A condition that has been increasingly affecting many, dyslexia is a learning difficulty that makes a huge impact on a child’s ability to acquire literacy skills. Since 2014, the number of children supported by the Dyslexic Association of Singapore (DAS) has been on the rise; about 23,000 primary and secondary school students in Singapore are estimated to have the condition. Due to the importance of literacy in education, these children require help in learning to read, spell, express their thoughts in words and acquire adequate use of grammar.
A dyslexic child also suffers mental abuse and trauma when their condition is not understood by peers, family and teachers. Due to their delay in understanding, they may come across as failing to put in the effort even though they are trying their hardest. The confusion and misunderstandings that may arise when they are faced with learning barriers might affect their self-confidence, and therefore affect their interest in learning.
Here are 9 ways you can help a dyslexic child who is struggling with learning difficulties:
Organising tasks in the classroom
Ensure that the child is aware of the homework that needs to be done – make sure that they take down notes immediately as tasks are given by their teacher in a notebook. Also, ensure that they are aware which textbooks and workbooks are needed for each subject and that they take home the ones they need each day. At the end of the school day, parents can sit down with the child to go through a checklist of tasks and break them down into separate smaller tasks if needed.
Adapting to the classroom and workload
For a dyslexic child, writing down their thoughts and ideas may be a lot harder for them compared to their peers. Thus, it would be good if they could use verbal descriptions more and use audio software or recorders to help them with recording down their thoughts or even answers to teachers. Instead of expressing frustration over them not being able to write down their answers when they are revising or completing homework at home, be prepared to accept their verbal responses even though they may come across slightly disorganised. They will need a lot more time to plan, write and proofread their work, so remember to be patient with them and ask for extensions from their teachers where necessary.
Allocate time limits for homework
After a day at school, dyslexic children are generally more tired than their peers because every task, including paying attention in class, is a longer thought process for them. More effort will be required of them to keep up with the homework that the rest of the class is doing. If the teacher understands and assigns lesser homework, it may benefit them but it may also undermine their self-esteem so it depends on which arrangement each individual child prefers. If they are assigned the same workload, pick out tasks that will be of benefit to them and explain to the teachers that they will need more time to complete the rest of the tasks. Remember to set time limits for them to work on each task as they may take a lot longer to complete something compared to their peers, but dwelling on the same task for too long might also make them feel overworked and unproductive.
Practising neat handwriting
A dyslexic child may tend to have difficulties with writing neatly due to the lack of motor control, however it’s possible to train them to recognise and tidy up their own handwriting. Start by asking the child to critic their own handwriting and show them good examples of handwriting. Once they see that neat handwriting is easier to comprehend, they will want to improve on their own handwriting, which will in turn contribute to their self-confidence and interest in completing work. Make sure that they have a reference chart to remind them of letters in upper and lower case, constant visual reminders will help them to internalise proper writing.
If a child is required to read aloud in class, let the teacher know that they have to be informed of what is required so that he/she can practise in advance. To help them to read, it is best if there are many repeated words and newer words of a high difficulty should be introduced slowly. Reading together with an adult or someone who is more fluent than them will usually generate more interest. Avoid tasking them with reading something new alone because if they have to struggle with decoding the words, they might lose interest and find reading a chore.
Dyslexic children will usually find it hard to keep up with the words that are tested for spelling, so do let the teacher know that they should be given some time when it comes to being tested. It will also help if they are tasked with a fewer number of words to be tested on, and they should practise being tested at home multiple times before adding more words to their list. A good way to help them to learn spelling is by teaching them to proof-read, so that they can train to spot their own spelling mistakes and will retain the proper spellings in their long-term memory.
Verbalising and visualising Math
Math may seem like a totally different language to dyslexic children; they will struggle with perceptual skills, directional confusion, sequences, language/mathematical terms and remembering concepts. It’s important that they learn how to make logical estimations in order to check their answers. Instead of forcing them to do mental calculations, get them to jot down their calculations even for simple questions and/or verbalise the problem and their workings so that they avoid becoming confused. It’s also good to encourage them to use a calculator to check their work and it also helps them to better understand how the answers are derived. When practising at home, use different coloured pens/pencils for each particular symbol (e.g. red for decimal points) so that the child can register and differentiate them more clearly.
If the child’s visual memory is poor, make sure that the teacher is alerted and that they have access to handouts to avoid missing out on anything when copying down notes. It would also help for the child to be seated near the teacher or a classmate who is able to help keep them on track.
When the child is studying at home with a parent or a tuition teacher, it is best that the adult refrains from using red ink to mark mistakes. For spelling mistakes, make sure to pick out those that they are expected to know at their learning level and come back to more complicated words after they have learnt the right spelling for the easier words. The child may already be facing lots of mark ups in school and another paper covered in red markings might demoralise them. Instead, pick out the mistakes and show them what is the right answer on a separate piece of paper – this lets them know what they need to put in more effort for. Crediting them for the good work that they have done where appropriate and words of encouragement are vital in their learning process as well.
If your child is dyslexic or you know someone who has similar learning disabilities, do consider assessments and enrolment at the DAS, the tailored programmes will enable your child to overcome learning difficulties and become better integrated into their classroom environment.