Words don't come easy

For dyslexic children, reading and sounding words is a huge challenge, but with perseverance and help, they can overcome this difficulty.
By Juliet Newberry

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Can you imagine picking up a book and encountering text that is so difficult to read that not many words make sense? You look around and notice all the other children are giggling as they read, answering the teacher’s questions and seemingly enjoying the story that just makes no sense to you?

This is the plight of 5–10% of children in school today. Some sources say that 17% of the world’s population have or may be identified with dyslexia.

As an educator with family members who have been diagnosed with reading disabilities, I am all too familiar with the struggles that many learners encounter with reading text. I have also heard, way too many times, comments such as “I can’t do this”, “I am stupid” or “my brain is broken” among many other negative comments of defeat and pain from young learners. My educational career goal is to turn those “I can’t do” statements into “I can do” and “I love to”. Over the past several years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to bring the best that learning science has to offer to many individuals struggling with their reading in the Johannesburg area.

What is dyslexia?

The Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity defines dyslexia as “an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much a better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they are often very fast and creative thinkers, with strong reasoning abilities”.

Children with dyslexia often struggle with:

  1. The sounds of letters
  2. Decoding words
  3. Knowing the phonetic code, such as the long versus short vowel rule or when “c” should make a hard “k” sound as in “cat” versus a soft sound “s” as in “city”
  4. Auditory analysis spelling
  5. Reading the words

To be a fluent reader, children need accuracy, speed and prosody:

  • Accuracy: This involves reading words correctly. Students who have excessive miscues when they read, do not read with accuracy.
  • Speed: The ability to recognise words automatically, without having to decode or process them.
  • Prosody: This includes reading with feeling, intonation, phrasing and expression. This helps us to see that the child understands what they are reading.

How to help your child

At school

Ensure that your child is receiving highly individualised and intensive instruction that explicitly and systematically teaches them the phonetic code through a well-designed and sequential curriculum. Speak to your child’s teacher, or the head of department if necessary. Find out if the school has a highly qualified professional to provide evidence-based reading interventions. You can also ask them about Response to Intervention (RTI.)

RTI is a model of intervention that provides the child with general reading support in a smaller group with instruction typically being delivered by the general education teacher.

At home

Make sure you provide enriching reading activities for your child:

  • Notice your child’s strengths
  • Celebrate every success
  • Be honest with yourself and set realistic goals
  • Read aloud to your child; it’s fun and helpful
  • Keep your child engaged by reading together
  • Pick books that your child loves
  • Play rhyming games
  • Build vocabulary through games such as 20 questions

Remember that all children can learn to read. For some children, it may require just a little bit more work.

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