By Peg Rosen
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.
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?”
Dyslexia is an important aspect of your child’s identity. It’s a part of him, just like his sense of humor and the color of his hair. Encouraging him to hide his dyslexia from other kids tells him it’s something he 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.”
People often lower their expectations for students with learning and attention issues. But kids with dyslexia (and other issues) 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.
Every child with dyslexia should have the opportunity to learn how to read with his 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.”
See a video excerpt of Ben demonstrating how he reads with his ears.
Would you tell a person in a wheelchair that using a ramp is cheating? No! A key point in this comparison is that both stairs 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.”
Kids with dyspraxia face all kinds of challenges that relate to coordination and movement (among other things). Victoria Biggs wrote Caged in Chaos: A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free when she was a teen. We asked her for tips for what parents should avoid saying—and what they can say to help.
It’s not always easy to respond to your child’s behavior with empathy. But when you show her you understand and respect her needs, you’re helping her stay motivated and gain self-esteem. Plus, you’re building her trust in you. Here are tips for responding with empathy.
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.
Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.
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