The first step to supporting students with dyslexia is to get a diagnosis early and intervene often. Parents frequently say, “I wish I had known earlier.” If you pick up on clues, your first step is to talk to your child’s teachers. Ask them if your child is meeting milestones, is reluctant to read, or having difficulty with phonological processing.
If teachers see your child struggling, seek an expert to perform a neuropsychological evaluation. That will give you a confirmation of what’s going on and let you know what your student’s strengths and challenges are. Ideally, a diagnosis of dyslexia is made right when the child starts reading, in first or second grade.
Click here to read more about the Forman Diagnostic Center.
Fortunately, because teachers are being educated about dyslexia and reading specialists are in schools, some diagnosis is happening in first and second grade — which is fantastic. Students are getting help. At Forman School, the amount of tutoring and support students receive before they enter ninth grade is pretty significant.
The wish of educators who teach middle and high school students with learning differences is that they get the support they need as early as possible. By the time they’re in fifth and sixth grade, we hope they’ve had a ton of interventions.
Always tell your child’s teachers — and tell all of them.
When we look back on students who have found success, they all say teachers they met with every day knew their diagnosis and would engage in conversation about it. When your child is younger, you first must inform all the individuals, faculty, and staff who work with your child regularly that your child has this diagnosis and what it means. As your child gets older, you can equip them to self-advocate. At every age, informing teachers and staff helps ensure they coordinate their efforts to support your child’s needs.
Read with your child.
I tell students every day, “You’ve got to read!”
Dyslexia cannot be outgrown. You don’t get rid of it. It’s just the way the brain is wired.
Students can, however, strengthen those pathways. Doing a program such as Orton-Gillingham or Lindamood Bell is one way. But one of the best ways is to read.
Simply reading aloud every day for 20 or 30 minutes can make a huge difference. The student has to read to somebody — somebody, ideally, who does not have dyslexia — so that person can help correct and explain mistakes. Even if students read silently, it’s okay, but it’s much better if they read out loud.
Get comfortable with saying “dyslexia.”
At Forman, if a student has dyslexia, they say, “I have dyslexia.” They have no problem saying it. All the parents say it. The students recognize it.
In mainstream schools, students are more likely to struggle emotionally due to being pulled out of classes. Peers notice. That sparks questions about what’s wrong with that student, and students feel it. There is a huge correlation between struggles in school and emotional well-being. We want all students to grow in confidence as a result of our interventions, not the opposite.
We build that confidence at Forman by explaining the science — showing students with dyslexia the FMRI of brains of individuals with dyslexia and without dyslexia, sharing the streambed analogy. The idea is to make sure that students are highly aware of their challenges and how they will present themselves. Our goal is to get students to the point where they can self-advocate and tell a teacher, and later a college professor, “I have dyslexia. This is what it means. This is how it affects me, and these are the accommodations that have proven beneficial in the long run.”
Know that a learning difference is not a disability.
At Forman, we believe it is important not to view a language-based learning difference as a “disability.”
Students who face the challenges of dyslexia develop amazing strengths. One of the strengths people talk about with dyslexia all the time, and the evidence points to this, is the idea of independence. People with dyslexia have had to do things on their own. They’ve had to get by on their own because they have this challenge. So they push themselves.
The list of individuals with dyslexia who have emerged as icons and world leaders goes on and on — Dr. Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Agatha Christie, just to name a few.
The future looks bright.
As students hit ages 12 and 13, they become more introspective and analytical. That’s when they begin to question, “Where is this going? What am I going to do in the future?”
If you look at the number of entrepreneurs with dyslexia in the world — people who have started their own businesses — around 35 to 40 percent have dyslexia.
I believe students with dyslexia have a tremendous sense of ingenuity and creativity. They have this ability to work through a challenge and not quit. I do think that then lends itself to starting a business or coming up with an idea and seeing it to fruition. Because students have struggled in the past, they haven’t given up, pushed themselves, and seen what it means to persist; they follow through.
People with dyslexia have and can have a profound impact. The key is to understand it, to accept it, and, most importantly, to read.
Written by: Devin Burkhart, Director of Cognition & Learning Department
To learn more about Forman’s Cognition and Learning Department, click here.