My sixth grader has dyslexia and is too self-conscious to talk about it — even to teachers. How can I help my child speak up?
This is a question that will strike a chord with many parents. That’s particularly true if your child is an adolescent.
Tweens and teens are often self-conscious to begin with. When they learn and think differently, they may be even more reluctant to call attention to themselves. They may avoid speaking up in class or self-advocating with teachers.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make it easier. First, you can help kids feel more comfortable about dyslexia. Explain that dyslexia is a variation in the brain that’s unrelated to intelligence.
Another great way to encourage kids to speak up is to meet with their team of teachers — just for that purpose. Try to schedule this meeting as early in the year as possible. You can even do it before the start of school. (If it’s later in the school year, though, it’s fine to meet then.) Explain to the teachers in advance that your goal is to help your child learn to self-advocate.
Meeting with teachers gives you an opportunity to share what you know about your child’s strengths and needs. It also allows you to share strategies that can help your child thrive in the classroom.
Here are some things you can do to help prepare your child for the meeting:
Talk about the plan to meet with the team.
Share your observations about your child’s strengths and challenges.
Ask what your child might want teachers to know.
Help your child script thoughts in order to participate during the meeting.
It’s often helpful to have talking points to guide the meeting. You can work together to provide the team with a written list of what your child struggles with and the things that help.
You can even write out how to explain each challenge and solution. For example:
I get anxious when I’m called on to read in class, and then I make mistakes. Can I get assigned a section to read ahead of time so I can practice?
Helping your child recognize and state the need ahead of time can build self-awareness and an understanding of what is challenging. Then, by brainstorming strategies, you’re helping your child take positive action.
Participating in the meeting is the next step in becoming a self-advocate. It can help your child speak up, articulate needs, and become part of the solution. If your child is hesitant to speak at the meeting, you can help. Here are some things you could say:
Is there anything I left out that you want to add?
Are there things you want to ask your teachers?
Maybe you can explain a little more about why that’s hard for you.
Is there anything you think might be helpful to you?
Are there things teachers sometimes do that aren’t helpful? It’s OK to talk about that.
It’s important not to push kids to speak up if they’re not ready, however. It can make them feel even more embarrassed or anxious. Just being there with written ideas is a good start.
Teachers can also help your child join in the conversation. They might ask for opinions or direct some of their comments directly to your child. It provides positive reinforcement for speaking up.
This will also open lines of communication so that teachers can touch base with and encourage your child to speak to them throughout the year.
Even if your child starts building self-advocacy skills, you’ll still need to advocate, too. But the more practice your child gets now, the better. It’s an especially important skill to have once your child leaves high school.
There are other ways you can help build that skill. Find sentence starters kids can use to self-advocate. You can even download a worksheet to help develop self-awareness.
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About the author
About the author
Patricia Flanagan, LCSW has extensive experience working in early intervention programs as well as mental health and public school settings.