While there is currently no cure for dyslexia, there is a range of specialist interventions and treatments 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.
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 minority 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).
Educational intervention – early years
Research has found that early educational interventions, ideally before a child reaches seven or eight years old, are effective in achieving long-term improvements in their reading and writing.
A wide range of educational interventions and programmes are currently available. A recent report found there are 60 types of interventions and programmes currently being used in England.
With so many different programmes available, it can be confusing for parents to know which would most benefit their child.
There is a large body of good quality evidence that interventions that focus on improving 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. Phonics is a system widely used to teach all children to read and write, not just those with dyslexia.
Phonics – core elements
Phonics focuses on six core elements:
- phonemic awareness
- phonics instruction
- spelling and writing instruction
- fluency instruction
- vocabulary instruction
- comprehension instruction
These are explained in more detail below.
Phonemic awareness teaches children how to recognise and identify phonemes (sounds) 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 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 in order to create words and then, over time, to use the words to create more complex sentences.
Fluency instruction provides children with practice in 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 also good quality evidence to indicate the most effective methods of teaching phonics to children with dyslexia contain these important features:
Teaching needs to be highly structured, with development in small steps, building logically on what has been learnt before.
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. Trying to teach children to learn and retain big chunks of information could place unnecessary pressure on their memory.
Metacognition is a word that essentially means "thinking about the way you think". In practice, metacognition involves encouraging children to recognise 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:
- low confidence
Therefore, it is important to break down these barriers through encouragement, empathy and fostering the child’s self-esteem.
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 which 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 help to highlight mistakes in your child’s writing.
Most web browsers and word processing software also have "text-to-speech" functions, or available "plug-ins", 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 type of 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 which 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 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.
Let your employer know that you have dyslexia because they are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to assist you.
Examples of reasonable adjustments 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