Simple “Life Hacks” For Students With Dyslexia

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BY ANGELA SHAW

Many parents understand that building resiliency and independence within their child will increase self-esteem, happiness, and success throughout life. However, children with dyslexia are faced daily with tasks that are extremely difficult for them and they often experience repeated failure when attempting these tasks (IDA, 2013). Therefore, anxiety is often the tenor of their lives and may be generalized in one or many aspects of their reality. Because of their vulnerability to anxiety caused by the neurobiological hurdles they face as they journey toward unlocking the reading code, it is essential that children with dyslexia be provided a comprehensive network of support between home and school to ease the effects of the struggles that they courageously face within their learning environments.

Dyslexia, often described as a hidden disability, looms extremely obvious to parents and children who experience this phonological processing deficit. An overall definition of dyslexia, provided by the International Dyslexia Association, includes (IDA, 2002):

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. (IDA 2002).

Students with dyslexia experience a deficit in phonological processing that invades and wreaks havoc in acquiring language-based academics within a continuum ranging from those who are mildly affected to those who are extremely impaired, but individuals with dyslexia have a vast array of strengths. The unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by individuals identified with dyslexia are exhibited in a distinctive manner relative to the person’s neuro-circuitry. Although a student with dyslexia may not be able to read at the expected level yet, Shaywitz (2003) provides a non-exhaustive age-based list of strengths that are often present, at varying degrees, within an individual identified with dyslexia (See chart, next page).

Dyslexia, neurological in origin, is a lifelong reading condition. Provided intense instruction to include multi-sensory, explicit, systematic, structured, evidence-based, and direct instruction, children with dyslexia can learn to read; though at a slower pace and with enduring difficulties. The neurological differences within the areas of the brain key to learning to read is a circumstance beyond the control of the child; therefore, their difficulties with navigating the road to reading are not primarily associated with lack of motivation or trying. Motivation may, however, become a secondary problem, due to repeated stress and failure in academic areas related to reading and spelling. Therefore, it is critical that parents and teachers are partners in the child’s journey. As illustrated by Shaywitz (2003), children and adults with dyslexia have numerous strengths. Many children with dyslexia go on to higher education and are very successful in their careers. In addition to good first instruction and intense specialized instructional practices within the classroom, below are some supports parents can provide at home in their quest to build and brighten the future of their child identified with dyslexia. It is essential that a mindfully flexible approach relative to motivation and low stress be employed when utilizing one or more of the scaffolds within this list.

Students with dyslexia are often noted to get the gist of things or see the big picture (Shaywitz, 2003). Additionally, learning is often best accomplished through meaning, rather than rote memorization (Shaywitz, 2003). Flashcards are traditionally suggested to support students when they are learning to name letters and connect their sounds, but this rote activity may prove overwhelming or meaningless to a student who has neurocircuitry that is routed around the phonological processing area of the brain. Therefore, differentiating the classic process of flashcards can be done through the multi-sensory activity of a game structured around a few letters, sounds, and actions. It is important to avoid using letters or sounds that are similar, when introducing this activity, such as n/m, b/d, j/g. For this game you will need letters about 4 to 5 inches tall and an action verb for each letter.
• Create your letters on an index card and cut around the letter leaving some white bubble space. Add a raised glue ridge around the outside of the letter, to provide tactile feedback.
• Introduce 2 to 4 letters at each “play” session. Ask your child’s teachers which letters they are studying, if you are not sure where to start. Lower case letters are a good preliminary point, since your child will have much more experiences with them than upper case letters.
• Invite your child to pick up the letter intended and then provide them an action that begins with that letter. For example, pick up “r” and r-r-run in place. Now say /r/, /r/, /r/. Pick up “s” and s-s-s-smile. Now say /s/, /s/, /s/.

Individuals with dyslexia often demonstrate a surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary, as well as a high level of understanding of what is read to him/her (Shaywitz, 2003). Therefore, tapping into your child’s imagination through reading and sharing verbal word play is a great avenue to support language growth and increase flexible thinking. Tell silly “kid” jokes and make puns. Invest in a joke book written for children. Share a laugh over jokes you read together that use different meanings of words. Word play is a fun and delightful way to help your child with dyslexia see how to use different meanings of words and build comprehension skills. Take for example the following:

Question: “How do you make a hot dog stand?
Answer: You take his chair away.”

What a terrific way to segue into a discussion about how the word stand has two meanings and can even be from different parts of speech. A verb for the act of standing and a noun as in a small building. Plus, this is a dynamic manner to demonstrate the question and answer format.

Homework skirmishes can lead to battle fatigued families. Rather than butting heads, learn to problem solve together through planning and modeling. Create self-sufficiency and esteem through being a guide by the side, rather than a sage on the stage during homework times. Remember to build in planned movement or preferred activity breaks through the homework portion of the evening. Communicate with your child’s teacher to determine where homework can be modified or shortened, in order to provide for increased literacy opportunities at home.
• Talk your child through the editing process. Ask the teacher for graphic organizers or find one on the web. Graphic organizers are visual maps to guide the learner’s thinking.
• After your child writes a paragraph or a simple sentence using their spelling word, have them read it to you as you type it into the computer. Demonstrate to your child how to edit using the built-in synonym application, the spell check, or highlight the spelling word. Re-read together the “word-smithed” sentences. You can print them up and staple them to your child’s written work for return to class.
• Analyze or make a plan of attack, prior to getting started. Breaking down the tasks and teaching organization skills through example, go a long way toward learning how to study. Talk about strategies to get through a long book. Perhaps dividing the pages to be read by the number of days available and reading that number of pages each night will be a manageable and productive manner of approach. To support increased comprehension and allow for greater focus, offer a partner read, in which you or another family member reads the even pages and your child reads the odd numbered pages.
• Chunking is a helpful strategy to alleviate visual clutter on the page, support stamina, or increase memorization of information. Chunking can be done through cutting a worksheet into sections or utilizing highlighters to separate the chunks of work to be completed. An option to glue the worksheet back together on separate sheet of paper can support student’s ability to transport their completed work, as well as create a more seamless integration of the returned work. Remember to check in with the teacher to let her know the plan and ask her to let your child know that the plan works for her.

Today’s child with dyslexia has the capacity to grow to be tomorrow’s scientist, architect, doctor, or writer. Listen and watch, as your child discovers their interests. Your child has within him/her many strengths and the inclination to think out of the box (Shaywitz, 2003). Their ability to read and to understand words in a special area of interest, when overlearning the specialized vocabulary, can create many opportunities for reading in high interest materials and generalizing those words to other areas. Once a special area of interest is discovered, investing in magazine subscriptions and books in this area is a great way for your child to practice reading and become the mini-expert of the family about the subject.

Modify a board game at home. Create cards with questions customized to your child’s interest, reading level, or even a favorite movie or TV show. (Remember to use a font he/she can easily access). Listening to others read the cards, reading the cards themselves, moving, and enjoying family time are motivating opportunities for over-practicing sight words, specialized vocabulary, and comprehension. Keep it light, fun, and accessible.

Increase connection to the speech to print concept, whenever possible, when viewing programs and movies, by choosing to display subtitles.

Capitalize on your child’s excellent thinking skills. His/her conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction coupled with eager embrace of new ideas, provides many opportunities to learn skills within the community. Explicitly teach organization and categories within the supermarket, department store, or the menu at a favorite restaurant. These skills will assist with generalizing across academic and social realms. By keeping family reading on the itinerary, you can continue your quest toward fostering literacy and building bridges to communication. Reading books and other materials, to and with your child, across a broad landscape of reading prospects offers the gift of access to text along with access to parent time.

Nurture a love and interest in reading early. Read aloud to your infant and continue the tradition throughout their school career. Through reading aloud just 10-20 minutes a day with your children you are establishing a strong reading foundation and you are also helping to strengthen relationships, encouraging listening and language skills, and promoting attention and curiosity. All of these skills are essential for success in school, but also in life beyond school.•

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Angela Shaw is a special educator in So. California. She synthesizes her diverse education and experience to provide students learning that will grow for a lifetime. Shaw’s publishing focus is upon special education topics to include articles such as “How to Find the Best Educational Services for your Child with ASD” (August 2016, Autism Parenting Magazine) and “Seven Things Every Child with Dyslexia Wishes you Knew” (March 2017, Exceptional Parent Magazine). Shaw earned her Masters’ Degrees in Special Education and School Counseling from Azusa Pacific University.


A NON-EXHAUSTIVE AGE-BASED LIST OF STRENGTHS THAT ARE OFTEN PRESENT, AT VARYING  DEGREES, WITHIN AN INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFIED WITH DYSLEXIA


K-1

• Curiosity
• A great imagination
• The ability to figure things out
• Eager embrace of new ideas
• Getting the gist of things
• A good understanding of new concepts
• Surprising maturity
• A larger vocabulary for the age group
• Enjoyment in solving puzzles
• Talent at building models
• Excellent comprehension of stories read or told to him


2nd and up

• Excellent thinking skills: conceptualization, reasoning, imagination, abstraction
• Learning that is accomplished best through meaning rather than rote memorization
• Ability to get the “big picture”
• A high level of understanding of what is read to him
• The ability to read and to understand at a high level overlearned (that is, highly practiced) words in a special area of interest; for example, if his hobby is restoring cars, he may be able to read auto mechanic magazines
• Improvement as an area of interest becomes more specialized and focused, when he develops a miniature vocabulary that he can read.
• A surprisingly sophisticated listening vocabulary
• Excellence in areas not dependent on reading, such as math, computers, and visual arts, or excellence in more conceptual (versus factoid-driven) subjects, such as philosophy, biology, social studies, neuroscience, and creative writing.


Young Adults & Adults

• The maintenance of strengths noted in the school-age period
• A high learning capability
• A noticeable improvement when given additional time on multiple-choice examinations
• Noticeable excellence when focused on a highly specialized area, such as medicine, law, public policy, finance, architecture, or basic science
• Excellence in writing if content and not spelling are important
• A noticeable articulateness in the expression of ideas and feelings
• Exceptional empathy and warmth, and feeling for others
• Success in areas not dependent on rote memory
• A talent for high-level conceptualization and the ability to come up with original insights
• Big-picture thinking
• Inclination to think outside of the box
• A noticeable resilience and ability to adapt.


References
International Dyslexia Association (2002). Definition of Dyslexia.
Retrieved October 10 2017 from http://dyslexiaida.org
International Dyslexia Association (2013). The Dyslexia-Stress-Anxiety Connection Implications for Academic Performance and Social Interactions (Fact Sheet with assistance from Jerome J. Schultz)
Retrieved October 10 2017 from http://dyslexiaida.org. Shaywitz, S., (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf