Book Excerpt: 'Overcoming Dyslexia'

Are there any simple, more general strategies that a dyslexic child can use to help himself in his reading? The most helpful overall strategy teaches a child what to do when he comes across an unknown or difficult word. As mentioned earlier, he is taught to look at the letters making up the word. In practice the child is encouraged to sound out as much of the word as he can, and then a little later he is taught to find a word that sounds like it and also makes sense in the context of the sentence. A teacher plays an important role in transferring this skill to the disabled reader. She first guides the child to read by blending the sounds or by analogy to a word he already knows, and then checking if its meaning is correct. With time and practice the child becomes increasingly independent in his ability to try out different strategies and to monitor his own reading. Once his support is taken away, it is always wise to make frequent checks to ensure that the child is continuing to apply his newly learned strategies. For a struggling reader who cannot decipher many of the words on a line, the tendency is to lose one's place and end up on another line reading something that makes little sense. A child's simple habit of running his finger across the line of print as he reads keeps him from skipping words or lines. In general, for finger pointing to be effective, a child must be able to at least sound out the initial letter(s) as he reads aloud. When the child is older, he can use a ruler or other straight-edged object.

What is the best approach to summer vacation time? Should a dyslexic child receive reading tutoring, or should he be allowed to have an entirely stress-free period? Dyslexic children are at high risk for losing reading skills that are not continually practiced. They have not yet established permanent neural models of words, and so their word models remain fragile and unstable and may dissipate over a summer of disuse. I recommend that children receive some tutoring over the summer or read aloud regularly with a parent. If a child is severely behind, he should receive substantial tutoring (two hours, two to three mornings a week) in basic skills for much but not all of the summer. Local schools and universities often sponsor summer reading clinics that are worth looking into. Other readers who are more advanced but not yet fluent benefit greatly from practicing reading aloud. Reading aloud from books on a summer reading list and getting a jump-start on tackling the books to be read in the fall term are often extremely helpful. Before the spring term ends, try to obtain a reading list for next year's classes. Summer is a good time to order books on tape or to scan (digitize) books to be read when school resumes in the fall (see Chapter 23). But by all means allow your child to have some fun during the summer. Do not make school a never-ending year-round experience; having fun and spending time doing what he enjoys and is good at is essential, too. Children and teenagers are not the only ones who struggle to read. Adults who are out of school still experience the consequences of dyslexia. And in the next chapter I will discuss the kinds of successful approaches and programs that help adults of all ages who have reading difficulties.

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