Helping the child with dyslexia learn to read

I was recently discussing homeschooling with a couple of my oldest children, when one commented that he doesn’t see our younger boys doing as much academic work as he remembers doing at that age.

I would have to agree that I’m more relaxed and less structured at this point then I was in the earlier years.  I have more trust in the developmental process as well as each child’s inherent desire to learn, and don’t feel I have to make learning happen.

But let me not get into a philosophical discourse!  While my older kids had to do 30 – 60 minutes of reading daily, the younger children don’t.  The reason for that is that those who are good readers do more than that without it being requested, and those that aren’t good readers can’t do that much without a lot of stress and anxiety.

For one child in particular, reading hasn’t come easily.  I’ve been pretty patient about waiting for readiness but at the same time, felt that more was needed than patience. While I didn’t have an official assessment done, I was pretty convinced that dyslexia was the issue.

Children with dyslexia tend to be very talented in a number of areas.  When I read the profile of a child with dyslexia, I was taken aback at how obviously it was describing one particular son.  A child who is good at so many things – the athlete, the engineer, the artist.  Ds is physically dexterous/athletic, bright, creative, great at math, building, spatial skills – good at just about everything.  Except reading.

Children with dyslexia have brains that work a bit differently.  Doing more and more reading drills (sometimes referred to as ‘drill and kill’) doesn’t help because it’s only looking at the symptoms.  He doesn’t need more of the same.  If it was working, it would work without endless repetitions.  What he needs is a different approach.

Strengthening the brain connections between the right and left brain is critical because the child with dyslexia tends to do most of his processing on the right side of the brain, but reading is a left brain activity.

Here are some things I’ve been doing to build a strong foundation for reading success:

  1. I bought several sets of activity books from Dyslexia Games and the boys do two pages each day.  I really liked the idea behind these and it made a lot of sense to me.  Basically, it turns reading into a right brain activity.
  2. Sequential processing activities – each of the younger boys does these for ten minutes daily.  This builds their auditory processing skills and increases their digit spans, which means that it increases the amount of information they can hold on to.  (To read English, you need to be processing at a digit span of 5 – 6.  It’s extremely difficult and time consuming to try to teach reading to a child who isn’t processing in this range. ) Right now I’m focused mostly on auditory processing but also do visual processing activities with them.
  3. Brain Gym exercises – I would love to say that I start every day with a five minute routine but that would be a lie.  :)  But I do try to include these regularly.  Whoever is in the house does them together.
  4. Swimming – I can’t help it, even when my kids do activities like these I’m thinking about the importance of the cross patterning motions and how it benefits the brain! The boys are all taking swimming lessons and I just bought an above ground pool to give them regular swimming practice – swimming is a very therapeutic activity that builds right/left brain connections.
  5. Audio books – my boys listen to a lot of read alouds and audio recordings of books, usually daily.  This strengthens their auditory processing and also is a pathway for them to input information through other channels than reading.  (Their comprehension as a result of this is excellent and they can understand more complex plots and storylines.  We’re currently reading Robinson Crusoe, which I thought was way too verbose and long winded for them to enjoy.  I was wrong.  They were hooked after one chapter and begged me to continue!)
  6. Crawling – crawling on hands and knees is another wonderful cross patterning activity.  I try to encourage the boys to do this by integrating it into a game but sometimes I’ll ask them to go around the garden perimeter a few times.  If two of them do it at a time they race and it’s more fun.  I bought the younger three boys sports knee pads to make this more comfortable and enjoyable for them.
  7. I recently purchased a five volume set of Hebrew readers from Torah4Children based on the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach.  I haven’t yet used them so I can’t give feedback other than to say that they look good.
  8. I also recently purchased a couple of English readers based on the Orton-Gillingham method.  Blast Off To Reading is for beginning readers, and A Workbook For Dylexics is for teens and up.  We decided to put English reading aside for the time being since we want to put more focus on Hebrew reading.  Living in Israel, Hebrew is more critical for the boys to read well at this point; we’ll come back to English once the Hebrew reading is solid.
  9. Flashcards – my husband has his own ideas that he makes up and then implements that are very effective with our kids.  He did lots of flashing aleph bais letters until the recognition was automatic.  Then he followed these with single words on an index card.  His thought was that it gives more of a tangible feeling of success to have a pile of cards that you read correctly in your hand, and then can review the ones that were missed.
  10. Notes on the fridge – again, this is my husband’s idea!  He writes simple notes and leaves them on the fridge to encourage reading success.

So you might come to my home and see my kids starting their day with a swim, then do some art pages and run off to listen to read alouds and conclude that I don’t have any structure for my kids and I’m not actively facilitating their learning.  But hopefully now you can see a little bit behind why I do what I do.

I want to stress that I feel it’s really important for a child who is challenged in some way to have the opportunity to feel successful and develop a positive identity – not to see himself as the ‘kid who can’t read’.  Reading is just one skill and being a good reader doesn’t make you successful in life.  In the end, it’s the person who feels competent and good about himself who is best able to tackle the challenges that will come his way.

Right now we’re feeling very encouraged by the progress we’ve seen since we began implementing the above activities.  It’s quite exciting to see a child who has always struggled suddenly be able to read words around them (in English and Hebrew) that were a mystery before.  I’m not going to predict how long it will take to become a fluent reader and it’s okay if it takes time.  We’re on a good path and learning is happening!


16 thoughts on “Helping the child with dyslexia learn to read

  1. I enjoy reading your posts and approach to parenting! I was wondering how you incorporate limudei kodesh studies?
    An invaluable tool that I use for my son is melamedacademy. An online jewish school with limudei kodesh and secular studies elementary thru college and certification programs. Very affordable! Very enjoyable! Promoted by torah umeseorah.
    I think that most children are bright, however, a classroom setting doesn’t take into account the different types of learners. Moreover, teachers are unable to accommodate the variety and size of the students. Online education is wonderful, it gives the student the opportunity to repeat the lesson as many times as necessary to understand the topic.
    I’ve seen this with my own son who is an intelligent 11 yr old and good grades. He sometimes needs to review math lessons a few times until it clicks.
    I’ve meant to share this amazing resource with you for awhile. I wasn’t sure if you were aware of it.
    Thanks for a great blog!

    1. Yes, I’m aware of Melamed – the person who started it was in touch with me in the early stages of developing it to get my feedback on how it would be most helpful for homeschoolers.

      I also believe that every child has an area of giftedness but you’re right that the school system isn’t set up to recognize and respond to those needs. It’s wonderful that you’re finding a good resource for your son and thank you for sharing with me!

  2. Thank you! This is valuable information! Where can I learn more about the specific problems of dyslexia and more details about what goes into strengthening cross-brain connections? I’m a violin teacher and want to find ways to help as many of my students as possible.

    1. I learned this information in my reading about neurodevelopmental therapies, but I can’t point to one particular book since it’s been here and there. Several months ago I got a book titled The Neurodevelopmental Approach that goes into this but I’ve seen info online in a number of different places, as well as listened to several seminars.

      I wish I had a place to direct you because it’s really valuable information! The best suggestion I can think of would be to google neurodevelopmental therapy, you’ll get hits for sites of those who do this work who explain it.

  3. Avivah, B”SD

    Hm, I see a bit of crossover between dyslexia & ADHD, didn’t expect that.
    Pls send me a private email, I want to send you a text to try out on your son.
    I specialize in accelerated-reading & I’ve been, B”H, extremely successful w/breakthroughs w/dyslexic children.


    1. I’m not sure what aspect you’re referring to as crossing over, since my son doesn’t have symptoms of ADHD. I’ll email you privately!

  4. I am someone with learning differences and I have family members who fit the mold as well. First off thanks for posting, the most important thing you can do is believe in your children which you clearly do.

    A couple of comments though. Dyslexia and physical skills are not really connected. Often those of us who live in the “dyslexia” space can barely walk down the street without tripping.

    I would also not try to teach phonics to your child (unless they really wanted to learn). By third grade reading level, you can’t really tell the difference between a sight reader and a de-coder. I can decode now (because I know what the word is and I will work backwards). If you give me a string of letters though I can’t write them down to save my life and I can’t follow instructions in a gym class (belly dancing was really bad).

    Anat Banal talks about learning disabilities and the inability to differentiate, her chapters on that resonate with me. I can’t do the exercise of recognizing letters written on my skin and when I tried it on my more typical child I managed to write them backwards without knowing it.

    But mostly learning to read for me was a creative exercise in learning how to read words and then tricks for making sure that I guessed the right one. In middle school I saw a sign that said “Protestants cross here”, it was Europe I thought it was odd but once I “read” a word it is hard for me to know I should have read “pedestrians”. I tested functionally illiterate in 9th grade because I read by looking at the first couple of letters and guessing the rest based on context and length. Generally this has always worked for me, except for the names in a 19th century Russian Lit class I took in college.

    Which gets to the best part, people like me are system thinkers and there are so many interesting system problems out there to be solved. Once I left grad school life got so much better. If you have not yet read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell, do. Because I was always looking for a creative way to get around my “issues” I learned creative problem solving 15-20 years before my peers. Having learning differences can be a great gift if it does not break you.

    1. Thanks for all your feedback, N!

      By the way, I realize that everyone with dyslexia is different and realize everyone isn’t physically well coordinated. But a high percentage are uncommonly good athletes.

      About the systems thinking, yes, this is so true! And I agree that this can potentially be something that can be used to push a person ahead if used well. As you said, that’s if a child isn’t broken by it. Which is why I believe one of the most important things we’ve done is give our kids a chance to develop a healthy sense of themselves rather than feel like academic failures because certain skills aren’t yet in place.

      Have you read the book The Dyslexic Advantage?

  5. Aviva I think thinks was a great post and I don’t see how their homeschooling does not look structured! It’s clearly structured in an unstructured type of way by design, with daily goals and activities that they accomplish in a natural type of way. My opinion I guess!

    1. I love your entire second sentence, Liat – “structured in an unstructure type of way by design…”. That’s beautifully expressed and I feel you really understood my intent.
      Thank you!

  6. Avivah, this is so interesting to me. I have a daughter with learning disabilities who was unfortunately burned by the system. Her confidence in her ability to learn is very low. These activities sound like a wonderfully gentle way to help her in her growth and development, without implying that she is a failure for not knowing how to read already. When I am wondering is, from where do you get the sequential processing exercises? Thank you so much for such an insightful and informative blog.

  7. Any ideas on what to do with a bright child who possibly has dyslexia that affects only Hebrew but not English reading? (In English, he compensates by sight reading and compensates so well that he is reading and comprehending on high school level.) I was also told by a professional that he cannot have dyslexia or they cannot catch it because his English doesn’t seem to be affected.
    He is 11, does not want flashcards, does not want “baby” things which probably would include that set of Hebrew readers that you posted.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Hi! It’s true they are able to compensate so much better in English because the context is understandable. Couple of ideas if this helps:
      -Boost comprehension by focusing on Hebrew conversation (maybe Rosetta Stone or an online ulpan program)
      -He can build Hebrew sight words also, instead of flash cards, maybe xerox pages in Chumash or navi (choose ones with the good stories) and have him use highlighters to find roots, for example aleph, men, raish (to speak) and if he highlights a few pages the root will become a sight word that he will start to recognize automatically
      -Hebrew word sorts – give him cards all mixed up that he has to sort into columns. For example one “sort game” the cards that have yud, shin bais conjugated different ways and daled bais raish conjugated in different ways and he has to group together the words that have the same root or shoresh, this can be as simple or advanced as you like,
      – Hebrew books on tape with incentive/reward if he follows along in book

      Will try to add more anotger time, have to run, hope some of these ideas help, for some kids it could be too tedious, working with content that is of strong interest is always good

      1. Thank you for joining the conversation and adding your wonderful suggestions, Miriam!

        (Ilana, Miriam is a reading specialist.)

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