October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. So, what does it mean to have dyslexia, and what can schools and families do to support students with dyslexia?
Firstly the Australian Dyslexia Association explains that the word dyslexia comes from the Greek language and means difficulty with words. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with aspects of reading, spelling and writing. Further they tell us that dyslexia sits on a continuum, meaning that no two dyslexics are alike and that there are levels of severity. It is not a disease but rather a neurobiological condition, and it is not that the brain doesn’t work properly, but that it is wired differently. More importantly, we know that having dyslexia is not a measure of intelligence. People with the condition are neither more or less intelligent that the general population. I believe the challenge for parents and teachers supporting dyslexic children, is twofold. Firstly, they need support to achieve academically, as learning is more difficult. Secondly, they need support to manage the self-esteem issues that come with any significant difficulty learning.
In my own classroom, I often talked about the fact that we are all different, we all have struggles and challenges. One of the brightest boys I have ever taught was debilitatingly shy, and one of the most severe dyslexics I’ve taught, lit up any room she entered. Parents and teachers need to skill children to use their strengths and encourage them to build on their challenges. In the case of dyslexics this means in a classroom, evidenced based teaching of the 5 components of reading, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
At home, work on the following:
Comprehension– the ability to understand.
We are literate when we understand through the written and spoken word the world around us. Develop comprehension skills through conversation about broad experiences and activities and through conversations with people.
Vocabulary– word knowledge.
We are literate when our knowledge of words and their meanings grow in each and every conversation we have. Look for opportunities to find, talk about and use new words. Use technology to expose children to areas of interest and encourage conversation about new knowledge and expertise.
Fluency– the flow and timing of language that contributes to meaning.
We are literate when we pace language to help ourselves and others make meaning from text. Model fluency by reading to your children often and exposing them to audio books. Allow them time to practice ‘smooth’ reading with known books to develop the skill of reading fluently. If a child knows a text, the emphasis can be fluency rather than decoding individual words.
Phonemic Awareness – What we hear in words not what we see.
Play games with rhymes and words that sound the same, practise dropping the beginning and end sounds off words to make new words, clap syllables in words. When they are little teach them nursery rhymes, and songs that rhyme. My favourite and a great example is Willaby Wallaby Woo.
Phonics – Connecting letters to their corresponding sound.
Look for beginning, end and middle sounds in familiar words, like names of family members, foods and animals. Play I Spy. Point out sound/sight letter connections in text, especially in the everyday world, the big ‘M’ of McDonald’s, ‘mmmm’ and the ‘S’ on the stop sign, ‘sssss’.
We have access to infinite knowledge through technology. Allow your children to knowledge build through youtube, reading and writing apps, online games and audio books. A little advertisement, download for free the Overdrive App. Then, if you haven’t already, join your local library and enjoy audio books. Speak to your school librarian, as you may also be able to get access to audio books held in the school library. Fantastic! Let’s make technology work for our children.
Learning to read, spell and write while difficult, is not impossible for children with dyslexia. Strong partnerships between home and school have positive impacts on children’s learning and are especially important when learning is difficult. Teachers and parents have a responsibility to work together to encourage children to build the skills and knowledge to become better readers, writers and spellers. We have a responsibility to equip them to use technology so nothing slows them learning about the amazing world in which they live.
Jackie French Australian author, historian, ecologist, 2014–15 Australian Children’ Laureate; and 2015 Senior Australian of the Year, outlines The Rights of the Child Reader:
- Every child has the right to learn to read, with the methods they need to do so
- Every child has the right to access the books they need; for pleasure, learning, empathy and to grow their brains
- Every child has the right to read books in their mother language, about their own culture
- Every child has the right to say, ‘This book is boring. May I have another?’
- Every child has the right to be given books that are free of racism and hatred
- Every child has the right to access the extraordinary heritage of the written knowledge of humanity
These rights belong to every child and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to ensure they are upheld.
Speld NSW https://speldnsw.org.au/
Speld SA https://www.speld-sa.org.au/
Australian Dyslexia Association (ADA) https://dyslexiaassociation.org.au/
International Dyslexia Association https://dyslexiaida.org/