Supporting a child with dyslexia

by Jenifer Davies. Dyslexic children are just as capable of learning as everyone else – but some things will be a lot harder. The best way a parent can support their child is by being positive. Encourage their strengths and try not to emphasise their weaknesses.

Mother, two children and laptop


As the principal of a busy teaching and assessment centre, parents often say to me: "I always knew there was something but nobody would take any notice of me."

But what signs, symptoms and behaviour should parents look out for? Not all dyslexics will have the same problems and they range in severity from child to child. Most dyslexic children will exhibit a 'cluster' of symptoms. This article looks at the traits to look out for, and what parents can do to help their child.

Your child may be dyslexic if they exhibit some of the following behaviour or traits:

  • Excel at some things whilst having difficulty with others.
  • Struggle to remember two or more instructions in sequence - e.g. when you ask them to go upstairs and find a pair of socks, they will either come back with nothing or the wrong item of clothing.
  • Appear clumsy in some respects but good at manipulating things (like Lego).
  • Seem uncertain of which hand to use for eating.
  • Confuse names or objects or get them back to front (e.g. par cark).
  • Struggle to remember nursery rhymes.
  • Have difficulty in clapping or moving to rhythm.

The child will be the first to know he is failing, but they won’t know why or how to help themselves and the longer that goes unaided the more difficult the problem can become.

The exact nature of their difficulties can only be identified by an educational assessment. However, assessment before the age of seven is not always conclusive, except when there were similar problems with other family members.

A good assessment is invaluable as it will highlight strengths and weaknesses, which will be used in planning a support programme for the child. An appropriately qualified specialist teacher or an educational psychologist can carry out an assessment.

The assessment will test the child's cognitive abilities (IQ) and their attainments in literacy and numeracy. If there is a discrepancy, a series of diagnostic tests are administered to find the underlying causes. The psychologist will integrate observations and information from the child's family and their school to develop a full understanding of the nature of their difficulties.

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Build a relationship with school

Once a positive diagnosis has been confirmed, it is essential to develop a good parent/teacher relationship. Discuss the problems your son or daughter is experiencing with their teacher, and include your child in the discussion where possible. Make yourself known to each new teacher as your child moves through school. Information is not always passed from teacher to teacher.

Be aware of the ignorance and misunderstanding that you will meet at all levels. Not all head teachers or teachers have understanding and sympathy for the dyslexic. Be diplomatic. Remember your attitude can do more harm than good, so keep cool, calm and dignified (even though this may be hard at times, it will pay dividends).

School can be a very stressful place for the dyslexic child. Your son or daughter may be teased or bullied by their peers, and be frustrated and disappointed by many things in school. However, if parents can be aware and see the risk before it becomes a problem, then the stress can be minimised.

Patience is essential when dealing with a dyslexic child. It is often extremely difficult for the non-dyslexic to understand just what the dyslexic child is going through. Take your time and above all, don't lose your temper!

Try and encourage your child to be independent and teach them to do things for themselves - to tie their shoe laces, dress themselves correctly, to tell the time, left from right (a little tip - the right may be the hand they write with or show them that the thumb and first finger on the left hand make an L when the palm of the hand faces away from you).

Once they are receiving specialist teaching - be patient, miracles will not happen over night. The important thing to remember is dyslexia is an explanation not an excuse. Dyslexics are just as capable of learning as everyone else - some things are easier and some are a lot harder.

Fun and games at home

Home should always be a refuge - a safe place. Avoid failure situations at home – your child probably gets enough of those at school. Let them enjoy the weekend and holidays. Just remember that your child's brain has to work twice as hard at school, so they understandably will get very tired.

Try to see that your child gets plenty of sleep and avoid pressure in making them read and spell at home. Parents are usually far too involved with their children to be impartial teachers.

Playing games in a relaxed atmosphere is probably the best idea and can be very effective in helping the dyslexic child. Here are a few practical suggestions for activities and games:

  • Recite nursery rhymes together as this will encourage an awareness of rhythm and rhyme.
  • Read to your child - make it a positive experience. Continue to read aloud long after they can read to themselves, or use tapes.
  • Get out some board games - they are useful for counting, colour recognition and dice control.
  • Play listening games – good ones to try are ‘Guess the sound of the object’ (use things like sand, dried peas and pebbles and shake them in a container) and ‘Which word doesn’t rhyme?’ (make up a sequence such as ‘cap, tap, flap, sock, lap’ and get your child to tell you which is the odd one out).
  • Have fun playing visual activities together – e.g. snap, pairs, sorting (colours, shapes, sizes). Memory games are good too – e.g. place objects on a tray, cover them and ask the child to remember as many as possible.

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Top tips

  • If your child is exhibiting any signs of being dyslexic, raise your
  • concerns with your child’s teacher and make an appointment for an
  • educational assessment.
  • The most important thing you can do is be positive! Try to emphasise
  • your child’s strengths (not their weaknesses). Taking part in
  • out-of-school activities your child enjoys (e.g. football, dance, Cubs or
  • Brownies) is a great way for your child to feel good about
  • themselves. 
  • Make sure your child is able to unwind and relax
  • at home after school or nursery. Their brain will be working twice as hard
  • and they will get very tired. Avoid late nights – get your child to bed
  • early so they get plenty of sleep.
  • Be aware that not all teachers (or head teachers) have
  • a good understanding of dyslexia. Keep your cool. If you feel the school is not
  • being supportive, contact a dyslexia organisation (see the ‘Answers from the
  • web’ section for details) - they will be able to offer you advice about your
  • situation.

Expert opinion

The most important thing any parent can do to help is be positive. We all have strengths and weaknesses - try not to emphasise the weaknesses. Find their strengths and encourage them. Out of school, they may want to take part in activities and sports. This is an excellent way to help your child feel good about themselves.

Jenifer Davies, Dyslexia Action

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