In recent years several children of my friends or family have been diagnosed with dyslexia or different conditions within the neurodiversity spectrum. Many have reached out to me to ask me “what worked for you?”, or what can I do to support them?”. So I thought I’d put down some tips that I can send it on to them and possibly help other parents in a similar position.
The tips in this article are in no order of importance are
As with any diagnosis of learning disability, when a child first gets a diagnosis of dyslexia, parents are anxious and worry about their child’s future. But try not to think of it as doom and gloom. Look at the positives of the condition. There are lots of articles written about the positives of dysleixa and videos from businesses about how they are incorporating neurodiverse people into their businesses. How can your child lean into those positives? LinkedIn now lists “Dyslexic Thinking” as a skill not a hindrance and this is where parents need to rewire their brain to focus on the strengths that dyslexia can bring instead of the weaknesses.
Following on from this. Educating yourself is one of the most important things you can do. Instead of focusing on the negatives, educate yourself and see the positives of dyslexia. There are more and more resources in Ireland for you to do this. The Dyslexia Association of Ireland gives online and in person courses for parents. The Reading Academy gives online and in person tutoring for children who find reading difficult and UrAbility provides courses to parents and children on how assistive technology can benefit dyslexic people. More on that later.
However, suggesting you research this area is also fraught with danger. The natural thing to do is to start researching things yourself. But be careful what websites you read and what people you listen to. There’s a lot of misinformation about all types of neurodiversity, and dyslexia is no different.
Everyone’s Dyslexia is different. Just because something worked for one person doesn’t mean it will work for your child. In fact it might make the child feel worse – because if their parents keep trying different strategies that work for others, they’ll think that they’re stupid or not as clever as the people that it does work for.
It’s very important that they figure this out for themselves, even if it takes years to do so. There will be what’s called an “activating event.” Usually this is if the child fails spelling tests or finds essay writing particularly challenging (hence my hatred of the English language). This will be where the child realises they are “different”.
As a parent you can suggest and encourage certain solutions but the child needs to find what works for them, rather than being pushed into a direction they may resent in the end. This will help the child to find their natural path, which they will also find more empowering.
“Do you know Richard Branson has dyslexia?” Yes, so many people tell me that when I say I’m dyslexic. It means nothing to be honest. If you tell a child that Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver or Princess Beatrice are dyslexic, it might be aspirational, but chances are the child is not going to be the next Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver or Princess Beatrice. In my opinion you’re much better off giving examples of local people or family members who are dyslexic and are perceived as being successful. It’s a much better frame of reference for the child instead of focusing on famous faces.
Take the word “normal” out of your vocabulary. They are neurodiverse, children that don’t have dyslexia are neurotypical. Nobody likes being told they’re not “normal”, and what is normal in a modern society anyway?
As I mentioned, you have to redefine what “normal” is because for the dyslexic child what they do is “normal”.
It’s natural for parents to wrap their child up in cotton wool. Particularly one who struggles with stuff that other children fly through. However, it’s important for the child to try different strategies to see which suit them and what strategies don’t. Unfortunately this means the child will have to experience a few defeats before finding their path.
Thankfully the world is moving away from paper and pens and more towards technology. Take advantage of this as much as possible. There are obviously programmes within Microsoft Office and Google Docs but also look into the likes of Grammarly or using WhatApp on a Desktop, which is hugely beneficial, instead of using predictive text on the phone
Not just in the area of grammar and spelling but newer innovations like Read and Write Gold or Peer allows the user to have their notes read back to them. This can be hugely beneficial as the user can then hear any mistakes they may have typed.
There’s also the likes of The Dyslexia Pen, that allows users to record things like conversations with a teacher while they’re writing so that they can play this back later when they need it. The pen also allows people studying or taking exams to have the questions read out to them so they don’t misinterpret the question.
Finally things like Google Home or Alexia, will be a great help. I often ask my Google Home to spell words or do maths for me, rather than doing it in my head and getting it wrong.
Some parents can be in denial about their child’s condition. They don’t want to admit their child has a weakness or for their child to be seen as being different. So they don’t seek the help that could be a game changer for the child.
I would have found school much harder if it wasn’t for the SNA I had in primary school (she’s still a family friend and will probably read this…hi Carmel!) and the Resource Team I had in secondary school (the incomparable Mrs Pearce and Ms Humphries).
Try to get all the support you can, no matter what family or friends think or say, because it will help the child in the long run.
I had one of the best experiences you could get in The Good Shepherd NS and The High School, who together with my parents gave me everything I needed, but this was due to committed individuals rather than the educational system.
This is why it is essential to the child’s development to get the right support in school. If the school or the teachers do not put in the appropriate level of support, keep fighting until they do. As a last resort the child may be better off moving to a school with a more supportive environment, but this can be very disruptive socially for the child, so a lot of thought needs to be given to such a move.
- Extra Support
There are more supports than ever from so-called ed-tech businesses that can support children in the educational journeys:
- JumpAGrade gives affordable grinds to student of Junior or Leaving Cert
- The Reading Academy – provides courses, online resources and trusted toolkits for parents and teachers of children with dyslexia
- Spunout can be a place that teens can find information and a community of supportive voices
- The Dyslexia Association and Urability also runs courses for teens where they can find out more about their condition and find a community as well.
You can find more companies like these in my article here.
Just because the teenager isn’t good at school doesn’t mean that they’re not good at education. Thankfully the Leaving Cert will use more of an assignment-based system from 2025. I got 180 Leaving Cert points, so according to the Leaving Cert I’m pretty thick. However I achieved 6 first class honours in my Marketing Degree. This was because I found subjects that were more natural to me and an assignment-based system that I was more suited to. Often I would have passed the subject based on assignments before I even sat the exam.
It may not help the child but it will definitely help you. Get a support group of parents in a similar situation to you. It can be incredibly isolating if your child is the only neurodiverse child in their class or amongst your peer group. By asking around or creating one yourself in the child’s school for example, you can set up a group that can be a sounding board, a place where you can vent frustration or a place where your child can find natural allies with other children as they’ll have something in common. But remember just because they have something in common doesn’t mean they’ll be friends.
Also, it’s quite a while since I received my own diagnosis, so asking what worked for me is pretty futile, to be honest. What worked for a 10-year-old in 1995 (yes! I’m that old), is very different to what may work for a 10 year old in 2022! There have been so many advances in technology, understanding, acceptance – that was unimaginable back then. Any tips I have for children are pretty rudimentary (for my family) You’re probably better off asking my mum!