Dyslexia: How to help kids with reading difficulty

If your child is struggling to read it’s possible they may have dyslexia. While it might sound daunting, there are strategies parents and educators can use to help kids to learn.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder, which affects about 10 per cent of Australians.

People with dyslexia struggle to read fluently and accurately decode, which can impact reading comprehension, while a new study found it may affect more than just the ability to read.

The research found children with dyslexia pick up visual information more slowly than their typically developing peers.

In the study, children aged between six and 14 watched a mass of moving dots and identified their average direction of motion while researchers measured their brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Through mathematically modelling the children’s response times and accuracy, researchers found dyslexic children took longer to gather visual evidence than their typically developing peers.

Macquarie University Professor of Cognitive Sciences Anne Castles says the research doesn’t suggest the slower neurological processes are a cause of dyslexia but could be a product of the condition or an associated symptom.

“It’s a complex and interesting problem for researchers and lets parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia know that we all have complex brains,” Prof Castles says.

What are signs my child may have dyslexia?

Dyslexia is typically diagnosed when a child may be struggling with reading, words or comprehension at school and, after a few months, those difficulties don’t improve.

Some people struggle with particular words, some struggle with the sound of words (with letters representing sounds), and others struggle with comprehension or getting meaning from the text.

Others struggle with the fluency of reading.

“Every single way of presenting with dyslexia could have different causes,” Prof Castles notes.

Signs a child may have dyslexia can be picked up as early as pre-school.

Indications include:

  • Slow to acquire reading skills.
  • Difficulty with unfamiliar words.
  • No strategy for reading new words.
  • Poor spelling.
  • Messy handwriting.
  • Struggles to finish tests on time.

What does it mean if my child has dyslexia?

People with dyslexia have the ability to learn, but just learn differently.

It’s been known for some time that people diagnosed with dyslexia can have a very high IQ.

“Some children find it easy to read and some struggle with reading,” Prof Castles says.

“It’s very little to do with IQ.

“There are super-smart kids with dyslexia.

“The important thing is to identify they are struggling with reading and get good reading-focused attention at school.”

How to help kids with dyslexia

But there is good news for parents of children with dyslexia.

“We know how to intervene and (help) these kids,” Prof Castles says.

“It’s like a block some kids have and once they get past it, the world is their oyster and they can access all the information they want.”

There is a range of educational strategies commonly adopted to support people with dyslexia including:

  • Allowing additional time to complete tasks.
  • Explicit instruction in reading and spelling using a structured synthetics phonics program.
  • Using assistive technology to read aloud.
  • Playing games to support the development of phonological and phonemic awareness skills.
  • Accessing specialised tutoring to develop reading skills.

Monash University School of Educational Psychology & Counselling lecturer Andrea Sadusky says it’s extremely beneficial to diagnose dyslexia in childhood.

“Developmentally speaking, it is easiest to learn the skills needed to sound out words in the earlier stages of schooling than later in life,” Ms Sadusky says.

“But a big part of helping people with dyslexia is around empowering individuals and creating learning environments that help these students access written information by, for example, adjusting teaching processes to make sure text is accessible.”

The role of genetics in dyslexia

Dyslexia often runs in families.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute speech and language Professor Angela Morgan says the new research helps practitioners target appropriate therapies but it’s also important to delve even deeper into understanding dyslexia.

“It’s important to go back further to genetics, and there’s some really exciting work coming in this space that’s looking at what causes dyslexia from a biological perspective,” Prof Morgan says.

“It’s also important to remember that genetics doesn’t mean inheritance.

“It doesn’t always mean your parents had to have dyslexia, but that you may have genetic changes or mutations that have caused it.”

Written by Catherine Lambert.