When my daughter was 2 years old, her closest friend was a boy I’ll call Mark. Mark had an odd habit: He looked at picture books upside down. He did not seem to know the difference.

When Mark started school, he had a hard time learning how to read. While most of his peers were reading by first or second grade, he didn’t start to read until third grade. That didn’t mean he wasn’t intelligent. He excelled in other subjects, like math, and he had a remarkable spatial awareness. In fact, when he was 17, he disassembled an entire auto engine by himself, then – with the help of YouTube videos – put it back together perfectly.

Mark has mild dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs his ability to read. Since October was National Dyslexia Awareness Month, I’m sharing Mark’s story for any parents or grandparents who are fretting over a child or grandchild who is not reading at their grade level. 

While dyslexia poses extra challenges for children, it also is often accompanied by special abilities. University of Michigan’s DyslexiaHelp website lists 10 areas of strength common to successful people with dyslexia – from the spatial reasoning I witnessed in Mark to thinking outside the box about business or social problems.

In my career as a special education teacher, I’ve seen children with dyslexia come up with the most creative ideas and excel in innovative, multidimensional thinking. They are great conversationalists and often have excellent people skills.

But these kinds of characteristics are often overlooked as teachers and parents focus on a dyslexic child’s deficits. The child hears words like “slow” or “falling behind” and absorbs the shame that comes with these labels. Helping a child with dyslexia discover and practice what they’re good at is one of the best ways a parent, grandparent or other significant adult can build the extra confidence these children need. 

Also, make sure they get evaluated by their school, and then advocate for them. If they’re placed in a special program or given other assistance and they still don’t make progress, push harder; don’t simply accept that the school is doing all it can. 

Children with dyslexia need to be taught reading in a direct and structured way. They tend to respond well to a multisensory reading method that combines auditory, visual and tactile strategies and uses phonemic awareness.

To help your struggling reader, here are some things to try at home: 

Read to your child or provide her or him with audiobooks. This sparks an interest in reading and helps with comprehension, vocabulary and other skills. This also lets them enjoy the books their peers are reading.

• Use spell-checking and text-prediction software to help them express themselves in writing. Writing is an important form of self-expression, and kids with dyslexia deserve the same opportunities as other children to develop their creative thought processes.

You can also consider working with a private reading instructor. A list of Colorado dyslexia tutors is available from the International Dyslexia Association at https://dyslexiaida.org/provider-directories/. Or contact me (707-601-1861) for a free reading assessment. 

Birgit Semsrott is a Buena Vista resident who offers individual reading instruction. See her website, tinyurl.com/PeakReadingBV, for more information.


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