If you have a struggling reader, you may have asked yourself this worrisome question – “Does My Child Have Dyslexia?” Dyslexia is an inherited neurological condition that makes it difficult to read, write and spell, despite having average intelligence overall.
It takes a licensed educational psychologist or a neurologist to formally diagnose dyslexia. However, and fortunately, parents and teachers can certainly be on the lookout for valuable warning signs of dyslexia in children. If your child demonstrates three or more of the following behaviors, consider more thoroughly researching dyslexia and what can be done to treat it.
The following information regarding dyslexia warning signs is excerpted from Bright Solutions, a fantastic dyslexia resource for families and teachers.
Signs of Dyslexia in Preschoolers
mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words
chronic ear infections
constant confusion of left versus right
late establishing a dominant hand
difficulty learning to tie shoes
trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet
can’t create words that rhyme
a close relative with dyslexia
Dyslexia Warning Signs in Elementary School
dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read)
letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
extreme difficulty learning cursive
slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
guesses based on shape or context
guesses based on shape or context
skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
can’t sound out unknown words
very poor spelling
often can’t remember sight words (they, were, does) or homonyms (their, they’re and there)
difficulty telling time with a clock with hands
trouble with math
difficulty memorizing multiplication tables
trouble memorizing a sequence of steps
confusion about directionality
when speaking, has difficulty finding the correct word
extremely messy bedroom, backpack and desk
dreads going to school
Dyslexia Warning Signs in High School
Consider all of the above symptoms plus:
extremely poor written expression
large discrepancy between verbal skills and written compositions
unable to master a foreign language
difficulty reading printed music
poor grades in many classes
may drop out of high school
Signs of Dyslexia in Adults
Education history similar to above, plus:
may have to read a page two or three times to understand it
very poor speller
difficulty putting thoughts onto paper
dreads writing memos or letters
still has difficulty with right versus left
often gets lost, even in a familiar city
sometimes confuses b and d, especially when tired or sick
If your child shows three or more of the warning signs above, consider digging in and doing some research. Fortunately, plenty of information about dyslexia and how to treat it is readily available.
To learn more about dyslexia in general, visit these links:
If your child has a dyslexia diagnosis, or even if you just strongly suspect dyslexia, there is plenty of information available to help you decide on next steps. Decades of scientific research have given us clear, concrete information about how to teach a dyslexic child to read.
Kids with dyslexia must be taught to read with the right method, at the right level of frequency and intensity. There are methods and approaches that research has proven to be effective, and fortunately they are easy to find. Research tells us that dyslexic readers need the right instruction for at least two hours per week in order to make strong gains.
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How to Effectively Teach a Child With Dyslexia to Read
In addition to being provided at least twice per week, reading instruction for children with dyslexia must be:
Individualized – An effective reading method can be adjusted to meet individual needs. This means that even after you choose a program, the instructor will need to modify as your child progresses. Learners may master some concepts quickly and need more review on other concepts. Dyslexic readers need a program that can be readily adjusted, and an instructor who is skilled at individualizing instruction.
Multi-sensory – Reading instruction for kids with dyslexia must include as many of the senses as possible: seeing, hearing, feeling (touching), and movement (kinesthetic). The most powerful learning happens when more than one sense is used at the same time.
Direct and Explicit – Everything must be presented directly, deliberately, and clearly. Children with dyslexia should never expected to infer or deduce in order to learn how to read. Each piece of information or idea must be taught, practiced and discussed.
Systematic – Systems or procedures for learning must be taught and used consistently to learn new material. Kids become so familiar with these procedures that they become automatic, leaving more brainpower available for learning the information being presented. Within each lesson the procedures are followed in the same format, creating a framework that allows the deepest learning to take place.
Sequential and Cumulative – The organization of material to be taught must be logical and sequential. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and progress to more difficult concepts. Learning should be cumulative, meaning that each step is based on concepts that have been previously mastered.
Synthetic and Analytic – Synthetic (part to whole) means taking the individual parts of reading (phonics) and showing how they are put together (reading words). Analytic (whole to part) means looking at words and breaking them into individual sounds. Good readers must be able to think in both ways.
Taken together, these elements are referred to as Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach. These are not specific programs or curriculum. Think of Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach as names for the collection of components that must be included in any instruction for a child with dyslexia.
How to Find the Help Your Dyslexic Child Needs
Now that you know the type of instruction that your child with dyslexia needs, how do you find it?
Thankfully, many public school systems have begun to implement English Language Arts programs based on the Orton Gillingham approach. Talk to your child’s teacher or principal to make sure that the elements of Structured Literacy are being used to teach your child. In many districts, this is already the case. You may be able to arrange for your child to participate in “intervention” Structured Literacy lessons that are more targeted and intense.
For a child with dyslexia, whole group or even small group instruction in Structured Literacy might not be enough. Even if your dyslexic child has a well-trained, highly skilled teacher who is using a program based on the Orton Gillingham approach, your child may need additional support.
If intervention support hasn’t helped significantly, you may want to talk to the teacher or principal about evaluating your child for special education services. In the best of circumstances, this could result in your child receiving exactly the Structured Literacy instruction they need. It can also be tricky, because public school educators are constrained by federal criteria for special education eligibility that often doesn’t “catch” dyslexia. And if your child is eligible, you may disagree with the school about what services are appropriate.
Kids with dyslexia can benefit enormously from the right one-on-one instruction, either from a parent or a private tutor.
Parent-Friendly Reading Programs for Children With Dyslexia
There are several Orton Gillingham-influenced programs available that have been designed specifically for parents or private tutors to teach children with dyslexia how to read. Although I settled on using the Barton Reading & Spelling System in my private tutoring practice, there are other options available.
In researching each of the products below, I truly felt that the authors or publishers of the programs are deeply committed to helping struggling readers. There are differences in each product, but I believe that no matter which one you choose, you’ll be providing your child with a research-based program that works. These are widely known as the best “at-home” reading programs for struggling readers.
Let’s talk about the Barton Reading & Spelling System first. It was designed for parents and tutors to be able to use, almost “right out of the box.” Each level comes with training videos, and the manuals are carefully scripted. The company offers unlimited support to anyone who purchases the Barton Reading & Spelling System. The founder, Susan Barton, has created tons of valuable instructional videos available on the Barton website, her Brighter Solutions website, or YouTube. As a private tutor who wants to help as many children as possible, the deal was sealed when I learned that the Barton Reading & Spelling System has an online version, so I can tutor remotely over the internet.
All About Learning Press is a company that publishes two Structured Literacy products. All About Reading and All About Spelling are both based on the Orton Gillingham approach. These programs are scripted for parents and tutors to use, and the company describes them as “open and go.” All About Learning Press offers plenty of support through its website and blog, along with an offer to contact them by email or phone if you have any questions.
Logic of English is a comprehensive, completely scripted program that aims to make the Orton Gillingham approach available to anyone. The Essentials materials cover reading, spelling, writing and grammar. There is also a separate program that teaches handwriting in a multi-sensory way. The materials are easy to use and include optional activities categorized by learning style to allow parents or tutors to provide individualized instruction.
Reading Horizons offers instruction through online software, instructor-guided written materials, or a blended program using both. Plenty of training is provided through the website and blog.
The Pride Reading Program is also meant to get parents and tutors up and running quickly with their student. The manuals are scripted, and training videos provide clear instruction on each part of the lesson structure.
If you have a child with dyslexia, or a struggling reader who needs to catch up, you may choose one of these programs to teach your child yourself, or you may want to hire a tutor. Either way, you’ll know that you are providing the right instruction for your child with dyslexia.
5.Make reading time fun, and make sure your child can see how much you enjoy it. Your little ones are looking for you to model what is important in your family. In this case, it is books and reading! If you take delight in books, so will your child.
6. For kids of all ages, let them see you enjoy reading on your own. Keep books and e-readers around the house where your children can see them, and see you reading them. Let your kids hear you talking with other adults about what you have read.
Discover and Follow Your Child’s Passions
7. Make regular trips to the library and/or the bookstore so that your child can explore different types of books.
8. When your child shows an interest in something, provide books on that topic. I really can’t emphasize this enough. With toddlers and preschoolers, you are embedding books and reading into all parts of your child’s life. With older kids, you are showing them that reading is a way to enrich any part of their life. This tradition can continue for years – I still bring home relevant books for my young adult children, and my parents still pick up books for me on topics they know I am interested in!
9. With older kids who may not be spending enough time reading on their own, find engaging books that match their passions, and are slightly below their independent reading level. Read a few pages out loud each day, and leave the book in a visible, accessible place, without comment. It may take a while, but eventually you are likely to see your child pick up the book on their own. Another variation of this strategy is to read the first book in a highly regarded series, and leave the second book in a handy place.
Use these tips to super-charge your children’s interest in reading and books, and watch their motivation soar!
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What is a Great Book?
A great book pulls kids in, and then holds their attention. It has clear, engaging illustrations, or uses language that makes it easy to visualize the story. A good book might be comforting and familiar, or new and exciting. It might be an award winner that comes up in your Amazon recommendations or on Pinterest, or a simple board book you pick up in the checkout line at the grocery store. The bottom line is, a great book is any book that your family enjoys.
How to Choose Great Books
Take look at current favorites. Do your kids love silly rhyming books with whimsical illustrations? Or do they gravitate towards non-fiction books with realistic photography? Is there a chapter book series they enjoy? Consider current interests. Has your child recently become obsessed with buses or garbage trucks? Or do your kids settle right down when you reach for a book that depicts warm cozy family or school situations? Ask your kids for input – what would they like to learn more about? What is their teacher reading out loud right now? What books do they see their friends reading? Involving your children in this process will skyrocket their buy-in and excitement for reading.
Books for Infants and Toddlers
Books with big, bold, colorful pictures of familiar or everyday objects or activities.
Sturdy books made of heavy cardboard, washable cloth, or plastic.
Small books that are easy for little hands to hold and turn the pages.
Stories told in short, simple sentences with pictures that explain the text.
Poems and rhymes that make the book fun to read aloud and fun to listen to.
Books for Preschoolers (Ages 3-5)
Books that highlight basic concepts, such as colors, shapes, letters and numbers.
Rhyme and repetition.
Photographs and illustrations that are clear, colorful and engaging.
Simple, fun plots with action that moves quickly.
Stories about everyday life and familiar events in a child’s day-to-day life.
Main characters (human or animal) who are your child’s age or just a little bit older.
Books for Elementary School Kids (Ages 6-11)
Books that reflect your child’s interests and passions.
Other books with your child’s favorite characters, or by favorite authors and illustrators.
Illustrations and photos that directly support the text and give clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words.
Project, craft, and recipe books with clearly worded instructions and supportive illustrations.
Picture books your child enjoyed hearing when they were younger. Most picture books are written at a third or fourth grade level, and are terrific to revisit when your child becomes a more independent reader.
Chapter books that your child can read independently, or higher level chapter books for you to read aloud.
Fact books, such as world record books, trivia books, and almanacs.
Books for Adolescents (Ages 12 and Up)
New genres – biographies, mysteries, spy thrillers, classics, historical fiction, and mythology.
Books about places in the world that interest your child, or that they are studying in school.
Novels that depict characters dealing with the daily challenges of growing up.
Graphic novels that re-tell classic stories.
Involve Your Child
Perhaps most importantly, involve your kids in choosing new books. Encourage them to join you as you look for new titles, and model your thought process as you consider new books to add to your family library. Learning how to choose great books is a reading skill that your child will use forever.
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As a reading specialist, special education teacher and tutor, I often have parents ask me for ideas about how to get kids to read more. If you have a child who is learning to read, or one who already knows how to read but just does not like it, here are a few strategies to get kids interested in reading.
The Old-Fashioned Read Aloud
If you have a school-age child who doesn’t like to spend time reading, the first step is to share the wonder of reading without any of the pressure. In other words, show your reluctant reader how wonderful books are without expecting them to do the actual reading. If you haven’t already started a daily read-aloud habit in your family, now is the time to do so. If you had a bedtime reading routine in the past but have slacked off recently, it’s time to re-establish the tradition.
Choose GREAT Books
Even if you have been reading aloud, if you want to convince your child that reading is worthwhile, you’re going to have to up your game. You can’t grab just any picture book or chapter book that you happen to have around the house. Consider your child’s age, interests, and attention span, and start browsing through lists of recommended books. Refresh your home library with a few books that you think will truly appeal to your child. Even for an older child, take a look at a few picture books. Many of them have complex, intriguing storylines and beautiful illustrations that can pique your child’s interest. And remember, you are doing the reading. Your child gets to snuggle up next to you and just enjoy the experience.
Isn’t the Idea to Get My CHILD Reading?
“That’s great,” you say. “I’m fine with livening up our read aloud time, but I want to know how to get kids interested in reading by themselves.” Once you’ve picked a few new books that are likely to be well-received, and established some cozy read aloud rituals in your family’s routine, you can move on to helping your child enjoy reading more independently
The #1 Reason Your Child May Avoid Reading
Why do some kids seem to dislike reading? If you have a child who knows how to read but chooses not to, it is likely because of a lack of fluency in decoding, or “sounding out” the words. Kids who avoid independent reading often do so because it takes such hard work that it just isn’t any fun at all. The solution is simple and straightforward: “easy reading makes reading easy.” Let your child read lots and lots and lots of books that are easy for them to decode, and then do whatever it takes to encourage repeated reading. Choose books that are one level below your child’s reading ability and stay with high-interest topics. Also, find some old favorites from when your child was younger.
Resort to Bribery if Necessary
Some children are so relieved to have the “sounding out” pressure reduced, that they are entirely willing to read these easier books, because now it is fun, right? That’s great! Let them read these easy books again and again and again. You are aiming for what New Zealand reading specialist Marie Clay calls “massive amounts of familiar re-reading.” Some kids are less willing – they may be discouraged or think that it is pointless to read a book more than once. For these kids, consider providing an incentive. I’ve had great success offering a sticker for each time a book is read. For tough cases, offer a small amount of screen time in exchange for each book that is read.
These strategies, implemented in a low-key, positive manner, can go a long way towards turning your child into a more avid reader.
My favorite source for finding easy books for any child is Reading A-Z.
Note – Make sure that your child’s phonemic awareness and age-appropriate knowledge of phonics are in place. If either of these two elements is missing, make a plan for addressing the issue, either by working with the school, or providing some extra help at home.
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