the brain when reading and learning.  This process is not efficient and much more effort is required than would typically be required.  The extra time needed to process does not mean they are slow or lazy, it's just that they learn things differently and learning will always be a laborious process for them.

How can parents help kids with dyslexia:

Dos:

  • Learn about your child’s difficulty, acknowledge the challenges, and stay positive.
  • Accept your child for who they are and don’t impose your sense of who they should be.
  • Recognise, encourage and develop your child’s abilities and talents, build their self-esteem.
  • Help them  to stay organised with school work, show them how to plan their time
  • Show interest in what they do, provide resources and support.
  • Involve yourself in the school community, be available to help and show support.
  • Be a partner with those who are helping your child, communicate effectively and provide feedback.
  • Read aloud with your child every day, at least 15 minutes a day. It improves your child’s vocabulary, knowledge and grammar.
  • Language: taking pleasure in good use of language, encouraging bilingualism; telling stories, laughing together, talking about the news, eating together and using the time to have conversations and explore emotions.
  • Be protective, organised, calm, relaxed, happy, supportive, imaginative, giving of your time and love, actively reading to and with them, ready to give lots of praise, a good listener.
  • Enrol your child in an appropriate literacy programme which should include the following components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Don'ts:

Judge, blame, be impatient, use sarcasm, give up, overload their time, stress out, do what they can do for themselves, ignore a problem.

Image source: scanmarker.com

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