How Do You Teach a Child With Dyslexia to Read?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM
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My 7-year-old was just diagnosed with dyslexia. How will they teach her to read in school, and how can we help her build her skills at home?


Hearing that your child has dyslexia can be upsetting—and confusing. Many parents aren’t sure what the next steps are, or what type of help is available. The good news is that with proper instruction (and support at home), there’s no reason kids with dyslexia can’t learn to read.

Dyslexia affects how kids develop reading skills. But it affects other skills as well, such as spelling. The most effective way to teach kids with dyslexia to read and spell is to use a multisensory structured language education (MSLE) approach. Programs that use this type of instruction are often referred to as Orton–Gillingham based approaches.

Ask if someone at your child’s school is trained in, or has experience using, this type of program. In most schools, that person is a special education teacher or a reading specialist.

Sometimes MSLE instruction is used as part of a school’s regular reading program. It can also be used in a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) or response to intervention (RTI) system. Or it may be used as part of special education.

If your child has an IEP, it should spell out what type of supports and services she’ll get to help her learn to read. That includes specialized instruction and accommodations. It might also include related services like speech-language therapy.

Some parents seek out an independent professional to provide extra instruction. (You’ll have to pay for this yourself.) That person might be an educational therapist or a specialized tutor.

If you decide to look into that, make sure the professional uses a multisensory structured approach. You’ll also want to make sure that person communicates with the school. You don’t want your daughter to be confused by the use of different strategies.

There are also things you can do at home yourself to help your daughter with reading. You could start by building her phonological awareness. This is the foundation of reading and a key part of decoding.

You can use some of the multisensory techniques that reading specialists use, too. That includes things like writing letters in sand or shaving cream. Kids usually find these activities fun, so it won’t feel like “work” to your daughter.

There’s one last thing I’d like to mention. It’s very important that you have strong communication with the school as your daughter learns to read. Frequent check-ins and close monitoring of her growth in reading skills will help both you and the school feel confident that your daughter is learning to read.

About the Author

About the Author

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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