While dyslexia is a lifelong problem, there is a range of specialist educational interventions that can help children with dyslexia with their reading and writing.
The amount and type of intervention necessary will depend on the severity of their condition. In some cases, a specific action plan for your child can be drawn up and implemented by their school.
Most children with dyslexia will only need to miss a few hours of their regular classes each week to receive specialist one-to-one teaching, or teaching in small groups. A small number of children with dyslexia may need to be transferred to a specialist school. Many specialist schools charge a fee, although financial support may be available from your Local Educational Authority (LEA).
Early educational interventions
Research has found that early educational interventions, ideally before a child reaches seven or eight years old, are the most effective way of achieving long-term improvements in their reading and writing.
A wide range of educational interventions and programmes are available, and it can be difficult for parents to find out which would most benefit their child.
However, there is a large body of good quality evidence that interventions focusing on phonological skills (the ability to identify and process sounds) are the most effective way of improving reading and writing. These types of educational interventions are often referred to as phonics. This is a system widely used to teach all children to read and write, not just those with dyslexia.
Phonics - core elements
Phonics focuses on the six core elements described below.
Phonemic awareness teaches children how to recognise and identify sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. For example, it helps a child to recognise that even very short words such as "hat" are actually made up of three phonemes: "h", "a" and "t".
Another important part of phonemic awareness involves understanding that you can manipulate phonemes to change words, such as changing the "h" to a "c" to create the word "cat".
Phonics instruction teaches children how to sound out printed words by recognising the written letters that correspond to spoken phonemes. Letters that correspond to phonemes are known as graphemes.
Phonics also teaches children how to decode multisyllabic words, such as "crocodile" and apply previous learned rules so they have a better understanding of new words.
Spelling and writing instruction
Spelling and writing instruction encourages children to combine letters and graphemes to create words, and then, over time, to use the words to create more complex sentences.
Fluency instruction allows children to practice reading words accurately. The goal is for a child to be able to read with a good level of accuracy and speed.
This is important because if a child spends a lot of time trying to focus on reading individual words, it is easy to lose track of the text as a whole, and they may not properly understand what they are reading.
Vocabulary instruction teaches children to recognise words they are reading, while building and understanding new words.
Comprehension instruction teaches children to monitor their own understanding while they read. They are encouraged to ask questions if they notice gaps in their understanding, while also linking what they are reading to information they have previously learned.
Phonics - important features
There is good evidence to indicate that the most effective methods of teaching phonics to children with dyslexia contain the features described below.
Teaching should be highly structured, with development in small steps, building logically on what has been previously learnt.
Children with dyslexia learn better when they use as many different senses as possible. An example of multisensory teaching is where a child is taught to see the letter "a", say its name and sound, and write it in the air (all at the same time).
Skills should be reinforced through regular practice, because children with dyslexia often have to "overlearn" skills already mastered. This helps to improve their automatic recognition of correct phonemes, letters and rules in reading and writing.
Early interventions in children with dyslexia should focus on development of useful skills that can be transferred to other areas, rather than teaching children to learn and retain big chunks of information that could place unnecessary strain on their memory.
Metacognition means "thinking about the way you think". In practice, metacognition involves encouraging children to recognise that there are different learning methods and approaches available to them, and then thinking about which ones would be best for them to use in different circumstances.
Breaking down emotional barriers
Another important feature of any educational intervention is to recognise that many children with dyslexia can develop emotional barriers that can make learning more difficult, such as anxiety, frustration and low confidence.
Therefore, it is important to break down these barriers through encouragement, empathy and fostering the child’s self-esteem.
How you can help your child
As a parent, you may want to help your children with their reading, but you may be unsure about the best way to do it. You may find the following advice useful:
- Read to your child – this will improve their vocabulary and listening skills, and it will also encourage their interest in books.
- Share reading – both read some of the book and then discuss what is happening, or what might happen.
- "Overlearning" – you may get bored of reading your child's favourite book over and over, but repetition will reinforce their understanding and means they will become familiar with the text.
- Silent reading – children need the chance to read alone to encourage their independence and fluency.
- Make reading fun – reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. Use books about subjects your child is interested in, and ensure that reading takes place in a relaxed and comfortable environment.
Parents also play a significant role in improving their child's confidence, so it's important to encourage and support your child as they learn.
Technology for older children
Many older children with dyslexia feel more comfortable working with a computer than an exercise book. This may be because a computer uses a visual environment that corresponds more closely to their method of thinking.
Word processing programmes can also be useful because they have a spellchecker and an auto-correct facility that can highlight mistakes in your child’s writing.
Most web browsers and word processing software also have "text-to-speech" functions, where the computer reads the text as it appears on the screen.
Speech recognition software can also be used to translate what a person is saying into written text. This software can be useful for children with dyslexia because their language abilities are often better than their writing skills. The software can take a considerable amount of time and effort to use before it can be used with speed, but some children may find the effort worthwhile.
There are also many educational interactive software applications that may provide your child with a more engaging way of learning a subject, rather than simply reading from a textbook.
Much of the advice and techniques used to help children with dyslexia are also relevant for adults. Making use of technology, such as word processors and electronic organisers, can help with your writing and to organise daily activities.
The best way to learn something is to use a multi-sensory approach. For example, you could use a digital recorder to record a lecture, and then listen to it as you read your notes. It is also recommended that you break large tasks and activities down into smaller steps.
If you need to draw up a plan or make notes about a certain topic, you may find it useful to create a 'mind map', rather than writing a list. Mind maps are diagrams that use images and keywords to create a visual representation of a subject or plan.
Adjustments at work
Let your employer know that you have dyslexia, as they are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to assist you.
Examples of reasonable adjustments may include:
- providing you with assistance technology, such as voice-recognition software
- allowing you extra time for tasks you find particularly difficult
- providing you with information in formats you find accessible