Supporting the School-Age Reader
Your child with dyslexia probably has experienced great difficulty learning to read at school; even after your child has mastered the basics, he may read slowly and laboriously, with considerable effort. If your child is receiving intensive remedial instruction at school, you should focus efforts at home on making reading a fun and pleasurable activity — this will help build and sustain motivation and build a familiarity with literature that will support development of advanced comprehension skills.
Reading With Your Child
Continue to read aloud to your child at home. When reading for pleasure, allow your struggling reader to relax and listen attentively without being expected to read. You should still encourage your child to sit next to you, so he can see the pages of the book as you read. If you are helping your child with a book that must be read for school, encourage your child to participate by taking turns reading; you can ask your child to read a sentence or a paragraph, then read several paragraphs yourself, then let your child have another turn.
In books with a lot of dialogue, another technique for shared reading is to let your child take the role of one (or more) of the characters, reading the quoted words for that character. This is also a good opportunity to help your child focus on punctuation, such as quotation marks, commas, periods, exclamation points, and question marks. Many children with dyslexia do not understand what punctuation means, and they tend to ignore or disregard punctuation marks when reading because they are so focused on trying to decipher the letters and words. With oral reading, punctuation takes on added significance, as it provides information about when the reader should pause and the intonation that should be used.
When your child is reading aloud, do not interrupt to correct mistakes that do not change meaning, such as reading “mom” for “mother.” Frequent interruptions will cause your child to lose confidence and make comprehension more difficult. If your child stumbles over a word, simply tell her what it is. Do not try to use teaching techniques such as having her sound out words at this time. Instead, enjoy the story together, discuss the plot, and praise your child for her efforts when she reads aloud and is able to figure out some words on her own.
Teaching Reading Skills
If you are working with your child to try to teach reading or supplement instruction at school, do the “lessons” at a separate time — and with different books — than reading for pleasure or to gain experience. Oral and shared reading should be used to build fluency and comprehension skills; that simply cannot be combined successfully with teaching the mechanics of reading and decoding.
If you are satisfied with the quality of instruction your child receives at school, do not try to supplement with lessons, drills, or practice basic skills at home unless your child's teacher asks for such support. Otherwise, you run the risk of overwhelming your child and confusing him with conflicting information.
If your child is in school but is not receiving specialized reading instruction or if you are not happy with the methods being used, you may choose to tutor your child on your own. Make sure that your child wants to learn from you; if your child feels overwhelmed and exhausted from his efforts each day at school, he may need your loving support and a chance to relax far more than he needs more lessons.
If you are teaching your child on your own, you will probably want to use some of the methods and techniques profiled in Chapters 6 and 7, using books or kits developed for home use. Try to choose a single method, starting with one that seems comfortable for you and easy to implement; mixing more than one approach at the beginning can simply cause greater confusion. If your child does not seem to be making progress after several weeks, or seems to reach a plateau or barrier after several months, you can then consider moving on to a different method.
If your child is in school and you are teaching at home using different techniques, explain to your child that there is more than one way to figure out words. Point out that you are going to teach or practice a different strategy than the one his teacher uses. Explain that he should use the time with you to practice the new strategy, but when he reads on his own he should use whichever is easiest for him.
If your child has difficulty with sounding out by sequentially blending separate word sounds, such as putting the sounds of /b/, /a/, and /t/ together to make “bat,” you might try an alternate approach of teaching — onset and rimes. This involves focusing attention on the beginning sound (onset) of a word or syllable, and then teaching the remaining single-syllable sound combination (rime) as a whole. For example, in the word “bat” the onset is /b/, while the rime is “at.” Knowing the “at” rime will make it easier for your child to learn cat, hat, rat, and so on.
Your child may find it helpful to hold an index card or ruler under each line of text as he reads. This will help him stay focused on the text. It is also possible to purchase a reading guide with a colored filter in the center, which is designed so that your child can move it down the page as he reads.
Observe your child to see what sort of words give him the most trouble, and to see what sort of strategies he typically uses for decoding. Use common sense so that you can make practical suggestions, geared to the types of problems he is having and the type of words he is trying to read. Keep in mind that once your child is able to read at first- or second-grade level, he will encounter more words that are phonetically irregular, and will need to learn other skills beyond simply phonetic decoding to progress. You may be able to help him improve reading skills by learning to look for familiar letter patterns, to break words down into syllables or word segments, or to recognize common roots and affixes. Teach him to look at the whole word before starting to decode; he may recognize a familiar pattern or segment toward the end or the word that will make word recognition easier.