Summer holidays are drawing to a close and already you can tell that your child is not looking forward to a return to school. They may already be showing signs of anxiety - perhaps they aren't sleeping well at night or those recurrent stomach aches are starting again. It makes you feel so helpless, so what can you do to help their dyslexia and minimise their school anxiety?
1. Make sure they understand their dyslexia so that they are less anxious about it.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, your dyslexic child has anxiety because they have little control over what is happening to them. They recommend that your child understands how dyslexia affects them so that they can advocate for themselves. Once they understand how dyslexia is affecting them, they can explain it to the non-specialists that they will encounter throughout the school day.
2. Teach them strategies and techniques which will help them overcome their school anxiety.
Clearly this is really a job for the teachers to do, but you must bear in mind that they will walk into a class of around 30 children where an average of 5-7 of them will have some kind of educational need. Often, this teacher will not have any extra support in the classroom. It can therefore be really difficult for them to help your child as an individual, to learn strategies and techniques that will help them.
This means that it is easiest for you ( who knows your child well) or for a specialist who you employ, to do this. If your child is armed with ways of learning their spellings, given a process to follow for writing and has ways of tackling how to read unknown words, then they will return to school feeling less anxious and more confident.
This is something that I am passionate about teaching my students. The more strategies and techniques that they know to help themselves, the more confident they become when presented with a piece of work.
What strategies does your child know?
3. Fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
School holidays are an ideal time to go back and fill in gaps that your child may have, when they don't have the pressure of homework or the tiredness from the long, school day
Do you know where the gaps are for your child? If your child has a reading difficulty, they will most likely need to follow a structured programme helping them to learn how sounds go together with letters for example.
I have been helping one of my students to hone their reading skills over the summer holidays through regular, but short sessions online. The change in my student has been immense - they have been applying strategies to help read unknown words so that they can become an independent reader as well as increasing fluency,intonation and vocabulary. They have experienced real difficulty with understanding what they reads in the past but this has also vastly improved with the regular practice.
A lot of my students have a hard time learning their times tables. Over the holidays, you can take out just 5-10 minutes each day to look at a few facts from one of the times tables. There are also some fun apps which can help keep your child motivated ( I use Squeebles). One of my current students has now learnt his 7 times tables and is well on the way to mastering the 3s as well - these have eluded him for some time but will give him more confidence in returning to his secondary school maths lessons.
Where is your child struggling most? You still have a few weeks left to spend a few minutes each day focussing on their greatest difficulty.
4. Get prepared with knowing which books your child needs to read for school this year.
All secondary school pupils will have a number of books that they have to read and will be tested on at some point in the year. It can be really helpful if you know what books are on the curriculum ( you can contact the school to find this out or ask parents with older children at the same school) and then either:
- get an audio version of the book
- obtain a version in film if possible or go and see it at the theatre ( especially good for Shakespeare).
This will give your child a slight head start by knowing the overall story first. For Shakespeare, it will help them understand what is going on!
5. Get your child used to any adaptive technology they have been allowed to use.
If your child is allowed to use a laptop or it has been agreed they can use speech to text software, then take out some time to get them used to these applications. There is little point in them using a laptop if they are really slow at typing - but if they have been learning to touch type over the holiday then they will go back to school feeling much more confident that they will keep up and complete work in class.
Speech to text software can take time to get used to so it is also well worth spending a bit of time playing around with this to get the feel for it.
Your child will head back to school feeling less anxious if they feel better prepared to face the challenges they will have at school. This may be because you have helped them learn new strategies for coping, that they have already listened to an audio book that they will be reading this year, you have helped them fill in the gaps in their knowledge or they have been getting used to the technology they have been allowed to use. School anxiety is very real for your dyslexic child, so don't ignore it.
If you would like to read more about how you can explain dyslexia to your child, you can read my post about how to do this here.
You can also read about free ways you can help your dyslexic child in my post about this here.