You might think that the only way to help your dyslexic child improve their skills is by doing a multi-sensory phonics based programme. However, there are other things that you should be doing which will affect how successful your child is with their learning.
1. Rhythm Man!
Nearly all dyslexic children have problems with maintaining a rhythm - try tapping your fingers in a simple rhythm and see if your child can keep it going for a few minutes. Professor Goswami, in her research, has seen that this happens to all dyslexic children, regardless of language. Her research also shows that dyslexic children have problems with identifying rhythm and timing in spoken words. The easiest way of thinking about rhythm in language is to read poems - look at Dr Seuss with your child and you'll see a rhythm to each of his lines which you can tap your fingers along to.
Professor Usha Goswami feels that a dyslexic brain is slightly out of rhythm with spoken words, meaning that your child hears the word slightly differently. This, she feels, explains their difficulties in learning how sounds map to letters ( learning phonics).
One of the best things that you can do to help your child with this is to teach them rhythms - tapping with their fingers at the simplest level to perhaps learning a percussion instrument, piano or guitar.
At school, a good intervention based on this would use poems and rhymes, with finger tapping or percussion instrument playing in time with the rhythm of the words.
We all know that repeated failure can be very stressful for your child and can lead to unwanted behaviour from your child at school. Professor Rod Nicolson has identified a toxic cycle of stress where constant repeated failure leads to your child effectively 'switching off' from school. This can happen quite early on - sometimes by the age of 7!
Stress will also make sure that your child learns nothing - as their brains will have gone into 'fight, flight or freeze' mode.
It is therefore important for your child to relax and , if the situation is really dire, you need to consider whether a change of environment will help your child get on with their learning ( maybe changing schools or even taking a more extreme decision to home school).
This relaxing can take other shapes - it can also mean that you need to approach learning differently to a school approach. For example, teach spellings in a more creative and different way to school methods, especially if those methods have failed in the past. In Professor Nicolson's view, those slightly wacky ways of learning, like bouncing on a trampoline and spelling a word ,works because your child is relaxed and therefore able to make full use of the declarative system( the learning system which enables us to learn facts) to enable them to learn spellings ( please note nothing to do with movement being involved, just relaxation).
A very overlooked issue is that of motor sensory skills - ie movement and how your child has developed. This is quite a complex area, but some children have difficulties with things like dressing themselves, balance ( can your child stand on one leg, do the same on the other leg and then do this exercise again with their eyes closed?), knowing which is left and right ( and sometimes what is in front or behind) and being able to sit up straight on a chair.
The knock on effect of this, is that the pathways that should be in their brains are not there and this is known to lead to problems with learning. Please note that this type of issue doesn't mean that your child won't be good at sports - one of my students who has some motor issues plays rugby at a high level for his age.
There are exercise based dyslexia programmes which look to rectify these issues, with the benefit that the child improves academically at the same time. There are also books you can buy on the subject ( I have one by Billye Ann Cheatum and Allison A. Hammond) which can give you ideas of exercises to do at home.
In my experience, around 2 in 10 of dyslexic children will be affected by this.
4. The Eyes Have It!
I'm sure you'll agree that eyes play a pretty important part in the learning process. I am not just talking about your 20/20 vision here, although that is clearly important. To be successful at reading and writing, your eyes have to work together and they have to move smoothly across a page. They may also be affected by the contrast between the print and the colour of the paper.
You can have these things checked either by an ophthalmic optician or a specialist vision centre. If your child's eyes aren't working together or moving smoothly, then you may be given eye exercises to do which will rectify this. Your child may receive coloured glasses if they have been assessed as having Irlen syndrome ( sensitivity to light and the contrast of print to paper).
Most children develop vision normally, but there are those who need more help to develop visual processing skills. I have been giving visual discrimination exercises to one of my students, to help him 'notice' small details about words. If you think your child may be having some vision problems then you can read more about this at www.eyecanlearn.com.
These issues are more prevalent than you might think - always worth ruling out.
I have touched a little on this before with assessment - generally undergoing an assessment for dyslexia is a fairly negative experience for you and your child as it highlights your child's deficits in learning and rarely looks at their strengths.
However, you must identify your child's strengths. Then you need to do everything possible to help them pursue their passions and strengths, as this will maintain their self esteem when learning at school gets tough.
The more child-centred you can make their upbringing the better. The more child centred your school can become the better - especially when they do any 1 to 1 intervention. A child will want to learn more if they are 'pulled' into it by their curiosity and passion than if they feel they are 'pushed' into it.
I hope that in time ,with a growing movement of viewing dyslexia in a positive light, that assessments will also move into being a more positive experience.
All of the factors above will have a good effect on your child's learning and some of them are going to be lots of fun. As a recap, explore your child's ability to maintain a rhythm; check they're not completely stressed and think about whether they have a vision or motor issue and finally adopt a positive mind set, especially in your child.
If you would like tips and ideas about how to make your child's learning less frustrating then please join my free Facebook group here.