Dyslexia can hinder a child’s progress, especially during the earlier years of their development. There is a higher likelihood that they will lag behind their peers academically and their self-confidence may take a hit. This can cause them to misjudge their true potential and think negatively of themselves.
The good news is that there are ways to help children cope with dyslexia’s challenges. I have worked closely with over 80 dyslexic students and can confidently say that when put in the right environment, dyslexics can excel and even surpass their neurotypical peers.
Without further ado, here are nine powerful strategies you can use to support a dyslexic child at home:
Strategy #1: “Read, read, and read some more!”
Many of my current and ex-students have improved in their reading fluency by reading a lot. Indeed, there is no strategy more effective in overcoming dyslexia’s hurdles than just reading more.
One example that sticks with me is an ex-student whose dyslexia was so severe that he could not read words like ‘thrash’ when he was in Primary 4. However, as he grew older, he developed a voracious appetite for books. He started to read fantasy stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which I highly recommend!). Together with what he learned in class, he improved tremendously in his reading ability. By the time he was in Secondary 1, he could attack long words like “unimaginatively” and “inexplicable”.
Of course, one problem is that many dyslexic children don’t like reading. If this applies to your child, don’t force it down their throat. Instead, slowly introduce them to different book types, including comics. We also strongly recommend gamebooks like the Choose Your Own Adventure series.
Finally, it helps if you are an avid reader too. Young children tend to model after adults, so if your child sees you reading consistently, he or she is more likely to follow suit.
Strategy #2: Do paired reading with them
As mentioned above, many dyslexics are reluctant readers. To get my students to read more, one strategy I use is paired reading.
Paired reading is a reading strategy commonly used in classrooms to build reading skills. One person (typically an adult such as the teacher or parent) first reads a segment out loud, then the other (the child) reads the next segment. The adult may also ask questions to ensure that the child comprehends the text.
I can vouch for paired reading as one of the most effective strategies to help children read confidently. I do it with younger students all the time and they really enjoy it. It makes stories come to life, they get a chance to read and show off their fluency, and it is a good bonding activity. Students especially love reading characters’ speeches, putting on fake accents to sound more dramatic. It’s just super fun for everyone.
Strategy #3: Introduce games that have teachable moments or educational elements
Most kids love games, and games can also shape how kids develop mentally, cognitively, behaviourally, and emotionally. A good strategy to help your child cope with dyslexia is to introduce games that have teachable moments or educational elements. These can be video games, tabletop games, or even physical games (Twister Sight Words, anyone?).
There are many wonderful video games for dyslexic students that help them build literacy skills and find joy in the learning process. Minecraft is the most obvious example, a game that many of my students enjoy playing. I’ve also managed to get them hooked on older games like Heroes of Might and Magic 3, a fantasy strategy game that requires plenty of reading comprehension. For more ideas, check out our article on recommended video games.
On the subject of tabletop games, most of them require players to tap on literacy and executive functioning skills. Players will need to read, comprehend, recall, and even exploit the rules while playing. I strongly recommend word-based games like Codenames and Pictionary, but don’t just limit yourself to this genre. There are hundreds of tabletop games that are great for dyslexic students. Visit our friends at Games@PI or drop by our centre if you’d like to pick up some.
Encourage your child to play games that can teach them skills and values. If they learn through fun, it helps them stay motivated to learn on their own in future.
Strategy #4: Be positive and encouraging towards your child
Dyslexic learners need plenty of positivity and encouragement from friends and family members. Let them know that the people around them are not giving up on them—this is an important factor in keeping them motivated to learn.
An ex-student of mine used to always shun reading difficult words when she was in Primary 4 and 5. She could not read most words with more than two syllables; often, she would refuse to continue reading upon hitting a stumbling block. It took me years of encouragement, positivity and motivational speeches to finally break that barrier. Today, at Secondary 2, she can read tongue-twisting words like “unintendedly”, and even reads fiction books on her own outside of school.
Strategy #5: Celebrate every little victory
Dyslexic students can do well in life if parents cheer them on when new milestones are met, no matter how small the milestone is.
This is because progress appears in different forms. It could be in their spelling accuracy, reading fluency, or even initiative to complete their homework. Children want the approval of their parents, and a step in the right direction is always worth cheering them on for.
Hence, acknowledge your child’s successes, no matter how small they are. Get your child to see it as a personal victory too. In the long run, these little steps will add up and show in their academic performance and behaviour.
Strategy #6: Create a supportive, dyslexia-friendly environment
Besides being a positive voice for your child, you can continue to support them by creating a dyslexia-friendly environment at home. Consider doing the following:
- Print out materials on coloured paper, with bigger fonts.
- Avoid using serif fonts. Instead, use dyslexia-friendly fonts like Dyslexie or Century Gothic.
- Break up complex assignments into manageable chunks.
- Avoid reprimanding your child because of poor grades.
- Praise your child if you see them putting in effort, regardless of the result.
- Get books that match your child’s literacy level. Comics are fine too.
These guidelines also work for tutors. If you’re unsure how to tutor a dyslexic student effectively, consider adopting some of these suggestions, especially the first three.
Strategy #7: Use mnemonics and short stories to help your child memorise difficult words
Mnemonic devices are great for helping students retrieve information. One such device is the use of acronyms. For example, a younger student may frequently misspell “the” as “teh”, but breaking it down into “two heavy elephants” may help him or her to spell the word with greater accuracy.
Similarly, short stories can help students spell complex words with more ease. My favourite sight word to teach is “immediately”, where I tell students to memorise the following story:
One day, at IMM, a man called Edi was hungry, so he immediately ate “-ly”.
Simple but effective. My students never misspelled “immediately” again after they were told this story.
Here’s another one:
There was an ex-cop by the name of Cru. He joined the CIA to catch this criminal, Ting, who was in excruciating pain.
There are many, many ways through which one can use mnemonics and storytelling to help students memorise information. Go wild and creative so long as it works. The sky’s the limit.
Strategy #8: Work on your child’s strengths
Many dyslexics have strengths that neurotypical people don’t. For instance, they tend to be better at spatial reasoning and thinking out of the box.
Find out what your child’s strengths are and help them work on these areas. If they are very much into sports like soccer, consider signing them up with a kids’ soccer club. If they are artistically inclined, help them set up a portfolio page on Instagram.
NEVER let their academic weaknesses stop them from doing what they are good at. In this modern day and age, the developmental pathways of a child can go beyond the traditional “study hard ➜ get a degree ➜ find a job” route. There are many more possibilities for them to explore.
Strategy #9: Find the right people to work on your child’s weaknesses
Ok, this is not so much a strategy as it is a reminder: find the right people to help your child. There are many dyslexia intervention service providers in Singapore that can help your child according to his or her needs. A trained educational therapist will be able to teach your child techniques such as sound blending and fingerspelling.
Don’t hesitate. Find a trained specialist ASAP.
Concluding Words: Having a child with dyslexia, in Singapore? Do not worry!
Dyslexia may hinder your child’s progression during the early stages of their development. Furthermore, there is no way to permanently “get rid” of dyslexia or outgrow it. However, with the right motivation, the right spirit, the right resources and the right people to help, he/she can still do very well in life.
For example, one of my ex-learners is now a student leader at Singapore Polytechnic; another went on to do Aerospace Engineering after his GCE ‘O’ Levels.
Swords & Stationery has an established network of dyslexia experts at the ready to help your child; we are fully equipped to help dyslexic students do the best that they can academically and socially. Reach out to us for a free consultation; we’d be more than happy to show you the best techniques to help your child cope with dyslexia, at home and in school.