My daughter spent her first two years of school unable to read. By the middle of first grade, she knew she was behind and tearfully confessed that she didn’t know which letter to read because they were dancing on the page. They wouldn’t sit still long enough for her to find any given word.
So we visited our pediatrician, who referred us to a center for dyslexia and learning disorders at our local hospital for full learning disability testing. When the results came back six months later, I was both relieved to have a label and scared as to what that meant moving forward. My daughter is dyslexic. Approximately 15-20% of the population are just like her, and fortunately, there are a number of resources to help dyslexic students during school. Over the last year, her reading has improved two grade levels, which brought up a new concern: what should I do to maintain that momentum over the summer?
After hours of research and discussion with specialists, I now have a plan of attack to conquer the summer gap.
Audio books are the cornerstone to working with kids who have dyslexia over the summer. With younger children, books can be found in “Read Along” sets where the book and CD are packaged together. As the child gets older, books and audio books are separate items.
The key to using audio books is not just having your child listen to the recording, but to have them follow along in the book while it is being read to them. By reading along, the child is connecting the sound of the word to the look of the word. This multisensory approach helps the brain connect the individual letter sounds and how those sounds work together. Using this method consistently for at least 20 minutes a day can help their reading abilities.
There are several resources available online to find audio books, including:
Learning Ally: This site offers more than 50,000 audio books geared toward blind, dyslexic, and other kinds of users. Membership is $99 for the year.
Audible.com: This is Amazon’s version of an audible Kindle. You buy the audio books that you want and download it to your mp3 player or eReader. Selections include The Hunger Games and Twilight, making this perfect for tweens.
Bookshare: This is a favorite of the specialists my daughter works with — most students with a diagnosed visual, physical or learning disability can access their database with proof of their disability. Stephanie Forbis, the Assessment Specialist who tested my daughter, recommends that parents request “a cappella” versions of books from Bookshare. These books have more voice fluctuation than the traditional computer-read vocals.
My personal go-to audio book source is my local library, where many audiobooks are available to borrow for free. If your child is in a dyslexia program at school, check with her teachers, as they may have additional books and resources available.
Certified Academic Language Therapist Evelyn Madu says the number one thing children with dyslexia can do over the summer is “read, read, read.”
“Students need to read at their current level and be read to at higher levels,” she says. Reading on their current level allows them gain confidence in their abilities while being read to at a higher level increases their vocabulary. Combining this reading with other skills they have learned can help them maintain the progress they have made.
We’ve printed off the list of Fry words, which are the 300 most commonly used words in the English language, and we plan to go through each set weekly. For example, we do the first 100 on Monday, the second on Tuesday, the third on Wednesday, and then repeat. The more my daughter sees the words, the faster she recognizes them. Being able to know these common words by sight also helps her read faster and more accurately.
Some students may also benefit from tutors that specialize in the same form of training that they are receiving at school. If you choose to employ a tutor, make sure you find out exactly where your child is in the dyslexia curriculum. Madu says one of the biggest concerns over the summer is that parents will try a reading curriculum that’s different from the one your child’s school offers. While grabbing a phonics-based reading program advertised on TV or the Internet may seem like a great way to address the reading challenge from a different angle, the consistency of a single program is essential. All dyslexic programs are designed to retrain the brain. When we throw in a different theory of reading into the mix, we are stalling the progress that your child is making through the current program.
If you choose to get a tutor, there are some great sites to help you find the right one:
WyzAnt: Just enter your zip code to check out the biographies of available tutors.
Tutor Tutors: This site allows you to select your location, grade level, and the specialty you need in a tutor.
Barton: If your child is using Barton curriculum, which is a widely used method for working with children who have dyslexia, this website is a great place to start your tutor search.
Tiffany Miller, a certified tutor in the Barton method and the mother of three dyslexic children, says: “Summertime is a great time for children with dyslexia to make a large amount of academic progress in a short period of time. Kids are free from school schedules and homework, and we can really focus on building the reading skills so crucial to lifelong learning.”
If your child is currently in a dyslexia program, you can also contact her teacher for specific recommendations about tutors. The price range for tutors vary, but you can expect $50-100 per hour for individualized tutoring, and most schools do not offer summer programs.
Online support groups
Online support groups are another great resource for summer learning. I recently started a Facebook group specifically for such an exchange of ideas. Other support groups include:
When choosing an online community, make certain that the information provided there is well researched. There are a lot of online groups that say they have a magic pill to “fix” dyslexia through the use of glasses, pills, or other quick tricks, but the truth is that dyslexia is just like all learning disabilities: they do not go away, we simply learn how to work with them. Great online resources for quality information about dyslexia can be found at www.LDonline.org and www.interdys.org. These are my go-to sources when I read something online that I am not confident is accurate.
Like Madu says, “It is such a fulfillment to see children who feel that they can’t do something gain self-confidence.” I am honored to have the summer to help that self-confidence grow in my daughter.