Emma, a 42-year old mother living in the Bay Area of California suspected that her 2nd-grade son might be dyslexic. While most of his peers were fluently reading in 1st grade, she noticed that her son constantly had trouble with reading, writing, and overall processing stories and solving problems. Come to think of it, she suspected this as early as preschool when he struggled with recognizing rhymes and had difficulty remembering or naming letters, numbers, and colors.
She knew something didn’t feel right but was overwhelmed about what to do next. Parenting was challenging enough on its own, and the prospect of her son suffering from dyslexia or another learning disorder felt devastating.
The Prevalence of Dyslexia
Emma’s story is quite common, as dyslexia affects an estimated 15-20% of the entire US population. Nearly 70% to 80% of reading-based learning disorders are thought to be caused by dyslexia.
People with dyslexia are not less intelligent. Dyslexia affects the language centers of the brain, resulting in difficulties with processing language, reading, and writing. Dyslexia can also cause problems with grammar, reading comprehension, and verbal expression. Additionally, about a third of children diagnosed with dyslexia also struggle with some form of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Go With Your Gut
You know your child best. If you suspect your child may be dyslexic, here are some helpful tips and actionable next steps you can take to find out the root of the problem and get him/her the appropriate help:
1. Educate yourself.
If you’ve suspected your child may be dyslexic for some time, you’ve probably started doing research around warning signs, treatment, etc. If not, start by learning as much as you can about dyslexia and other potential learning disabilities. Education is power, and once you are informed, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the next steps, how best you can support your child, and what resources are available.
You will likely have a lot of questions about what dyslexia will mean for your child and his/her future. Conduct thorough online research, talk to experts and seek the advice of other parents who have dyslexic children. The more knowledgeable you are, the easier it will be to ease your child’s fears and guide them throughout this process.
2. Early intervention.
If you suspect dyslexia, it’s never too early to act! This disorder will not correct itself, and the kindergartner who can’t quite learn her letters becomes the first grader who has trouble matching sounds to letters. Come fifth grade, this same student has consistently managed to get by with subpar reading, writing, and language skills.
This cycle will continue on unless someone intervenes. Early intervention can and will change the trajectory of your child’s life and relationship with learning, and open doors to services and help that can make a huge difference later on.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Professor in Learning Development at Yale University and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity states, “The human brain is resilient, but there is no question that early intervention and treatment bring about more positive change at a faster pace than an intervention provided to an older child. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the quicker your child can get help, and the more likely you are to prevent secondary blows to her self-esteem.”
Some signs of dyslexia are evident in preschool-age children, however; screening for dyslexia can be conducted as early and reliably by kindergarten or first grade. Experts recommend waiting until children are around six years old when they have received formal reading instruction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, children with dyslexia who get extra help in kindergarten or first grade often improve their reading skills enough to succeed in grade school and high school, while those who wait until later grades may lag behind academically and never be able to catch up.
Bottom line, trust your intuition and act now.
3. Work closely with your child’s school.
If you suspect that your child may have dyslexia, there’s a chance his/her teacher suspects so as well. If the teacher has yet to communicate any concerns to you, set up a meeting right away and talk about having your child evaluated by the school.
In the United States, schools have a legal obligation to create an action plan to help children diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning problems.
Depending on the situation, some parents opt to have their children evaluated privately, but typically once the child is tested, either by the school or privately, your child’s support team will develop a plan called an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a structured, written plan that outlines your child’s needs and how the school will help him or her succeed. Included in the IEP may be accommodations such as getting extra time on tests, or the chance to take tests outside the classroom in a quieter space.
Learn how that process works, and what your role is, and stay in close communication with your child’s teachers to ensure their needs are being met.
4. Be your child’s biggest advocate.
There’s a chance you may need to push to get the services your child needs. You are your child’s best advocate, fully aware of their strengths and challenges, so don’t stop pushing for accommodations and resources that will help your child succeed.
This includes being informed, asking questions, keeping organized, tapping into all resources available, and knowing your child’s rights.
Here is a video about advocating for your child with a learning disability:
5. Keep learning fun.
With a lot of practice, routine, and creativity, learning can still be enjoyable.
Dr. Cruger, director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute, says that an important part of supporting kids with dyslexia is finding ways to decrease their discomfort about reading and to make learning to read enjoyable, not humiliating. That means minimizing the amount of criticism and making time about encouragement and fun.
Here are a few tips to keep your child engaged with reading:
- Listen to audiobooks and have your child read along with them
- Have your child read both quietly and out loud to you
- Read out loud to your child
- Re-read his/her favorite books
- Talk about the stories you read together and ask questions like, “What do you think happens next?”
- In addition to traditional school books, branch out into graphic novels and comic books, too
- Makeup songs, poems, and even dances to help remember things.
- Play word games
- If your child is younger, use nursery rhymes and play silly rhyming games
- Designate “Family Reading Time” each day where each member of the family reads something enjoyable — this sets a good example, supports your child and shows that reading is important to you too
You can also talk to your child’s learning team about other ways you can create and embrace fun learning strategies at home.
6. Be patient and supportive.
Most children with dyslexia will likely endure trials and tribulations at school that may affect their self-esteem. If your child is struggling, he/she will look to you for strength, comfort, love, and the confirmation that no matter what, they can rely on unconditional support from their parents.
Your child will feed off of your energy, so it’s highly advantageous to model feelings of positivity and encouragement in spite of their dyslexia.
Celebrate the small victories, focus on our child’s strengths, and constantly remind them that dyslexia is not their fault, is nothing to be ashamed of, and that you will work through any challenges together.
As the constant support system in your child’s life, remember that you set the tone, and it’s your responsibility to embrace a positive attitude.
7. Focus on the bright side.
Here is a video of Damon John, entrepreneur, and star of the reality show, Shark Tank talking about the positives of dyslexia:
John’s story is not uncommon. Did you know that one in three American entrepreneurs have dyslexia? Included on this list are renowned entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and Charles Schwab!
While it’s natural to focus on the challenges, it’s important to think about some positive attributes that frequently accompany a dyslexia diagnosis:
- Creativity: Dyslexics can be extremely creative individuals who excel in music and the arts. Some of the world’s most talented and creative actors, like Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom are dyslexic
- Thinking outside of the box and seeing the bigger picture: Those with dyslexia are well known for having sudden leaps of insight that solve problems with an unorthodox approach
- Improved pattern recognition
- Thinking in pictures rather than words
- Sharper peripheral vision: Although it can be hard to focus in on individual words, dyslexia seems to make it easier to see outer edges
8. Seek support from other parents and caregivers.
While each child and family is unique, there is extreme value in knowing that other people are going through a similar situation. Seek out local or online support groups.
Perhaps the greatest advice and support you’ll ever receive is from people who have been in your situation before. Reach out to other parents and caregivers of kids with dyslexia to talk about your concerns, challenges, and achievements. They will certainly be able to understand and sympathize in a way that other friends and family may not.
9. Find other ways for your child to shine.
If your child is struggling at school, experts say it’s particularly important to provide opportunities for he/her to excel in other areas. Whether it’s sports, music, art, or any other hobby or activity that makes your child feel good, encourage and foster it!
The importance is to provide a platform where your child can develop confidence, celebrate victories, and not feel like it’s a struggle to keep up.
Put simply, allow your child’s strengths, not their struggles, to define them.
The video below showcases one family’s dyslexia success story:
Kudos to you for having the awareness that your child is struggling and may, in fact, suffer from dyslexia. It is with your commitment, support, and love that you can take the next steps to determine how your child’s needs can be met.
We at The American Brain Society salute and support you! Click here to learn more about what we’re doing to search for a cure for dyslexia and other neurological diseases and disorders.