By Lexi Walters Wright
Before he ever hears the word dyslexia, your child may be aware that he reads and writes differently than other kids. But he doesn’t know why, or how it may affect his future. Here’s how to explain.
Why: It’s best to bring up your child’s reading and writing challenges during a peaceful moment in a neutral place. He’ll be more receptive during a quiet weekend walk together than while he’s working on a book report that’s due tomorrow.
What to say: “Your report card came today. Let’s get ice cream to celebrate how well you’re doing in art and math, and how hard you work in all your other classes. I know language arts is still a tough subject. Let’s talk a little about that on the drive over.”
Why: Your child deserves to know that dyslexia may present challenges. But make sure he also understands that he’s just as smart as his classmates who don’t have it. And he’s not alone.
What to say: “I know you really struggle with reading sometimes. It seems that the words just don’t make sense. This difficulty is called dyslexia—a big word to explain why some kids and adults find it hard to learn to read, write and spell. You’re definitely just as smart as other kids. Your brain just works a little differently. But a lot of kids also have trouble reading! And dyslexia doesn’t keep you from being great at other things—like being a science star and an awesome goalie.”
Why: Specific words can help make this “thing” causing your child’s reading and writing issues feel more defined and manageable.
What to say: “You may hear the word dyslexia at school or at the doctor’s office. Now that we know dyslexia is causing your reading challenges, we can use that word, too. Soon we’ll start working with your teachers to create what’s called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP for short. It will list your goals for reading and writing this year, how to reach them and how your teachers are going to help.”
Why: Children with dyslexia may worry that their teachers think they’re not trying. They need to know that the school understands their challenges—and has ways to help.
What to say: “I know some of your classes can feel really hard because there’s so much reading. But schools are finding better ways to teach smart students like you all the time. Your teachers are committed to helping you succeed and they’re specially trained, so they know how to do it. We’re going to have some meetings with them. You’ll be invited, too. This way you can see how we’ll all work together, and you’ll have a say in the plan.”
Why: Your child probably wonders whether you realize how dyslexia affects his everyday life, too. Show him you understand and support him.
What to say: “I know that your dyslexia affects all kinds of everyday activities, like reading the menu at the diner or learning the rules of a new board game. But I’m so proud that you’re interested in learning even though dyslexia makes that trickier. I’ll always make sure you get the help you need—at school, here at home and out in the community.”
Why: Because kids with dyslexia may receive extra attention from adults, they sometimes worry about how their brothers or sisters view them. Let your child know that you’ll make sure his siblings don’t feel slighted.
What to say: “Your sister sees how hard you’re trying to learn to read. She knows I need to spend a little more time with you on homework. If the tables were turned, I’d do the same for her. I’ll make sure she understands that.”
Why: Your child’s classmates may be familiar with his learning issues, but friends from outside school probably aren’t. Let your child know you’ll help him figure out how to discuss his dyslexia—if and when he wants to.
What to say: “It’s up to you whether you want to talk about your dyslexia with people. If you don’t feel comfortable getting into a deeper discussion with someone, you can always say, ‘It’s not that I can’t learn to read. I just need to learn in a very different way.’”
Why: Your child needs a safe place to raise his concerns about growing up with dyslexia. Ask about his interest in college, work and other options after high school. Let him know he’ll be able to lead a full adult life.
What to say: “It’s totally normal to wonder how dyslexia may affect what you do when you’re an adult. I believe you’ll have lots of opportunities to pursue your passions. Your trouble with reading and writing won’t disappear, but with determination and hard work, I’m confident you can achieve your dreams.”
If your child struggles with reading issues or dyslexia, you may be unfamiliar with the lingo you’re hearing. Here are some key terms to help you take an active role in conversations about your child’s reading issues.
Kids with dyslexia can have extra difficulty learning sight words. Some of these words don’t follow standard spelling rules, so they’re not decodable. Others appear so often that kids have to recognize them quickly to be fluent readers. These tips can make learning sight words easier.
Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.
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