By Marion May, Blog Curator and Content Creator for The Open Door Educational Services
Scenario of a child struggling with dyslexia
It’s mid-September and your seven year old child has been professionally assessed and diagnosed with dyslexia. They* are feeling discouraged and frustrated with their lack of reading progress compared to their friends and their self-esteem is suffering. Your child is anxious about going to school in the morning, and not their usual happy self when they return home from school. Homework is also becoming a nightly battle. You want to approach the teacher about the changes in your child but you’re not sure where to begin?
*I have deliberately used “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun, rather than “he/she” to describe the child.
- Research, reach out to the teacher, and open the door for help
Start with researching your school board’s website to find out what services are available for students with exceptionalities.
Reach out to your child’s teacher, by phone, email, or Twitter—whatever means the teacher may have shown a preference for—to ask if they can meet with you briefly to talk about your child’s learning struggles.
“Don’t wait until the middle of a term to talk to your child’s teacher,” advises the Parents Toolkit: What Every Parent Can Do to Help Their Child Succeed, published by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). “You have a key role in helping the teacher know when your child is struggling. Build a strong working relationship with your child’s teacher. Students do better in school when parents and teachers are on the same page.”
In your communication, be specific and direct about your child’s reading and behavioural challenges and express your willingness to be the teacher’s ally to help your child learn at school. You may find that the teacher has similar observations to your own about your child’s learning difficulties. During your discussions, keep in mind, that the teacher likely has a classroom of twenty plus students—including other children with behavioural and learning challenges—all vying for their attention.
- Look into an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
If an Individual Education Plan (IEP) has, or is being created for your child—congratulations! This can give you an opening to expand on your child’s strengths and challenges in the classroom. If an IEP is not in place, ask the teacher if and how you can help to get one started. (See below under Definitions: What is an IEP?)
- Arrange for a personal interview
A personal interview is a good opportunity to elaborate on your child’s strengths and weaknesses and to highlight positive reinforcements and accommodations to promote success in the classroom. Share your knowledge of your child’s personality and if you have effective calming strategies to engage your child and help them learn such as drawing etc., and mention these to the teacher. Ask the teacher to share what methods they would suggest to help your child learn and what guidance they can give you, based on their training and teaching experience to support learning activities at home.
As Dr. Gavin Reid mentions in his book, Dyslexia: A complete guide for parents and those who help them, “the class teacher is best placed to obtain first-hand and detailed knowledge of the child’s difficulties and strengths as well as the learning preferences and style of the child.”
- Explore the teacher’s awareness of dyslexia
Dr. Reid points out, ”some class teachers also have knowledge of dyslexia, although this can vary considerably.”
Try to tactfully explore the teachers’ level of awareness about dyslexia and their experience in teaching children with reading disabilities. Keep in mind that dyslexia is the most common learning disability and that it can show up differently in each dyslexic child. Be aware of the common misconceptions in gauging the teacher’s understanding of the problem. For instance, in a guide for classroom teachers, the International Dyslexia Association points out “it is a myth that individuals with dyslexia read backwards” or that they “have lower level intelligence. In fact, more often than not, the complete opposite is true.”
From my anecdotal experience as a tutor for the Open Door, I have seen the full spectrum of teachers’ awareness and approachability on the subject. In Dr. Reid’s book, he notes that “many parents indicated that schools, or some teachers in schools, did not have much knowledge of dyslexia.”
He says that it is encouraging to see a large proportion of teachers attending professional conferences about dyslexia but that, “as a parent, you will also have good knowledge of your child and his/her learning patterns and specific difficulties and strengths. It is important to provide this information to the teacher. This further underlines the importance of good communication with the school.”
At one particular school in Ottawa where I attended a parent-teacher interview with the parents, I was delighted to find that the resource teacher was very interested in a teacher toolkit that I had brought with me developed by the International Dyslexia Association. He wanted to learn more about spotting the signs of dyslexia in his students and was eager to find out more about its behavioural impacts. The guide was written specifically for classroom teachers and can be found at https://dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/DITC-Handbook.pdf
From my own observations, parents can best help their children by being informed advocates about dyslexia and sustaining frequent, open, and respectful communications with their child’s educators. Collaboration and respect among all parties is the key.
As Abigail Marshall says in her book, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Dyslexia, “It is important that you be able to communicate your concerns with the teacher without engendering hostility.”
Dyslexia Canada estimates 20% of children have dyslexia. In other words, in a classroom of twenty children—one in five students may be dyslexic. Given this statistic, there’s a very good chance there may be other students in your child’s classroom, who are struggling to read due to dyslexia.
In fact, highly effective teaching methods for reaching children with dyslexia are also very effective with all other learners. For example, the multisensory approach is one of the most effective ways for reaching all children of many ages and learning abilities—especially those with dyslexia. As the International Dyslexia Association mentions in its toolkit, “A multisensory approach can be valuable to many; to the dyslexic child it is essential.” (See Definitions below: What is a multi-sensory method of teaching?).
- If the teacher is unfamiliar with dyslexia…
If your child’s teacher does not have much awareness of dyslexia, you will probably be inclined to share what you know. And, like most parents of children with dyslexia, you have likely become somewhat of a subject matter expert in a short period of time. While, there are many excellent resources devoted to the subject, the question becomes, how much and how often to share your knowledge with your child’s teacher?
You certainly don’t want to inundate and overwhelm the teacher with resource materials and risk undermining their expertise, however, sharing proven teaching methods from reliable sources from time to time should be welcomed with courtesy, professional interest and an opportunity to expand their teaching knowledge.
In discussing the challenges that parents of dyslexic children face, Dr. Reid explains that, “some schools may not recognize dyslexia and this can present a challenge and cause a great deal of anxiety. In this case parents may have to play a role in providing information on dyslexia to the school and to work with the school to provide information on dyslexia.”
- Share this essential toolkit: Dyslexia In the Classroom What Every teacher Needs to Know
I have shared—with success—the International Dyslexia Association’s toolkit, Dyslexia In the Classroom What Every teacher Needs to Know (https://dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/DITC-Handbook.pdf), with several teachers in my role as a reading and spelling tutor with The Open Door. It is an excellent reference tool for parents and clearly explains the learning challenges a dyslexic child faces in the classroom. Its aim is to “provide classroom teachers with basic information about dyslexia, dispel some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding it and be a resource that will increase their capacity to ensure the success of the diverse group of learners in their classroom.”
The toolkit describes the signs, and social and emotional effects of dyslexia, as well as evidence-based, proven teaching and reading methods and effective classroom accommodations. It directly explains the facts about dyslexia, the effect it has on a child’s self-esteem and classroom behaviour. It also emphasizes how important it is for the teacher to recognize the signs and symptoms and start early interventions. “The earlier a child is evaluated,” the guide explains “the sooner he or she can obtain the appropriate instruction and accommodations he or she needs to succeed at school.”
Ultimately and most importantly, your child’s educators need to know that you will partner with them to successfully help your child master reading, writing and spelling with confidence. If necessary, you may need the additional help of a tutor to help your child attain this goal. Literacy, after all, is the most important foundational skill for learning.
- What is an IEP?
An IEP will describe to your child’s teachers what special accommodations your child needs to learn successfully in the classroom. It is:
- A written plan outlining the special education programs and/or services needed for a student. It is based on the student’s strengths and needs.
- Establishes a Record of individual Accommodations to help the student achieve their learning expectations.
- Developed collaboratively by members of the school team to chart a plan of action to help the student learn effectively.
- A working document that describes modified expectations or alternative learning expectations
- Reviewed and updated annually (though parents may request reviews and changes at any time) to ensure everything is being done to support student achievement and well-being.
Parents are consulted for their insights and feedback and their final sign off is required.
Note: For an example of the IEP development process, see this online guide published by the Ontario Government Department of Education http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf
- What is a multi-sensory method of teaching?
Here is an excellent description of the multi-sensory approach from the Dyslexia Friendly Schools – Good Practice Guide, written for educators and published by the British Dyslexia Association (https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/common/ckeditor/filemanager/userfiles/Educator/Resources/dfs-gpg-abridged.pdf )
“Multi-sensory teaching methods are essential when working with dyslexic pupils. Multi-sensory means that all parts of the brain are being stimulated at the same time, e.g.
see………hear ……….say ……..write
….allowing the stronger senses to overcompensate for the weaker senses. A lesson that impacts on more than one sense is more memorable than one that is heard only or seen only. Multi-sensory teaching stimulates the auditory, the visual and the kinaesthetic (speech and touch) channel.
In school, pupils are using their senses all the time. What they may find difficult is linking what they have seen with what they have heard or what they may write or say. Some sensory experiences are passive. For example, sounds are automatically heard or letters within the field of vision are seen. However, for some children unless their attention is focused on listening to, or looking at those things they will have little impact.
Multi-sensory teaching helps children to use all their senses at the same time to ensure that the whole learning experience is more memorable and therefore more likely to be learned and remembered.”
If you have comments about this blog or would like to contribute your experiences in discussing dyslexia with your child’s teachers, please comment below or contact us at The Open Door at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Books mentioned in this post include:
Dyslexia: a complete guide for parents and those who help them. Second Edition by Dr. Gavin Reid
The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Dyslexia. Second Edition by Abigail Marshall
Links in this post:
Dyslexia in the Classroom What Every Teacher Needs to Know. A guide published by the International Dyslexia Association https://dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/DITC-Handbook.pdf
What can I do to make my classroom more dyslexia friendly? A guide published by the British Dyslexia Association
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) links:
Parents Toolkit: What Every Parent Can Do to Help Their Child Succeed at School https://www.ocdsb.ca/UserFiles/Servers/Server_55394/File/Elementary/Getting%20Involved/10079%20-%20code%20parents%20toolkit.pdf
IEP Individual Education Plan https://www.ocdsb.ca/cms/One.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=238021
IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee) Identification and Placement of Exceptional Students https://www.ocdsb.ca/cms/One.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=238020
Special Education Programs/ Learning Languages Disability (LLD) Program https://ocdsb.ca/cms/One.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=213815
Parent Articulation Training https://www.ocdsb.ca/cms/One.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=238024
Ontario Government, Department of Education link:
The Individual Education Plan (IEP) Resource Guide published by the Ontario Government, Department of Education http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf