How to teach a dyslexic child to read (and book recommendations)

“Teaching reading is rocket science” – Louisa Moats.

The fact that many parents find it difficult to support their children with home reading is no surprise – after all, they probably didn’t cover reading with your child in your prenatal classes! If you struggle to support your child to read at home, you’re not alone. It is a really tricky skill, especially for those whose children have difficulties with reading and need quite a lot more help than being told what a word is once.

Most parents I meet are keen to read with their children but say that reading can be a less than pleasant experience for both them and their child. There are lots of things you can do to make reading time enjoyable for both you and your child, even if they struggle with reading.

Signs you’re getting it right

  • The child is engaged, asking questions and making comments.
  • The child appears to be enjoying themselves.
  • The child appears content, relaxed and happy.
  • Occasionally the child finds a word challenging, but they are able to work out the word and feel good about being able to do so.

Signs you’re getting it wrong

  • It feels like pulling teeth. The child is reading extremely slowly and labouring over decoding most of the words.
  • The child is visibly upset or frustrated.
  • You have to convince your child to sit down with you to read.
  • It is a battle to get your child to read.
  • You’re using flash cards and visual memory techniques.

Below are my tops tips on how to teach a dyslexic child to read

  1. Make sure the book is at the right reading level

This is step one. Most of the ‘battle’ can be resolved if the work is set at the right level for the child. If your child is behind in their reading skills purchasing decodable books may them access texts with greater ease. Decodable books contain only phonic patterns the child already knows, meaning they can read a lot of the words with ease and sound out any they don’t instantly recognise. The child should be able to read about 90% of the words with ease and be able to successfully work out the remaining 10% without too much difficulty. An easy way to measure this is to ask your child to read the first 100 words in a book and put a finger down for each word they struggle over. If you need more than ten fingers, it’s probably too hard. If a book is too hard, it doesn’t mean you can’t read the book with them but you’ll need to help them a lot more using some of the tips in the eBook below.

2. Make sure the book is at the right age level

It might be tempting to save some money and provide your older child with some of their old childhood books, but it is not lost on them that they are reading books for little kids, and it will likely cause them to lose faith. Thankfully, there is now a wide range of decodable books for older learners that have age appropriate content and layout. Barrington Stoke publishes books for teens with reading difficulties. The Moon Dog, Talisman, Totem and Amber Guardian Series are also great. These will require you to invest a bit of money but will be well worth it when your child starts to re-engage with reading and other parents quickly lap up used decodable readers. For younger readers the options for decodable readers are endless. If you’re looking for something written especially for Aussie kids, Decodable Readers Australia has some nice choices.

3. Manage fatigue levelsHow to teach a dyslexic child to read (and book recommendations)

Often when children start out well and then begin to make errors it’s interpreted as not trying hard enough. This is often characterised by comments such as “He knows how to do it, he’s just stopped trying.” Or “I’ve seen you do this before, you’re just making careless mistakes.” If the child starts to make more errors as they read, it could be that he or she is suffering fatigue. Even when a child appears to be reading accurately and fluently, it is possible they are using a great deal of concentration to do so and this can cause fatigue. You can do a few things to help; stop reading and try again later, read to them, or use some partnered reading techniques outlined in the eBook below.

4. Find something in their interest area

This can be a little tricky but visiting the local library can help. Your local librarian should be able to point out the most popular books. I’ve included a range of books I find my students with dyslexia enjoy here as well. However, you do not have to pay a small fortune for books. Apps like Borrow Box allow you to link in with your local library and borrow books for free. Googling specific books lists can also help. Put in your search exactly what you want. For example, “Great reads for a 10-year-old boy with dyslexia.” You’d be surprised how many lists have already been compiled. You can also join a dyslexia support Facebook group and ask the other parents in there.

5. Provide audiobooks

Some people interpret the use of audiobooks as ‘cheating’, but they are a great way to model fluent reading, expose children to higher level vocabulary and sentence structures that they can decode themselves, and keep their love for stories alive. This is especially true for older children who are reading well below their age level. Digital resources like Audible and Kindle books can be cheaper than physical copies. There is some evidence in research to suggest that printed books involve different processing skills than reading on screen though, so be sure to use a combination where you can. Also, avoid the use of digital screens two hours before bedtime as the blue light can affect sleep.

6. Prompt well

This is an art form and very hard to learn, but worth the effort. One of the hardest things to know is when to prompt, and this is different for each child not only because their learning profiles are different, but also because of differences in their personalities, stamina and self-esteem. That’s not to mention that prompting should be based on the properties of the word and whether the child is making a mistake on a phonics pattern, prefix, suffix or base, or an irregular word that might require thinking about related words to identify silent letters.

  • Give them time to think. It’s best to wait a minimum of five seconds before trying to help. I often leave it up to ten seconds. Sit in silence right now for ten seconds and see how it feels. Awkward right? In conversation, we don’t tend to leave such long gaps but allowing the child time to work out the word not only gives them processing time, it also sends the message you believe they can do it (just make sure you’ve picked a book you can be confident they can!).
  • Prompt as little as possible. If you’ve given them a bit of time and they’re still not sure step in to help but give the least amount of prompting required for them to achieve success. This makes them feel more like they did the work, and nothing lights up a little face more than feeling like they’ve had a win. If they are getting most of the letters, but struggling on one part, prompt them on that one sticking point, rather than give the whole word. For example, ask “What sound does ‘th’ make again?” Again, you must be sure you’re working with a book that contains patterns they know. Hopefully, they can remember, but if not, tell them and revise prior learning. “Remember it can make two sounds /th/ with voice and /th/ without voice? We looked at words like ‘this’ and ‘think’, do you remember? Now try that word again”. Most often, this is all that is needed.
  • Model good decoding If the child still cannot get the word, model working through it, sounding it out yourself, then blending the sounds to read the word.

Reading books for children with dyslexia

One of the most common questions I am asked is what books should I be reading with my dyslexic child. To answer this question, I compiled all of my recommendation here.

If you have any question, don’t hesitate to ask.

Download my FREE ‘reading with your child’ eBook

Tips for teaching your child to read

There are more hints and tips for partnered reading that will help you manage your child’s alertness levels and engagement in my FREE ‘reading with your child’ eBook. In this eBook you will learn: 

  • Strategies to help your child read at home
  • Strategies that you should avoid

Download Ebook

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