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How do you teach someone who is dyslexic to read independently?

By Vanessa Whittaker

The following answer was supplied by home educating mum Vanessa gleaned from her experience helping her daughter become a successful reader and writer...

An important piece of information required is how old is your son? If he is young the info will be different than if he is older.

We have been home educating our children for 8+ years, our daughter is dyslexic, she is now 17+ and was 8 when we started to home educate. She has been amazingly successful in learning to read, the professionals involved with her have said her progress has been 'miraculous'. Our daughter also has vision and hearing issues so some of what we did may not meet your son's needs.

There are about 60 different forms of dyslexia so it is useful to know which best describes your son.

The advice we had at the time of assessment included;

1. Go back to teaching the alphabet using a quality phonics program.
We used Letterland and then once she knew the alphabet we moved on to the Fitzroy Reading Program , using the readers and the associated activity books which included spelling, grammar, word families and comprehension activities. We probably spent half the year when we first began, ensuring she knew the alphabet before moving onto words.

2. Use activities which use ALL of the senses.
 For example, we used a paper which had a very rough surface and it was possible to use coloured chalk on it as it created a drag affect through the fingers to imprint the letter shape on the brain at the same time using the rhyme for the letter, as per Letterland : "Annie apple, Eddie elephant, lamp lady" etc. Using a black board does the same thing. We used play dough or biscuit or scone dough (when using the dough they could eat their spelling words for morning tea AND they LOVED that idea!) to make the shape of the letters. Llater on we did the same thing for spelling words. We also used magnetic letters for spelling word lists as well as letter stamps and ink pads. We made 'sand paper' alphabet cards by drawing the letter shape on the card with a quality glue and then dipping the card into a tray of breadcrumbs and then have our daughter running her finger over the letter shape as she would write it, asking her to say "a for Annie apple" etc.
We did the same thing later on for word lists. We wrote large size letters on pieces of card and tossed them out over the floor and got her to jump (and later hop) from letter to letter in order, saying the letter aloud. Later we did the same thing using word flashcards and she would jump from word to word, spelling them aloud and if she was correct she could pick it up and put it aside as one she knew how to spell so she could concentrate on the others. The feeling of success came with the reducing number of cards over the week.

3. Do everything on a large scale.
We used A3 paper not A4. I also bought a set of large sized textas in a range of colours and did everything in different colours. 
4. Use whatever means you can to show how words link/join together.
We used word webs for building on word families. After she knew the alphabet, we spent a lot of time doing this using a range of techniques including those already stated but adding new ideas, such as:

•  word sums = feet = f+e+e+t = feet, feel =f+e+e+l=feel, etc
•  word snakes (hard to do on the computer) where they would draw a snake body, put the first letter in the head and the last in the tail with the centre letters separated by lines which represented the scales
•  word trains where the first letter was in the engine, the last letter in the guard car and the centre letters put into carriages which they had drawn the outline of all of these
•  letter blocks where the word was written and then they connected them with a box around each letter. This demonstrated that the letter went tall in the line in the case of a 'h' or in the middle if it were an 'a' or under the line if the letter were an 'y'.

5. If a child with dyslexia asks how to spell a word tell them. Do not use the processes as used in school such as the 'have a go' method. A child with dyslexia is most often already experiencing frustration if they are asking for help. To be told to go use a dictionary or just have a go before you will help adds to the frustration and to the child's feelings of inadequacy. This was one of THE MOST important things we were told. Because the child knows they have a problem because you can be sure others have taken great delight in telling them and piece by piece eroding their self confidence.

6. While we were focusing on the alphabet we read aloud to our children and at the end I would ask questions about the story. I would scribe their answers on a large sheet of paper and they would, at first, write over the top of my writing; later they wrote underneath my writing, which mean they took ownership of their answers. Eventually they began to write independently. This way we could read fiction and non-fiction and add in books and texts from different subject areas.

7. Some people recommend the use of the computer. But my daughter hated it and is still not comfortable. This is because to use the computer you need to be able to recognise the shape of individual letters and then see when you have used the wrong letter... for a person who is dyslexic that is not simple.

8. Recognise the difference between a dyslexic mistake and a real spelling mistake. After all these years this is easy for me. A dyslexic mistake occurs where the person has all the correct letters in the word but in the wrong order, or when they have used the letter with the same sound as another, such as ie e for a y or the reverse, a f for t, an u for an a (remember these are all being used in the short sound not the long sound).

9. For the first 18 months of homeschooling we focused on the alphabet, reading, writing and math. It was enough. I knew we were building the foundation for all future learning and NOTHING was more important than doing that for our child(ren). Yes it was hugely time consuming with the time commitment required every day, but really in the scheme of my/our life and my/our child's life and future, it was the most important and correct choice I/we could have made.

10. It may be necessary to repeat and repeat and repeat!
We were told for a letter or word to imprint on her brain/memory she may need to see/do/hear many more times than a child without dyslexia. If a child without dyslexia may need to write/spell a word 10 times she may need 100 times. It was true! This explained for us why she always chose to read the same book many many times and even now she reads a book many times. So obviously this is also true.

11. It is important for parents, teachers and others  work very hard to control their own frustration. Imagine, if you are feeling it how much more is your child! I will never forget my daughter sobbing and literally moaning (and I don't mean in a tantrum - I mean in grief and sadness) at me when she was about nine-ish, "Why cant I do it? Why can't I read? I am trying! Iam really trying but I can't remember. I don't know, but I am trying!".

I want you to leave you and your child with hope. They can and will learn to read. Our daughter reads novels completely age appropriate... She is waiting for the new Temora Pierce novel to be released and has just borrowed a legal studies book from the library as well as a Auslan Book. She is a voracious reader - which is such a delight to see and validates everyones hard work, not least her own.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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