Even the best-intended comments can make a child with dyslexia feel discouraged or inadequate. We talked to dyslexia advocate Ben Foss, author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. He shared tips about what words can hurt — and what to say instead.
1. “If you try harder, you’ll read better.”
Imagine asking a student who uses a wheelchair to get himself up a flight of stairs without any help. He makes his way to the top, but naturally he takes longer to do it than his classmates. Would you think he wasn’t trying hard? Of course not. Kids with dyslexia already work harder than their peers just to get to baseline when it comes to reading. If your child is struggling, you might say, “I know it’s tough to always have to work so hard at reading. What can we do to make it less frustrating for you right now?”
2. “Other kids don’t need to know about your dyslexia.”
Dyslexia is an important aspect of your child’s identity — just like sense of humor and hair color. Encouraging kids to hide their dyslexia from other kids tells them it’s something they should be ashamed of. Instead try, “Your friends can see how creative and good you are at so many things. Telling them about your dyslexia might help give them a fuller picture of who you are.”
3. “Maybe we should think about alternatives to college where reading isn’t so important.”
People often lower their expectations for students with learning and thinking differences. But kids with dyslexia (and other challenges) can go on to achieve great things if they’re given the proper supports and play to their strengths. Try instead: “I believe you can achieve anything. If you want to go to college, let’s find a place that provides the support and opportunities that will help you reach your goals.”
Explore more tips for talking to your child about college.
4. “If you don’t learn to read, you’ll never be successful.”
Every child with dyslexia should have the opportunity to learn how to read with the eyes. But if it’s not clicking, it might be time to look at other methods. The message you can share: “There are many different ways to read. Some people read with their eyes. Many blind people use Braille and read with their fingers. You might like reading with your ears — by listening to audiobooks, for example. We’re going to find a way for you to read that suits your strengths.”
5. “Using a spellchecker is cheating.”
Would you tell a person in a wheelchair that using a ramp to get into a building is cheating? No! A key point in this comparison is that both buildings and writing assignments are often poorly designed for certain people. Assistive technology can help people to maximize their potential. Consider saying, “Lots of people use technology to become better learners. Some people use glasses. Some use hearing aids. Some use computers. We’re going to teach you how to use various tools to help you become more independent.”
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.