SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

October 2018

Helping a Child with Dyslexia Read Better

I volunteer with the learning support programme at my child’s school, reading to and with children a couple of times each week. This year, the child I am paired with has dyslexia. Even though the programme caters for children in lower primary, this child, who is already in upper primary, still has to attend. For this child, words don’t come easy. I asked Weng Yiyao, Senior Educational Therapist at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) how I could help him more. This is what she suggested. The strategies work for children with, and without dyslexia.

What are some common signs of dyslexia?

Children who have dyslexia may display one or more of the following characteristics:

a. Reading and spelling below age/grade/level
b. Numerous spelling errors in a piece of work
c. Spelling the same word in several different ways within the same piece of work
d. Poor reading fluency
e. Difficulties with comprehension and writing due to weaknesses in reading and spelling

What are some ways to help children who have dyslexia with reading?

(a) Teach them explicit strategies

Teach your child to break down the word into its individual sound. For example: the word ‘that’ can be broken down into /th/a/t and then joined together. To be able to spell words like ‘best’, the child must be able to hear the number of sounds in the word e.g. b-e-s-t. Teach your child to break it down into four individual sounds and translate the sound into individual letters.

Make use of multi-sensory teaching and learning strategies such as tracing on sand, painting the word, writing with chalk, or mnemonics. Example: Using mnemonics to remember how to spell the word ‘because’ – Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants.

Come up with quirky ways of remembering the spelling of words using mnemonics as well. For example: in the word ‘price’, the letter ‘C’ represents ‘cent’, while for the word ‘prize’, the letter ‘Z’ is the last in the alphabet, and you do not win a prize if you come in last. For ‘off’ versus ‘of’, tell your child that when there is a change, use two ‘f’s — ff.

(b) Read with your child

Make sure your child is tracking the words when he/she is reading, such as using his/her fingers to point at the word as while reading. 
You can always read aloud to your child or alongside them. Always try to encourage your child to read, and when your child faces difficulty reading a certain word, encourage him/her to try before giving the word to your child.

(c) Make use of resources available to you

For example, you can borrow audio books from the National Library. To continue developing a child’s oral language, vocabulary, and understanding of text, they need to be exposed to different genres of books, rather than being limited to books they can read independently. It is important to supplement what they can read with books that they can listen to as well.

(See also: How Dance Helped my Daughter, who has Dyslexia, Gain Confidence in Herself)

What are some difficulties a dyslexic child might face in mainstream school?

Support from parents and teachers is very important to enable the child to progress educationally. The method of coping with school and schoolwork would vary according to the severity of the condition and the presence of other learning difficulties such as ADHD.

In addition, a child with dyslexia would typically have underlying difficulties with reading, spelling, writing, organising, sequencing, and using their working memory for problem solving and other areas. All these affect their learning in different subjects in different ways.

It helps to know the specific strengths of your dyslexic learner and leverage on these strengths to assist them in overcoming their weaknesses. Direct instructions in phonics leads to progress in reading and spelling ability. A child with dyslexia will also benefit from multi-sensory instruction and explicit teaching to retain and reinforce what they learn.

How can I help my child with dyslexia in school?

Children may be overwhelmed with spelling, as they may not spell as well. It helps to gradually increase the number of words as they improve. If possible, negotiate with with your child’s teacher to learn five instead of 10 spelling words. 
Other things that can help include the following:

  • Give them extra time to complete their tasks and set reminders
  • Adopt STOP strategies – Sentence structure, Tenses, Organisation, Punctuation, Spelling (Source: Meltzer, Pollica, & Barzillai, 1995)
  • Adopt the SPIT strategy – Spelling, Punctuation, Initial Capitalisation, Tenses, and Grammar
  • Acknowledge their effort
  • Break down tasks into more manageable steps
  • Constantly revise your child’s work with them to help them retain information. Teach them time management strategies such as using a visual schedule
  • Request for help from Allied Educator (AED) and work with your child’s teacher to give additional support to your child in school, such as reducing the amount of copying from the board

(See also: Schooling with Dyslexia in Singapore)

What other aspects must I to pay attention to when interacting with a child with dyslexia?

Image: Monstera Production on Pexels

As dyslexics face difficulties with organisation and the concept of time, others may perceive them to be disorganised, messy, lazy, or stupid. The child may be a victim of bullying and develop low self-esteem. This can have an impact on their self-image. What can you do?

  • Listen to your child and encourage then to talk about their feelings
  • Help your child set achievable goals
  • Reward their efforts and not just results
  • Build their self-esteem and resilience
  • Work on their strengths

Adults play a key role in creating a safe environment for a dyslexic child to express themselves without being judged. As a parent, try not to make comparisons between siblings (and other children), especially in front of your child. Remember to focus on their strengths.

What is taught in DAS programmes?

The DAS Main Literacy Programme (MLP) is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach that provides a comprehensive literacy intervention curriculum to support students with dyslexia facing literacy challenges. The curriculum includes phonemic awareness and phonics, reading fluency, reading comprehension, language and vocabulary and writing.

Specialised Educational Services (SES), a division of DAS, also offers programmes in Chinese, Mathematics, English Exam Skills, Speech and Drama Arts, and Speech and Language Therapy to support dyslexic students in other subjects as well as age groups such as Preschool and Post-Secondary.

Featured image: Pixabay

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Helping a Child with Dyslexia Read Better