Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Saturday, June 18, 2005


I'm wrapping up my second year homeschooling my young son. He is dyslexic and I've taught him to read and write which is an accomplishment I am proud of. I've learned a lot the past two years and I wanted to share what I've learned because I wish I could have read something like this two years ago.

There is no true "test" to determine if someone is dyslexic. I wish there were. It would make it so much easier to educate the masses if we could pick out the dyslexics from the get-go. My advice is that if your child doesn't have any reading skills by the end of kindergarten then keep your eyes on them very closely. Looking back on my son's (public school) kindergarten experience, the only words he learned to read were the ones on the list that the teacher sent home for me to go over with him.

There is a school of thought that children will learn to read when they are ready. As much as I'd like to agree with that, I have to say that it is not true for dyslexics and you don't have time to lose just waiting to see if they are going to pick it up or not. You really have to be pro-active.

There are lists of signs of dyslexia you can read on-line. I won't repeat them all here. Some of them include: trouble with rhyming words, trouble sounding out words, reversing letters and an interesting one that my son had- trouble tying his shoes and also reversing his shoes constantly. A dyslexic child CAN NOT sound out words phonetically. Their brain really struggles to make that connection. Since children in public schools are taught to read using phonics, obviously a dyslexic child isn't going to be helped in that situation.

Once you suspect your child is dyslexic you need to become an advocate for your child. Do not step down until he knows how to read and write. If they are in public school you should get them an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) which will ensure that YOUR CHILD'S educational goals are met. If possible, you should consider homeschooling them. Looking back, I'm really glad I homeschooled my son during this period. For one, I was able to give him the attention he required and tailor the lessons according to his needs. Also, he didn't have to endure the shame of being "slow" compared to his classmates. Individualized attention is the key to overcoming dyslexia. This gives homeschooling a huge advantage. Your child will rarely ever get individualized attention in public school. Even the special reading teachers work with small groups of students at a time. Be warned that you have to have a really thick skin to homeschool a dyslexic child because people are going to naturally assume that you don't know what you're doing and your child's slow progress will only seem like proof to them that that is true. If you're child is in public school and you're spending enormous amounts of time helping them with their school work, I would seriously consider homeschooling them because you practically already are.

I taught my son using some phonics, but as I mentioned, a dysexic child is really going to struggle with that method. What ended up working best was old-fashioned repetition. Just sitting with him and having him read to me EVERY DAY. The hard part here is that, at the beginning stages you can't find enough books with simple words that will keep your child's interst. Obviously the library is one good resource, and the book store is another. You need to get your hands on a ton of books at their level. The best books I found were the "Read with me" series. The child reads one page with simple words and then you read the next page with bigger words - it keeps the story line moving and holds their interest.

Be patient with them and don't let them struggle too long with a word because you don't want them to get frustrated or forget where the story is going. The other thing that is important is supporting any of their own interest in reading. For my son, what really helped was playing Yu-gi-oh cards with his friends. I am not a fan of Yu-gi-oh. I think it's awfully close to demonic. My son knows this. We talk about it. But playing Yu-gi-oh cards with his friends increased his reading skills dramatically. Here's an example of a typical Yu-gi-oh card: "Waboku Trap Card - Any damage inflicted by an opponent's monster is decreased to O during the turn this card is activated."

The constant feedback you give your child is invaluable. People may try to tell you that you are not qualified to handle this problem, but no one loves your child like you do and no one will be willing to spend as much time as you do with him. It is the one-on-one attention that will give him reading skills. There are no special programs or lessons that can do more for your child then just reading with him day in and day out. Also beware that there are TONS of online scams claiming to have cures for dyslexia. I assure you they do not work.

Now the second half of dyslexia: writing. This can include both handwriting and spelling. I had to teach my son how to print totally from scratch, despite a year in the public school. You don't need special books. Just go over the proper form for printing each letter. (Brush up online if you forget)
Don't worry about how long it takes. Don't worry about how behind your child is. As long as he is practicing every day that is all that matters. Be sure to have loads of appropriately lined paper for you child.

As for spelling, I found that spelling tests and spelling rules didn't work very well with him. I find it best to have him write a page every day about a subject of his choosing and if he doesn't know what to write I read him a question from a book like "101 questions for kids". (This is also a good excuse to write lots of thank you notes). The key is to sit with your child and help him to spell out the words he doesn't know. I try to make him sound out as much as he can. With the consonants he often gets it. The vowels he usually doesn't. That's OK. He learns through repetition. Sometimes I make him look up words in a children's dictionary. Slowly he makes progress.

My son still reverses letters a lot. It's gotten better, but I still have to keep an alphabet around for him to check. He also reverses numbers in math a lot. Having a clock for him to look at helps with that.

One in five people are dyslexic. It is not just a disability. It is a gift. Dyslexics are often brilliant people. Once you get past the hurdle of learning to read and write the world is open to you. If your child is having trouble reading, jump in and help him. Good luck.

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  • At 1:08 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    I learned to read off comic books, pretty much. I remember before I was five reading a Superman comic book with Jimmy Olson. Of course (?) my mom would read to me, the same stories over and over (at my request). I took my story book to kindergarten (Russell H. Erwine Elementary School in Euclid Ohio) and read to my small reading group. My teacher thought I probably memorized the words, but I don't think so.

    I do remember a few years later when I was about six or seven noticing something interesting. Whereas I previously had to work hard to read, now, I could not *not* read when I saw words. If I saw a string of letters, I understood what they meant. This epiphany came when I was in my bedroom looking up at a box in the closet with writing on the side. I went around for a little while looking at writing and amazed myself by knowing what they meant. This was not an all-or-nothing jump, but it was dramatic nonetheless.

    Now, this didn't help my academic performance altogether. I still was only a so-so student, because classroom performance depends largely on being able to listen and write at the same time. That's what taking notes is, and that's an ADD-related deficit. Another skill is being able to tell what is central and important, compared to what is peripheral and trivial. This is both a philosophical problem (how is reality categorized?) and a perception problem, possibly part of ADD. In any case, I still have that combinations of gifts/problems.
    Going through school with this sets of abilities/disabilities pushed me to emphasize "understanding the point," which is the core of philosophy to me; emphasize learning from the book on one's own; and trying to remember the flow of the activities/lectures in class without use of notetaking.

    One of the motivations for my professional work in philosophy and education is to pursue the question of why something so promising, so important and so rewarding--learning and education--should be surrounded with things that make life difficult. My answers so far lead me to think that there's plenty of accountability to go around, that there's no magic bullet--though a Mother's love and a Father's strengthening are the backbones of the way through.

    A resource I recommend: Students like myself in my youth are discussed in the book on the subject, "Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Twice-Exceptional Student," ed., Kiesa Kay, Avocus Publishing, 2000, 800-345-6665. The double giftedness refers to handicaps that hinder academic work, normally disqualifying kids from success, coupled with brilliance in an area or two that these kids can use to mask their pain/disability.


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