Dyslexia Support

It’s difficult to offer concrete help for children with dyslexia in a forum such as this because Dyslexia itself is a broad spectrum term encompassing any reading learning disorder. We commonly think of dyslexia as a problem where the brain reverses the images of letters and numbers, but dyslexia is much more complicated. Dyslexics struggle to read for many different reasons, all involving how the brain processes written language. Many dyslexic people struggle with phonetic comprehension, reading comprehension issues such as inference (what a sentence is implying rather than stating outright), and word identification (especially with sight words such as conjunctions).
One type of assistive technology that is generally recommended for people with dyslexia is audiobooks. When my son was first diagnosed with dyslexia five years ago, his diagnostic provider suggested that I have him listen to books on CDs. I tried this, but it was difficult to get CDs for the books he wanted to read and if I bought them from a bookstore they were very expensive. In addition, the readers of commercially produced audiobooks speak at a steady pace for someone who is listening, but at a pace too fast for a child trying to visually engage with the text at the same time. My son just couldn’t keep up. So even if I managed to find the CD for the book he wanted at the bookstore or the library, he would soon give up on them as he couldn’t “read along” with what was being spoken.
Instead, he struggled through on his own or would ask me to read to him. Sometimes he would read to me, but generally he had to struggle so much that he preferred when I read to him. He would often stop me to ask questions because the amount of inference required was too much for him to process, especially at the very beginning of a book. He also struggled with pronunciation of words, especially if the words were based on another language like Greek (yes, the irony of Percy Jackson). It seemed to me that, in the advent of a technological onslaught, there was no place for my learning disabled son. We tried electronic readers, but with Borders going under and the instability of the market, we weren’t sure where to turn. Barnes and Noble’s Nook device provided auditory read along, but only for picture books. My son needed middle grade titles.
I had been getting solicitations for a charitable organization called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. I kept thinking that I should investigate the organization, but was so overwhelmed with the day to day management of my two learning disabled children in addition to regular life that I placed it on a mental to-do list and often forgot about it. The organization changed its name to Learning Ally, and I finally began to look into their mission. They said they had thousands of books on audio. I decided to give it a try.
What I received was well beyond my expectations. I had to provide them with my son’s diagnosis, which I honestly wasn’t very comfortable doing, to become a member. We downloaded our first book, and my son, who was skeptical as well, seemed happy. Not only could he hear his book, he could see the text, which was highlighted where the reader was reading, and he could speed up or slow down the speaker. He can download to any device he wants that is not content controlled by the manufacturer (such as the Nook): his computer, his iphone, an ipad, my computer. At first, he only asked for the books he had to read for school. But over time, he began asking for books just to read. I was overwhelmed.
He still likes to hold a copy of the book in his hands (a wee bit of his mother in him), but the audio/electronic text version enables him to read with confidence, especially when he chooses a challenging book.
I have become a vocal fan of Learning Ally (which also offers webinars for parents on learning issues and strategies related to dyslexia and visual impairment). A similar organization is Bookshare.org, which has a compatible mission to Learning Ally but does not have a membership fee.
One in five people is dyslexic. I believe this type of assistive technology is the most important technological tool that we have as parents and educators to help our dyslexic children become independent readers. A dyslexic child still needs the individualized help of a caring and qualified reading specialist. But this type of technology empowers a child to use the skills learned in reading support in a way that just isn’t available for them otherwise. It gives them a sense of independence, and allows them to work at their own pace without feeling as though they need to meet the expectations of anyone else.
What has been your most valuable support for dyslexia? What other support strategies would you recommend to others?

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