Dyslexia: Signs and Support
How parents and educators can help kids with dyslexia
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability which results in difficulty with reading, spelling, writing and pronouncing words. Children with dyslexia can struggle to succeed academically, which makes it important for parents and educators to recognize the signs of dyslexia to identify it early.
Many resources in the Delaware Valley and beyond can assist students with dyslexia — and their families — to make sure that everyone has the reading support they need.
Some signs of dyslexia include having difficulty connecting sounds to letters, putting sounds together into a word and being unable to pronounce complicated words.
If children are exhibiting some of these characteristics, they should receive a screening test to determine whether they have dyslexia.
Dr. Rahmanda Salamatu Campbell is the founder and CEO of The Reading Clinic, an organization serving the Delaware Valley and greater mid-Atlantic region. The Reading Clinic provides diagnostic testing and educational services for children with reading and language-based learning deficits.
She explains that to accurately diagnose dyslexia, professionals must gather a comprehensive profile of the child, including developmental history, medical history, family history and educational history. Taking all of these factors into account can help the professional determine whether a child has dyslexia or a different learning disability.
Over the past several decades, significant developments have occurred in understanding and treating dyslexia.
According to Christine Seppi, the president of the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (PBIDA) that serves Pennsylvania and Delaware, people used to believe that someone with dyslexia could be “cured” of it completely. However, researchers have since proven that someone who is dyslexic is always dyslexic.
“That doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to read, but it’s going to be a slower, more complicated process,” Seppi says.
According to Campbell, our education system has gained increased knowledge about “how reading develops and how best to teach it through evidence-based programs,” she says.
More people are identifying specific methods that best teach kids reading. “There are people working to show that if we used what is called structured literacy — if we gave all students really good phonics — we could help all kids. We would be able to identify kids with dyslexia more quickly and get them the extra help that they need,” Seppi says.
More dyslexia remediation efforts are necessary
While the public awareness of dyslexia is growing, more dyslexia remediation efforts are necessary.
“It will take time for all schools and educators within our American education system to become fully knowledgeable about the implications and best practices for dyslexia,” Campbell says. “Greater emphasis and funding needs to be allocated toward professional development for pre-service teachers, current teachers and specialists.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all children, particularly those with learning disabilities like dyslexia.
Lack of extra help
Over the past year, teachers and schools have often been overextended trying to manage virtual learning and unable to provide the additional support that students with dyslexia need.
“Kids with dyslexia were less likely to be identified and more likely to be under the radar,” Seppi says. “Students who were struggling to keep up with things were less likely to get extra help and less likely to be tested.”
Typically, parents can request a test from the school district to determine whether their child has a learning disability. Last year, these tests did not happen with the same regularity as during typical school years.
The effect of masks
For students who are going to school in person, wearing masks presents additional challenges for children with dyslexia.
“It makes it harder for the child to hear the sounds, makes it harder for the teacher to hear whether the sound is being given correctly with the student,” Seppi says.
Due to less identification of students with dyslexia and subsequently less necessary support, Campbell says that the academic achievement gap between children who have dyslexia and those who do not has widened.
What parents can do
Parents play a critical role in ensuring that their child who is diagnosed with dyslexia gets the necessary educational support.
Work with the school
When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, parents should immediately schedule a meeting with the school to identify the type of support the school can offer. Students with dyslexia will need “frequent progress monitoring, measurable goals, accommodations and modifications,” according to Campbell.
The school needs to have someone trained in methods to work with dyslexia. If the school resists offering the necessary help, parents can provide a “Dear Colleague Letter.” This letter — as written by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in 2015 and available on the Reading Clinic’s website — clearly states that students with dyslexia are eligible for Individualized Educational Plans.
Parents can also reach out to the PBIDA for support.
While it is crucial that children with dyslexia get support from trained professionals in academic settings, families can do exercises together at home to help. “With young children, you can do what’s called phonological awareness — an awareness of sound and working with kids on manipulating sounds,” Seppi says.
She recommends that parents use the search term “phonemic or phonological awareness” activities to find some simple and helpful exercises to do with their kids.
Support other interests
In addition to helping their children with reading, parents should encourage them to pursue other activities that they enjoy.
“Try to get them involved in something they love, like doing soccer, swimming, art or music,” Seppi says, “something that doesn’t involve reading, brings them joy and (allows them to) do just as well as any other kid.”
This piece first appeared in the November 2021 issue of MetroKids.