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Supporting Readers with Dyslexia at Home - Ten Tips for Parents & Tutors

"Supporting a child with dyslexia can be very difficult, trying to keep their confidence going whilst their friends around them are picking up books and just being able to read without seeming to put any effort in. And I know from Oliver's perspective, he would come home from school and we would do reading practice and he would say to me, I'm a rubbish reader, Mummy. It's very hard to try to explain to your child who's only eight that he's not a rubbish reader. He just has to learn how to read in a different way. And throughout all this, Oliver has shown so much perseverance, and all credit to him because he is now starting to read independently. It is great to hear him giggling away reading a book."

Pippa, parent of Oliver, age 8

This article offers ten tips to help you support your dyslexic child in reading. These tips also apply to tutors working either in a homeschool or academic support capacity with dyslexic students.

1. Read to your child for as long as you can

It is simply untrue that adults should stop reading to children as soon as they can read for themselves. On the contrary, it's enormously beneficial for children, teens, and even adults. Listening to texts and stories enables children to hear and store language patterns that they can then use in their own speech and writing. It enables them to hear vocabulary that may not otherwise have been experienced. It also facilitates important connections: the connection between yourself and your child over a love of stories and books, and the connection your child makes between books and enjoyment.

2. Know your phonics

In early schooling, all children are taught to read through phonics. This is a system whereby alphabetic symbols, known as graphemes (in other words letters and groups of letters) are matched to sounds, known as phonemes. These sounds are blended together to decode (read) words. For example, To make the word plop, we would say four sounds: "p - l - o - p". But for the word coat, where two letters make one sound (oa) we would say three sounds: "c + oa + t". Learners with dyslexia often find phonics hard to grasp and will usually need continued support beyond first teaching. A language like English, in which the relationship between spelling and phonology is so irregular, poses particular challenges to dyslexic students. It is therefore essential that private tutors working with dyslexic children are comfortable in the various teaching methods and techniques relating to phonics. 

3. Get the books right

For reading to be a purposeful learning experience, your child needs to read books that are not too challenging. It's understandable for parents to want their child to move on through book levels quickly to be sure they are making progress. However, moving children with dyslexia on too quickly is ill-advised. Consolidation, practice, repetition and over-learning are everything. It's great for your child to read books more than once, even multiple times, and to read books which may seem too easy to you. 

4. The 90% rule

To determine the appropriate difficulty level at which a child should be reading, a good rule is that at least 90% of words should be read accurately by the child.  This means that if the child makes more than 1 mistake in 10 words, the book is too hard. Your child needs to develop fluency as well as accuracy; reading books that are too hard impedes this and may reduce motivation.

5. Repeated and paired reading

If your child wants to read books they cannot decode or do not have the confidence to read without support, or if your child needs help reading with expression, repeated reading is a great strategy. In repeated reading, the adult reads and the child copies, whilst following the text with a finger. Paired reading is an alternative, and involves reading the text together, while your child holds the book and turns the pages. If your child feels confident to read a section on their own, they can tap your arm to indicate that they are ready to read. 

6. Check their comprehension

Talking about a passage or book is a really important part of reading, and often there isn't time to do this individually in school. You can check comprehension in a number of ways. Try some of these:

  • Ask them to give one sentence as a summary of what they have read

  • Ask them to choose their favourite word in the text, or one that stands out the most.

  • Ask them to tell you what will happen next.

  • Can they describe, or even draw, a character or setting?

  • Ask them to ask you a question about what they have read.

  • Ask them the meaning of a word in the passage.

  • Can they make a comic strip of what they read?

  • Ask them to draw the story as you read.

7. Communicate with the school

Schools love hearing from parents who want to read with their child! Ask for clarification of how reading is taught at your child's school. Ask how books are chosen and how your child is doing, and if there are any class texts or topics coming up. Talk about any concerns you have as soon as you have them.

8. Use audio books

For all readers, but especially those with dyslexia, audio books can be enormously helpful and enjoyable, whether it's listening to class books, factual books to help with a project, or just listening for pure enjoyment. Most libraries use apps which allow you to borrow a wide range of audiobooks for free, and there are of course some commercial providers too. 

9. Celebrate

Sometimes where dyslexia is present the steps of progress can be very small. If you're reading with your child, there will be progress - but make sure you notice it and praise them. 

10. Don't push it

If your child is dyslexic, the chances are that school is exhausting for them, and they will need down time at home. Daily reading is great, but bear in mind all of the above tips which show you that it does not have to be a chore. If your child needs to read something easy, or for you to read to them, or just to relax with an audio book together, don't worry. If they really can't handle any book work some days, don't push it. Tutors of homeschooled students have a great flexibility here in being able to vary modes of communication throughout the day to accommodate the student’s fatigue and concentration levels.

Louise Selby is a dyslexia specialist teacher, assessor, trainer, consultant and author. She has experience as an advisory teacher in Hertfordshire Local Authority, as a primary school teacher and SENCO, and teacher of learners with English As An Additional Language.

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