Parent Needs to Help Empower Dyslexic Child
In addition, the libraries have offered help with homework for a long time, and have just unveiled a new system of homework help called “Brain Fuse.” Anyone with a library card can sign in and get personalized help each weekday afternoon.
by Lance Chilton
Q: My 10-year old has finally been diagnosed by the school system as having dyslexia. Though I wish he didn’t have it, making the diagnosis gives the school the chance to provide some services to him. What’s my next step?
A: I’m sure it’s a bittersweet moment for you — others agree that your child has a problem which you’d rather he didn’t have, but getting to the diagnosis means that he will have access to services that you’d have wanted years ago.
It would be nice if your job as parent would be over now, but actually, of course, a parent’s job is never done. And that’s particularly true with a learning disability. You’ve been advocating for your child for months and years, and it’ll have to continue. There are many services that can help, but often parents have to be the ones to find them.
Dyslexia implies difficulty reading: the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines the condition as “a specific learning disability (that is) neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. … Studies show that individuals with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than do non-dyslexics.”
I often wonder if today’s technology makes life easier or more difficult for children and adults with dyslexia. On the one hand, use of most of that technology, other than some popular and addicting video games, require both the ability to read the instructions and also to type in words, further isolating the non-reader.
On the other hand, use of technology can also be a big help. Some children with dyslexia also have dysgraphia (difficulty writing), so a computer’s word-processing program can be a life saver. My dyslexic grandson is a terrible speller (as was Albert Einstein), and autocorrect helps, even if it sometimes misinterprets what he’s trying “two right.” One of your challenges as the parent of a child with dyslexia is to find the technology that will help him.
I would like to mention two major sources of help — libraries and parent groups — though many others are available. First is the public library (full disclosure here: I am a member of the board of the Albuquerque Public Library Foundation, and love libraries for a great many reasons). I spoke with Cindy Burns, assistant director at Albuquerque Bernalillo County Public Libraries about what the libraries had to offer to children (and others) who don’t read well. Ms. Burns and I talked about the libraries’ extensive collection of audiobooks, which can be downloaded free from the website. I use them when I’m driving a long distance — for the most part the readers are superb, adding to the interest of the book.
In addition, the libraries have offered help with homework for a long time, and have just unveiled a new system of homework help called “Brain Fuse.” Anyone with a library card (hint: that’s your key to a vast array of library services, including Brain Fuse and audiobooks) can sign in and get personalized help each weekday afternoon. Homework help is listed on the library’s main page, at cabq.gov/library.
And one of the most important roles of the library is providing reading material that matches a child’s interests — sports figures, cartoons, scifi — anything is fair game, I think, if it gets a child reading.
Lyn Pollard, who is coming to town for the Southwest IDA’s excellent annual conference in a couple of weeks, has a daughter diagnosed as dyslexic at age 9. As Parent Advocacy director at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Ms. Pollard could find and use many resources and can access parent/child rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA), such as a Section 504 plan for her child to get special services and accommodations without having to apply a label.
She could find excellent tutors who use proven techniques for working with dyslexics, such as the well-researched Orton-Dillingham method. She can recommend what I call “bypass strategies:” While you’re helping your child learn to read — that essential skill — provide him other ways to get information, such as those audiobooks. Ms. Pollard’s little girl reads words on an iPad, while one of those excellent readers reads into her headphones.
And Ms. Pollard can help other parents to advocate for their children — two of her talks at the SWIDA conference February 20-21 (issuu.com/southwestdyslexia/docs/swida-confbro2015-final2/1) are titled “Empowering Parents (for) Dyslexia Advocacy.” She also speaks of the strength of groups of empowered parents — she and others have formed an organization called Decoding Dyslexia with a New Mexico chapter of parents concerned about getting the best services for their children with dyslexia, (decodingdyslexia.net).
If an empowered parent can move mountains for his or her child, think what a group of engaged people can do. In medicine, we find that groups of people with like concerns — for example, parents of children with asthma, are very helpful to their members both in terms of sharing resources and also in providing mutual support.
So what’s your next step? Consider attending the SWIDA conference. Consider joining Decoding Dyslexia or another patient group. Realize you’re not alone. Many doctors can help point you toward resources, but physical exams and eye exercises and lab tests won’t provide easy answers.