Supporting a child with dyslexia
How can I support my child?
There are many ways to help your child with dyslexia thrive, no matter what language you speak at home. At a young age, it is important to provide support for language and literacy skills. Some advice is provided below in this regard:
- Home language interventions in any language will benefit your child e.g. working on phonological awareness skills and building vocabulary.
- Phonological awareness: develop this skill by listening to and making up rhymes or poems, playing games such as I spy which focus on sounds, or incorporating sound games into other activities (e.g. say a word, ask your child to think of how many sounds are in the word and then jump to that number on a hopscotch ladder).
- Vocabulary: Reading, listening to audiobooks and playing scrabble or word bingo are great ways to develop vocabulary.
- Give your child reading material that they are interested in – this could be anything from comics to Pokemon cards or magazines about animals, cars or sport.
- If Irish is your home language, keep speaking Irish to the child. Research shows that for children in Gaeltacht schools, the more exposure that children have to Irish the better their Irish literacy attainment (Harris et al., 2006).
- Let your child speak, and listen to them.
- Provide your child with the opportunity to read in both languages. If you are not confident reading with your child in Irish, you can use Irish e-books (An Gúm & Breacadh)
- Document your child’s progress in Irish and English to monitor their development in both and to monitor the transfer of skills between each.
- Use evidence-based intervention strategies in Irish or English (or another home language) when helping the child at home.
- If your child has trouble recording homework, ask if your child can take a picture of the homework or if the class teacher can e-mail it to you.
- Provide meaningful reading and writing opportunities for your child in everyday activities. For example, reading recipes and food labels together, writing notes on a family calendar, using shopping leaflets and catalogues, writing shopping lists, to-do lists or cards. If necessary, ask for a reduced level of homework for your child.
At school and in the community:
- Provide input in school planning, be open about your child’s needs and collaborate with the teacher to provide support for your child.
- Ask for advice from others when you need it.
- Register with the library and attend literacy or language-related events. There are many support organisations for parents of children being raised through Irish or bilingually. Gaeloideachas can put you in touch with various organisations depending on your needs.
- Register with Gaeloideachas to receive the SEN Newsletter which has information on resources in addition to news.
At the same time, it is important to look after your child’s wellbeing as well as your own:
- Have patience and understand that it will take time and effort to develop their reading skills
- Build your child’s confidence, focus on the strengths that they have and praise them for their skills and abilities. Let them know that there are many successful people who have had dyslexia and achieved their goals.
- Keep perspective: dyslexia does not define your child, it is one part of their learning experience.
As they get older, children can be supported in different ways:
- Encourage daily routines that help with organisation (e.g. an organised and tidy study space, colour-coded files, copies and folders, limit distractions in the space used for study, study and homework calendar/wall planner, etc.)
- Use technology to allow children to record and display what they have learned in different ways (e.g. making a video, recording audio, etc.)
- Give your child opportunities to access subject information in other ways. This can include videos, audiobooks, podcasts and online exercises and resources.
- Apply for spelling and grammar waivers or other accommodations for examinations if needed (see question X for more information on this)
The Dyslexia Association of Ireland also have useful advice for parents of children with dyslexia on their website. Though it is not focussed on children in gaelscoileanna or scoileanna Gaeltachta, much of it is relevant for all children.
How does parents’ level of Irish affect the support they can give a child learning through Irish with dyslexia?
Regardless of parents’ level of Irish, providing a home intervention in any language is beneficial as literacy skills learned in one language contribute to the development of skills in the other. Reading together in your home language and encouraging discussions and debates is great for vocabulary development. Creating meaningful reading and writing experiences at home can be less pressure than homework: these might include writing up shopping lists and to-do lists for the day as well or reading the weather before going out for the day.
Parents who do not speak Irish can still support their child with dyslexia in Irish too. In terms of Irish language input, listening to audiobooks together in Irish is a great way to strengthen your child’s vocabulary and increase their reading comprehension. The child should still be provided with the opportunity to read in Irish: if you are unsure about the correct pronunciation, www.teanglann.ie provides audio files of individual words while www.abair.ie provides audio files of phrases and sentences. There are a lot of different resources and apps available online to provide children with practice in spelling, vocabulary and reading.
I am a parent and a former gaelscoil student who has dyslexia. There was no support for me while I was at school. How can I help my child now?
Our understanding of dyslexia is continuously growing as well as our understanding of the effective interventions to assist children with dyslexia. It is important to encourage and praise a child to enhance his or her self-confidence. As you attended a gaelscoil yourself, you can enhance your child’s language skills by speaking Irish to him or to her at home and that is a great advantage. Also, you and your child have a mutual understanding: you understand the challenges faced but that they can be overcome. You will be able to help with homework and with other projects and you will be able to share any tricks or working methods that helped you with your child. There is a lot of support available in schools now and there is more information regarding that in the section on Dyslexia and Irish-medium education. There is more information on the ways in which to provide support in the first question in this section as well.
What type of support should I be looking for, as a parent, from the school?
It is important that reading support is made available to your child. Depending on your child’s requirements, the following aspects are targeted as part of the support programme:
- Training in phonological awareness focusing on (i) differentiating between sounds of the language and (ii) separating sounds from one another and assembling sounds together.
- Training in phonetics in Irish and in English. Training is needed in both languages as the sounds of both languages are not the same nor are the letter-to-sound rules of both languages. There are resources available in these programmes, for example: Fónaic na Gaeilge (Irish Phonetics), Mar a Déarfá (As You Would Say), Cód na Gaeilge (Irish Language Code), and Lámh Chúnta (Helping Hand). There are new programmes and resources being developed continuously.
- Reading practice with graded books, which are available as part of Cleite and Séidean Sí.
- Training in the high frequency words.
- Spelling strategies e.g. look-write-cover-say-check.
- A lot of practice and repetition in reading and language skills.
- Collaborative reading and rereading in order to enhance fluency and the pace of reading.
- Games and exercises to expand vocabulary and to advance comprehension skills.
Although there are differences between both languages, progress in one language enhances skills in the other language. Your child’s progress should be assessed regularly and his or her intervention programmes should be reviewed accordingly. Also, your child should have access to support technologies if he or she requires them.
What assistive technology can be used by students with dyslexia in an Irish-medium or Gaeltacht setting (e.g. voice to text, text to audio facility, etc.)? Most or all of the software in use in schools seems to be limited to English language usage.
Abair.ie has voice-to-text technology which allows you to enter text on the website and choose which dialect and at what speed you would like it read out in. ABAIR also has voices that can be used with the NVDA screen reader which will read out text on your computer screen. There is a guide to installing the screen reader and the ABAIR plug-in here: https://www.abair.tcd.ie/products/nvda/download.html. Other helpful assistive technologies include the spellchecker GaelSpell and grammar-checker Anois available at www.cruinneog.com which allow the user to correct errors in word documents.
An Scéalaí is a resource which combines assistive technology and a learning experience (https://www.abair.tcd.ie/scealai/#/landing). An Scéalaí allows the user to write a story or essay and correct their own work using a two-step process. The first step is the audiocheck, where the user hears their story/essay read back to them in one of the ABAIR voices. The aim is for the user to correct spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes or word omissions that they hear in the audiocheck. The second step is an automatic spelling and grammar check using An Gramadóir. The teacher can also provide written or spoken feedback to the student. The stories are stored in the student’s account where they can keep track of their written work and progress.
Are there any games available in Irish to assist with reading and spelling? We are using Nessy and Reading Eggs in English.
The programme Mar a Déarfá (https://www.maradearfa.ie/) has small books with videos which help children differentiate between sounds in Irish, an important skill for early literacy. These small books and videos are available in the three main dialects. The programme Séideán Sí also has language and literacy games in the main dialects (https://www.seideansi.ie/).
There are many development games and resources for the Irish language curriculum and for education through the medium of Irish in Northen Ireland. The programme Cleite has games online which assist children in the development of phonology, phonetics and reading skills (https://ccea.org.uk/learning-resources/clar-luathleitheoireachta-cleite/cluichi-bhanda-1#section-7267). The programme Féasta Focal (Feast of Words) also has language and literacy games (https://ccea.org.uk/learning-resources/feasta-focal). The programme Cód na Gaeilge has phonetics games (https://ccea.org.uk/learning-resources/cod-na-gaeilge) which assists children in understanding the relationship between a letter and a sound. (http://legacy.ccea.org.uk/curriculum/gaeloideachas/foghla%C3%AD_focal) has spelling games.
COGG’s website (www.cogg.ie) has a complete list of the resources available.
Are there any suggestions in relation to supporting the young person with additional needs during distance (remote) learning?
There are challenges and opportunities in relation to distance learning.
- It is more difficult for teachers to assess the progress being made by children when they are not in the classroom. Keep a record of the progress being made by your child and bring it to his or her attention if your child is having a bad day. If your child has difficulty with a particular subject, skill or topic, make a note of it.
- Children with dyslexia need a lot of practice and repetition and there is a possiblity that they won’t have those opportunities available when they are not in school. Learning opportunities or practice can be merged into the day. For example, if you have the opportunity to cook with your child, you can practice reading skills (the recipe) and sequencing (ingredients and steps) in a different context.
- The schoolday is more flexible now and your child will have more time now to process information.
- This is a good opportunity for children to find out what type of learning suits them – this is an important step in the development of the independent learner. They can adjust the space to suit themselves, take breaks when it suits them, and experiment with other learning materials (audiobooks, podcasts, videos, etc.).
- It is important to shape the day. It is a good thing to compile a timetable and to insert different tasks in different colours.
- Try new technologies. Look at the apps referred to in the sections above as well as the different types of support technologies for Irish.
My child often gets frustrated at homework time because of the sheer volume of learning work to be done. It takes so long for him or her to learn half of what is required that he or she often gives up. I don’t know how to make it easier without both of us getting upset and frustrated?
You have already made progress by identifying the source of frustration at homework time: your child has too much material to learn in too short a space of time. It is worth speaking to the teacher to see if the homework can be adjusted to depend less on memorising or learning chunks of information.
Then, find different ways of learning the information that must be learned. This might include watching documentaries and videos or listening to audiobooks and podcasts. The most effective way to learn information is to provide “anchors” for it. Anchors can include information the child already knows, as well as visual anchors (images/pictures) or musical ones if they are available. Mind maps can help your child visualise the links between information, and different pieces of information then act as anchors to each other.
If your child is learning skills rather than information (e.g. maths skills, phonics), you can still use visualisation strategies. These include using objects (e.g. using counters for maths) or making letter shapes with your hands to reinforce letter learning. For some children, using different coloured markers and a whiteboard can make all the difference to their learning.
In addition to this, make sure the environment is optimal for doing homework. This might include finding a space that is quiet and free from visual distractions and doing homework at a time where your child is not hungry or tired, and has had a break after school. Make sure that the desk space is well-lit and that your child has everything they need to do their work, including notebooks and stationery. Organising the desk space can help to avoid unnecessary frustration, this might include having a wall planner or desk planner, as well as colour-coded subject files and notebooks for older children. Motivate your child with praise and keep a record of their progress in different areas. Take a break when they get frustrated or upset and remind them of this progress.