Different Needs of Students with Dyslexia

Your child with dyslexia will probably need some sort of special intervention or tutoring to learn to read. Even if your child is in a classroom with an excellent reading and language program, his dyslexia will stand in the way of his learning.

He will not learn well in a group setting because his language processing issues will cause him to miss much of what the teacher says. The standard worksheets used in class will not help him learn, because he does not do well with paper-and-pencil tasks. His low tolerance for frustration and high distractibility will make it hard for him to focus sustained attention on learning, especially with tasks that are difficult for him.

In order for your child to learn to read, he will either need tutoring or therapy that replicates the instruction in the classroom in a way suited to his unique learning needs or he will need a different approach and set of strategies for reading more suited to his learning style. However, whatever the method, there are some common elements that should be part of any reading program for a child with dyslexia.

Individualized Instruction

Your child needs instruction that is tailored to his unique needs. Ideally, your child needs to have plenty of time working one-on-one with a well-qualified teacher, tutor, or therapist. He needs help from an adult who keeps him engaged and is focused. The one-on-one attention does not need to be continuous, but it needs to be regular, frequent, and sustained.


If your child's resource or special ed teacher seems stressed or overworked, volunteer! You can help free up the teacher's time by offering to helping correct homework or prepare materials outside of regular school hours. If you are free during the school day, offer to help supervise some children doing group work while the teacher is working more intensively with others.

If a one-on-one program is not feasible, look for as small a group setting as possible. It's simple: The larger the group, the less attention your child will get. Videos or computer software are not an acceptable substitute for attention from a skilled professional.

If your child is being taught in a resource or special education classroom, the teacher should have at least one aide who can assist with classroom supervision, so that the teacher is free to move around and spend individual time with each child.

Multisensory Teaching

Your child needs a method that simultaneously engages his visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modes. He needs to physically participate in his learning, to touch and to move. He needs to see and to hear and to speak. It is particularly important that the senses associated with your child's dominant learning style are engaged, as for him that is the most effective path to learning.

Age-Appropriate Instruction

Your child needs a method that is appropriate to his age, to his actual level of reading development, and to the expected level of reading development for children in his grade. Age appropriate means that the program will not attempt to force learning of concepts that are too difficult or at a pace too fast for a very young child, and it means that the method will not be too boring or limiting for an older child.

Teaching must also be geared to his expected grade level, so that a foundation is laid and more advanced concepts introduced to help him catch up. So, for example, a sixth grader who reads at second-grade level may need help both with improved whole word recognition skills of basic sight words (Stage 2, “Ungluing from Print”), and strategies to improve vocabulary and understanding of word meaning (Stage 3, “Reading to Learn”). Even though he is not yet ready to read sixth-grade material on his own, he can access age-appropriate literature with the aid of audio books. A good mix of teaching strategies will help your child keep pace and catch up on as many fronts as possible.

Instruction That Builds Motivation

What is “learned helplessness”?

Learned helplessness is a psychological reaction to repeated frustration and failure. Research shows that continual exposure to academic failure contributes to withdrawal, unwillingness to approach new tasks, and a lack of persistence. In essence, the person simply gives up trying.

Your child needs a method or an environment that will be interesting and engaging for him, and that will allow him to experience success. This is accomplished by breaking down lessons and expectations into manageable segments and setting realistic, achievable goals.

If your child cannot learn ten new spelling words this week, perhaps he can learn five. If he can learn five this week, perhaps he can learn six next week. The child who meets a goal of five words feels proud; the child who learns four out of five feels encouraged because he has almost reached his goal. But the child who learns the same five words when he is required to learn ten feels like a failure.

The child who only experiences frustration and failure will quickly give up. She will begin to think of herself as inept and stupid and will become fearful of facing new challenges. But a child who feels capable of learning will, over time, become more and more willing to devote sustained effort to accomplishing her goals. She discovers through experience that her hard work can pay off, so she is willing to keep on trying.

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