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Dyslexia Awareness: Tips from a Mama on How to Help Your Child Learn to Read

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Is your child having trouble learning to read, or reading below their intelligence/grade level? Here are some practical tips to help support a struggling reader or child with dyslexia

Did you know October is Dyslexia Awareness Month? A mama whose child has dyslexia asked if she could share her own learnings with our readers in hopes that it could hopefully help other families out there. Read on for some invaluable tips about helping your child learn to read, mama!

Read more: Guide to Special Education & Early Intervention Centres in Singapore

Most children exposed to a language rich environment – English-speaking (or whatever their mother tongue is) parents who engage in reading stories out loud, enrolled in a formal preschool, and a home environment with limited screen time – will organically learn to read in Singapore. However, some 20% of the population will struggle to learn to read using conventional methods.  Simply put, people who read below their IQ or grade level may have dyslexia. Dyslexia is defined as “a specific kind of reading difficulty. Despite average to above average intelligence, children with dyslexia have difficulty learning to ‘decode, or read words by associating sounds and letters or letter combination.”

Some experts believe that the way reading is often taught – using a labor-saving “whole language” approach to reading words early – exacerbates the problem of reading delays. Some children might be able to memorize words, but by 3rd and 4th grade hit the “3rd grade wall” where their reading skills rarely progress. Reading experts advocate an intensive direct phonics approach to reading, rather than the whole language approach. Admittedly because of the variations in English, a blend of both approaches is necessary. However, ask probing questions of your school to understand how extensive the emphasis is on phonics and morphology instruction. This is a must-read article for parents on the politics of teaching children to read.

Regardless of the cause of the reading delay, if a child cannot recognize the letters of the alphabet and match them to sounds, OR cannot read simple 2-4 letter words at 5 years old, you should consider intervention for suspected dyslexia. Many parents shudder at even the thought of having their child diagnosed with a learning disability. Here’s the thing: failing to get a child help because of pride or denial will unfortunately not lead to a favorable outcome.

Reading is a critical life skill and it is essential all children learn to read fluently in primary school. Children learn early who are the “smart ones” and “slow ones” in school and feeling dumb or inadequate can quickly become part of their self-concept and a self-fulfilling prophecy. This may seem like an extreme example, but tests of the prison population in the U.S. have shown that many test as having dyslexia, including 80% of inmates in the USA state of Texas. This doesn’t mean that dyslexia will lead to a life of crime, of course, but demonstrates that without intervention for a reading disorder, children become adults who may lack the life skills to be a productive citizen.

We also know that dyslexics are exceptionally creative people, sometimes called “4D thinkers.” A list of famous dyslexics names a who’s-who of Hollywood and business tycoons – Steven Spielberg, Octavia Spencer, Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, and Whoopi Goldberg all have dyslexia, for example.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) nicknames dyslexia, “The MIT disease” as so many of their engineering graduates are gifted in math and problem-solving, but struggle with English skills. Individuals who receive intervention for their reading disorder can live full and rich lives, if not exceptional lives, full of creativity and entrepreneurship.

If you think your child is delayed in learning to read or isn’t reading at grade level, here’s how to get help in Singapore.

Before 5 years old

  • Provide a language rich environment. Limit your own screen time to when child is sleeping. Talk and read out loud as much as possible in English.
  • Send your child to a quality preschool that emphasizes a rigorous direct phonics approach to reading. This will require lots of worksheets and drills on letter combinations to blend letters and sound out words.
  • Relax and take a wait and see approach

For children who are 5 but not yet 6 years old:

  • Apply to be part of the Dyslexia Association Singapore’s Preschool Intervention Programme: This programme meets once a week for 2 hours. Children are taught in small groups by a trained special needs educator who is especially focused to prepare children for primary school both academically and socially.
  • Consider a school readiness evaluation at KKH Department of Child Development. Citizens and PRs can start at their neighborhood polyclinic for a referral for a subsidized appointment.
  • Buy Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons By Siegfried Englemann and work through the book every day. This book is a brilliant step-by-step guide for parents. It is broken into 15-minute lessons over 100 days. It teaches letter-sound correspondence, blending sounds, sight words, and later reading comprehension.

For children 6 years and older

  • Get an Educational Psychological Assessment. Once a child is 6 years old, they are mature enough to sit for a completed educational psychological assessment. This will consist of 1-2 days of psychological and learning tests to determine the child’s memory, vocabulary, reading level, etc. The going rate for such a report is S$2,000 (unsubsidized). Dyslexia Association Singapore has discounted rates but may also have a lengthy waiting list.

Below are some psychologists I have personally used with my own children and can recommend as a starting place for parents needing to have a report prepared for their child.

Jessie Ooh (former head of NUH child psychology), email [email protected] or Tel: (+65) 9430 3587, http://jessiepsych.com

Dr. Tim Bunn (formerly with Dyslexia Association Singapore), email [email protected] or Tel: (+65) 6733 9249, www.sacac.sg/team

Dyslexia Association Singapore, email [email protected] or Tel: (+65) 6444 5700, www.das.org.sg

  • Contact the Dyslexia Association Singapore and request admission into the Main Literacy Program. This is a group class for children who are diagnosed with dyslexia that meets twice a week. (Note: a formal educational psychological assessment with a dyslexia diagnosis is required for admission to the program). This group class works on language and vocabulary, phonics, morphology, grammar, writing and reading comprehension. Rates are available online here.
  • Consider private tutors. Dyslexia Association also offers 1 to 1 tutors capable of creating custom lesson plans for individual children. Click here fore more info.
  • Other independent tutors and private clinics may also offer reading support (click here for Sassy Mama’s Guide to Special Education and Early Intervention Centres in Singapore). A popular method of reading intervention is the Orton Gillingham method, and trained educators can hold a certificate from the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. Most educators are NOT trained to tutor individuals with reading disorders so please check all credentials carefully.
  • Ask to meet with the learning support coordinator of your school. Find out what additional support and resources your school can offer. Provide a copy of the assessment and ask that the school implement the recommendations of the psychologist.
  • MOE’s Dyslexia Remediation Program is available in some local primary schools for grades 3-4 at no cost to the family. This small group program begins teaching phonics and other early reading skills in grade 3.
  • As much intervention as you can assemble, as early as possible will help your child develop new brain patterns – neuroplasticity. Scientists have demonstrated that “intensive reading intervention leads to significant and enduring changes in brain function among poor readers, which correspond to demonstrable gains in reading ability.”

A dyslexia expert recommended this weekly homework schedule for our child. By following this approach, my child has gone from not knowing the alphabet in P1 to making excellent marks on her English composition (and is a lover of comic books, but not yet chapter books).

  • 4 hours a week English tutoring via the Orton Gillingham method
  • 30 minutes a day of the child reading out loud. Writing down unknown words in vocabulary book and looking up definition in dictionary.
  • 30 minutes a day of an adult reading to child out loud.

Summer Camp

For families able to send their child overseas for a summer camp, children can make significant gains in reading ability. I personally saw a transformative change sending my child to a Camp Spring Creek for a 4-week session. Here is a link to all Orton Gillingham camps and clinics. Please check the camp schedules as they most often align to the American school calendar and may not be suitable to all children and families.

Tuition Centres

I have on purpose NOT recommended any tuition centre to improve a reading delay. This is based on personal experience, as I sent my child to a very good tuition center 3 days a week for a year between the ages of 5 and 6. We spent thousands of dollars and yet she still did not understand the alphabet. Tread carefully in using a tuition center for English support. It could be a fool’s errand that ends up getting you nowhere but lighter in the wallet. Seek the help of professionals or hire a tutor to go through the “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”

Co-morbidities

Half the children with a reading delay will also have another learning difference. For example, some children will often have both reading delays and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Sensory Processing Disorder, or dysgraphia and dyspraxia (handwriting), dyscalculia (arithmetic), speech delays, or other neuro-atypical issues. Concentrate on helping your child learn to read, but realize there may be another challenge or cause of the reading delay to overcome. In the beginning, your child may not learn to read because they cannot pay attention. Then they cannot pay attention because they can’t read. The circle cannot be unlocked. It’s critical to resolve the reading delay to help any child academically.

Final thoughts

Children are adaptable and too often will find unhealthy coping mechanisms to assist or avoid reading in academic settings. My own child memorized dozens of words OR would break out into a big noisy tantrum if pushed beyond her limits. Neither of these coping mechanisms were healthy or sustainable. In hindsight, she had stealth dyslexia, and NO ONE believed she couldn’t read because she was otherwise poised and articulate, coming from an educated English-speaking family. I’ve done my own research on dyslexia and know that this situation is probably genetic; my child shares similar academic challenges and personality traits with her grandfather. It gives me comfort to know this isn’t her fault or mine as a parent. Still, it is my responsibility to ensure she leave my house with the life skills to support herself. In the modern economy, reading and writing fluently are the most critical skills to obtain financial independence. Through adversity, we are pushing forward with a web of tutors, teachers, school counselors and parental glue that has enabled my child to now read and write at grade level. I am proud of all she has been able to accomplish despite her neurological differences.

My advice to other parents is to “double down” and get your child as much help as early as possible. It can be expensive and stressful to accomplish four hours a week of therapy. I have seen my own child go from not even understanding the alphabet (she thought LMNO was a word!) to making excellent marks on English composition in three years. Yet, I saw my own father held back in life; he took an extra year to finish high school, joined the military and ultimately was not able to finish university or achieve his career goals. I want my child to be able to do anything in life she sets her mind to accomplish. I feel that whatever she chooses as a career — it is possible now through the gains made with early intervention of her dyslexia.

Finally, for support and ongoing advice, please also reach out and join the parent support group on Facebook: SSNAP: Singapore Special Needs and Parents.

For inspiration and final thoughts, please view this wonderful video by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on his experience with dyslexia:

Image #3 by Dyslexia Association of Singapore; image #5 by Orton-Gillingham; image #6 by Jason Leung via Unsplash; all other images sourced via Getty

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