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Cheat Sheet

Overcoming Dyslexia For Dummies

If you think your child may have dyslexia, look for the warning signs so you can have a physician make a proper diagnosis. You can minimize the effects of dyslexia by using a variety of teaching techniques that involve memorization, rhyming, phonics, and multisensory training to help your child learn to read and write.

Spotting Dyslexia Warning Signs

A dyslexic person, although bright in many areas, struggles long-term with written (and sometimes spoken) words. A psychologist can identify that your child is dyslexic by a variety symptoms but you should lookout for warning signs that include the following:

  • Lack of interest in letters and words at a young age.

  • Inability to identify rhyming words (like hat, pat, and fat) and word patterns (like Bill, bear, bun, bed, and ball, all beginning with “buh”) at an early age.

  • Difficulty remembering names of familiar objects, numbers, colors, and shapes at an early age.

  • Inability to remember sequences of numbers (like 911 in an emergency) or letters (like the alphabet) or fast facts (like multiplication tables).

  • Extreme difficulty with reading. A dyslexic child may leave out little words (like of), misread small everyday words (like they) even though he reads some harder words, read similar-looking words instead of actual words (like was for saw and horse for house), read words that are similar in meaning instead of actual words (reading little for small or lovely for pretty), and read words that make no sense but have one or two letters that are in the actual word (like tall instead of lot because both words have l and t in them). A dyslexic child might, for example, read “There were a lot of roses growing all around Jane’s house” as “There was a tall flowers growing around Jane’s horse.”

  • Extreme difficulty with spelling. A dyslexic child may transpose letters (aleiv instead of alive), leave out letters (aliv), add letters (alieve), and reverse letters (typically b and d). He may also write words phonetically (exactly as he hears them), producing spellings like becuz, wur, and thay.

Engaging Dyslexics in Memorizing, Visualizing, and Rhyming

Because dyslexia makes it hard to remember how words are put together, rhyming and visualization strategies — like turning letters into lively, more concrete characters — are great tools for jogging the memory and helping dyslexics remember word formation. To help your child master many words and fix them better in the mind, try these strategies:

  • Help your child with short-vowel sounds by having him draw images into the vowels while saying their short sounds. For example, he can create an apple out of a; draw an egg inside the top part of e; convert a pen with a blob of ink on top into i; change o into an octopus; and draw an arrowhead on each of the two top ends of u so it represents up.

  • Help your child read and spell words like late, hole, and cute by showing him the Bossy e rule: When e is on the end of a short word, it bosses the earlier vowel into saying its name (but stays silent itself).

  • Help your child read and spell long-vowel words like meet, neat, nail, and boat by teaching him this rule: “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking (and says its name).”

Practicing Phonics for Dyslexia

Phonics is not only the backbone of learning to read (and the thing that identifies dyslexics the most) it’s a key teaching method in dyslexia programs. Phonics shows children that letters and groups of letters represent speech sounds. A dyslexic child needs to firmly grasp phonics to discover order in words that otherwise seem like jumbled letters. Try this sequence of four simple strategies to help systematically guide your child through phonics:

  • Emphasize single-letter sounds (rather than names) to your child. Play games like “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘buh’ or ‘cuh’.” Ask your child to tell you words to continue a word pattern like Bill, bear, bun, bed, and ball (all beginning with “buh”).

  • Read rhymes and rhyming stories to your child, and sing rhyming songs so you prime her for identifying word families like pan, fan, man, can, and tan.

  • When you introduce written words to your child, start with a simple two-letter word like at and show her how she can add letters to at to build a whole at word family (bat, mat, cat, sat, fat). Make this activity more fun, and easy to repeat, by having your child use a book-sized whiteboard and marker pens. Even better, have two sets of boards and markers so you can do the same activity and you don’t interfere with your child’s board!

  • Any time your child learns a word from which she could build a word family, build that family with her. Start her off with three-letter word families like big, pig, fig, and wig; build up to middle-level families like chop, stop, flop, and shop; and help her really think about tricky word families like would, should, and could, and fight, might, fright, tight, sight, and flight.

Using Multisensory Learning for Dyslexia

Dyslexics respond well to multisensory methods of learning which use a hands-on approach engaging a few senses together at the same time. Help your child combat dyslexia with multisensory learning at home by playing a lot of hands-on and physical games, fit drawing and model-making into homework, and saying out loud the words she reads and writes. Also, when your child begins to learn letters and words have them:

  • draw their shapes in different mediums, like sugar and pudding

  • trace over them on unusual textures, like sandpaper

  • construct 3D models of letters out of modeling clay

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