Reading With Dyslexia

by Miriam Darnell

Some Tips for Reading with Dyslexia

Please also read our article about dysgraphia, writing with dyslexia.

There are many books on the market that have great techniques for working with dyslexia in reading. I recommend doing a search online for such books, starting with The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis. If you're looking for a school that specializes in it, try The Brideun School in Lafayette, Colorado. The school specializes in gifted children with learning disabilities, and I am the head of the Language Arts department there. Our student body is comprised of at least twenty five percent dyslexics and they are the most fun, most creative and thoughtful and inventive children we have. The following is a list of tips that I use for working with my dyslexic readers:

  1. Remember that these are very visual and tactile children. Find any way you can to make the words three-dimensional. For beginning readers, this might be writing words in sand, using raised, wooden or plastic letters, making letters out of clay, etc. For an older reader, using colored overlays helps a lot. You can use transparent plastic report covers that you might find at an office supply store to bring the print to life with color. Pink and green work best, but make sure they're light enough that you can easily see the letters through the colored overlay.
  2. Enlarge the print. Help the child choose a book to read that has larger print, or enlarge the pages yourself on a copier.
  3. Teach the child to use his finger when reading. This helps to keep his place, and helps to move his eyes along faster.
  4. Most dyslexics have a visual tracking problem. Their eyes don't move properly when tracking or following a moving object. They usually have a disorder called "convergence insufficiency" as well. This is when the eyes don't work together, particularly when looking near. Go to a developmental optometrist (not an opthalmologist) and have their eyes tested for these problems. Expect that the dyslexic child will come out positive for a visual tracking deficit (or ocular motor dysfunction), and/or convergence insufficiency (or eye teaming difficulties). A process called Vision Therapy will be recommended. DO THIS! It helps tremendously!! Dyslexic kids have enough to struggle against without the basic workings of their eyes impeding them. Without the vision struggles, they are able to overcome their dyslexia much quicker.
  5. For children who get visually over-stimulated, try making a white card that blocks off most of the page, if not all of the print on the page, except for the word or few words that the child is reading at the moment. In the window of the card that displays only a word, or only a sentence at a time, you can tape the plastic overlay so that they still get their alerting color.
  6. If the book is available on tape, get it, and have the child read along silently in her copy of the book as the tape plays. There are libraries for the blind online where you can borrow books on tape through the mail. You can also find many such books at your local library or bookstore.
  7. Just as you might for a child who won't write, reduce the expectations. One way is by having the child only read every third sentence while you read the rest to him. Or you can alternate paragraphs.
  8. Teach the child to skim for information, to look at the whole page at once and rise above the print, and then to zero in on one requested word. Tell her that the slower she goes, the less she'll comprehend. Dyslexics are great abstract thinkers. They can read a few words of a sentence, and most of the time, understand exactly what that sentence is about. This process can be done in many different ways. I prefer to first have the child look at the whole page and get a general feel for what this page is going to be about (looking at headings and things in bold, how many paragraphs are there, whether or not there are any pictures that give them clues, etc.). It's evaluating the page as if the entire thing was a piece of art, instead of noticing the hundreds of little pieces that make up the whole. Then I give the child one word that I see on the page and send her on a hunt to find the word as fast as she can. This is pulling down from an eagle-eye view to focusing on one, minute detail. The third thing I do is teach the child to start at the beginning of the page, and move her eyes as fast as they will go across the words, using her finger as a tracking device. I'll have her do this for a paragraph or two, reminding her that she doesn't need to read every little word in order to gain the general meaning of the sentence. When she's done, I ask her to talk about what she comprehended from the passage. Usually, the child is surprised by how fast her eyes went across the page and how easily she understood what she was reading, even though she didn't really read it word for word. This is where some vision therapy can really come in handy! The eyes need to be able to move efficiently in order to do this exercise.
  9. Choose emotional material for the child to read. It has to be emotionally engaging in order to motivate him to plow through it. Druidawn is a good place to start for a child who has a love of fantasy. Comic books are another. Comic books, and especially graphic novels, are wonderful tools to help overcome dyslexia. They're colorful, emotional, engaging, short, and fun to read. They're not always written at an easy vocabulary level, however, so choose wisely. I personally use the colored Elf Quest graphic novels by Wendy and Richard Pini, numbers 1-3. They're also available in black and white for much less money, but dyslexics need the color! I've had tremendous success with these graphic novels for 20 years now. They have an incredible storyline that both girls and boys really get into; they're exciting and emotional and vivid - beautifully drawn! But beware - books 4-12 are not suitable for children under 13. They have some nudity and sexual situations. When using comic books with my dyslexic clients, I read the narration and some of the talking parts, and the child reads some of the other talking parts. It's less reading for the student that way, and creates a greater sense of accomplishment when we get through the book quickly. The fact that someone is talking on the page helps you to train the child to use inflection and take careful notice of punctuation (eyes skimming ahead to the end of the sentence so they know how to say the words). It's subtle, but it is a helpful skimming exercise.
  10. Tell the child that skimming is something adults do all the time - it's like cheating (you're probably skimming - or scanning - this web page now, not reading it like you would a book). We peek ahead at where the sentence is going so we can go back and read it the way it's meant to be read. We learn to do this so fast that we don't even realize that we're doing it. It takes less than a second to look at the whole sentence without reading it, and find the punctuation at the end. This type of skimming is essential for learning how to be a fast reader. Your eyes have to get ahead of where your mouth is when you're reading aloud.
  11. Encourage the child to try to make pictures in his mind of the story as he goes. When he's too focused on the words and has no pictures happening, his visual mind isn't engaged and he'll have no comprehension or memory of what he read. When he reads the word "cow" a cow should pop up in his head. It's not just a word - it means something - something that you can put a picture to. Visualization exercises help a child to picture things while he's reading. You can have him picture his bedroom and everything contained in it. Then you can have him draw a picture of his room. There are millions of visualization techniques and many books on that topic as well.
  12. Remember that these kids will struggle with the easy words, but often not as much with the hard ones, especially ones that are logged in their sight vocabulary (remembering words by the way they look instead of sounding them out). That's because the easy words like "was" or "were" or "this" don't have a picture that you can associate with them. "Refrigerator" has a picture that goes along with it, so it's easier to read than "when," believe it or not.
  13. Phonics don't usually work. Phonics is the traditional process of sounding out words. These kids often have auditory processing difficulties (trouble distinguishing sounds with their inner ear). Auditory processing is linked with sequencing, and when one of the two isn't functioning properly, the other likely isn't either. They can learn to break words down by their sounds, but it's very hard. Much harder than memorizing each individual word by how it's shaped. A good way to practice phonics and train the inner ear is to try to read names out of a phone book. Names are always terrifying to a dyslexic because they may not be pronounced the way they look. This is a good way to practice sounding out words and learning some of the less common rules of language that give you hints as to how to pronounce new words, such as the silent letters in French words, or that "ie" together at the end of the word generally makes an "e" sound.
  14. Rewards are also very motivating. Remember to be patient, loving, and always reward hard work!

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