This is the first of two articles published in conjunction with Dyslexia Awareness Month of October.
“I don’t see anything wrong with your child.” Perhaps this is the most common remark uttered by family members and friends when told that your son or daughter is dyslexic. In a world that values conformity and perfection, dyslexic children often find themselves struggling to keep up with their peers. It’s disheartening that, as a result, 40-60% of dyslexic children and youths end up grappling with mental health issues such as depression and suicidal thoughts, not because of dyslexia itself, but because of the way they are treated particularly by parents and teachers at school. The alarming statistic was shared by a Hospital Permai Johor Bahru staff in a recent public session.
The first step in breaking this cycle is for parents to understand that their children are not defined by dyslexia. This article offers parenting strategies to raise resilient dyslexic children and youths, helping them thrive despite the challenges they face.
Education and Awareness
Some parents go into denial on being told that their child is dyslexic: “There must be something wrong with the assessment.” Some couples fall into an argument where one or both parents blame each other: “It must be your genes. No one in my family has such a thing.” Trust me, denial or playing the blame game isn’t helpful in the short or long run. Because of the prolonged denial and/or blame game, many dyslexic children grew up into adults not receiving intervention and lost opportunities that could have helped them succeed as adults. The brain is plastic but the older it gets, the less plastic it is to learn. By the time parents choose to accept that their child is dyslexic, it’s that much harder for the child to respond positively to much needed intervention.
The first crucial step in supporting dyslexic children is educating yourself and those around you. Dyslexia is not a measure of intelligence; it’s a learning difference. Get this right. Seek information about dyslexia, its characteristics, and the challenges your child may face. Understand that dyslexic individuals often have unique strengths, such as creativity, problem-solving skills, and resilience.
Building your child’s self-worth is fundamental. Praise their efforts and accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. But do not overpraise, which would come across as not genuine to your child. Notice their individuality and remind them that dyslexia is just one part of who they are, not their entire identity.
Create a safe and open space for your child to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Encourage them to share their experiences and frustrations without judgment. Discuss the challenges they face and work together to find solutions.
Teach your child to advocate for themselves. Help them understand their strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to accommodate their learning needs. This can include using assistive technologies, requesting extra time for assignments, or finding a preferred learning style.
Support Their Interests
Every child has unique interests and talents. Encourage your child to explore and develop their passions. Dyslexic individuals often excel in areas like art, sports, and other creative pursuits. And don’t rule out STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) either. Supporting their interests can boost their confidence and self-worth.
Finding the Right School
Selecting the right school for your dyslexic child is essential. Look for institutions that have experience in teaching children with learning differences. Individualized education plans (IEPs) can help tailor the learning experience to your child’s specific needs.
Consider consulting specialists, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, or educational psychologists, who can provide valuable guidance and support for your child’s unique needs. Therapy and intervention can significantly improve your child’s reading and writing skills.
Teach your child that resilience is the key to overcoming challenges. Explain that setbacks are a natural part of life and that learning from failures can lead to growth. Foster a growth mindset, emphasizing the importance of effort and determination.
Advocate for inclusivity and understanding in your community. Raise awareness about dyslexia and work to reduce the stigma associated with it. Encourage local schools and institutions to provide dyslexia awareness and sensitivity training.
Be A Role Model
Show your child that success is not defined by academic achievements alone. Share your own struggles and how you overcame them. Be a role model for perseverance, determination, and resilience.
Embrace Assistive Technology
In today’s digital age, there is an array of assistive technology tools available to support dyslexic learners. Software and apps designed for text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and customizable fonts can make reading and writing more accessible. Encourage your child to explore these tools and find what works best for them.
Acknowledge Progress, Not Perfection
Shift the focus from perfection to progress. Dyslexic children may take longer to master certain skills, but they will make advancements. Celebrate each step forward and avoid comparing them to their peers. Recognize and acknowledge their hard work and determination.
Provide Structure And Routine
Establishing a structured routine can help dyslexic children feel more in control of their environment. Consistent schedules for study, rest, and extracurricular activities can reduce anxiety and create a sense of predictability.
Encourage Reading For Pleasure
Reading doesn’t have to be a chore. Encourage your child to explore books that interest them. Audiobooks, graphic novels (comics!), and books with shorter chapters can make reading more enjoyable. Visit the library together and make reading a fun family activity.
Seek Support Networks
Connect with other parents of dyslexic children to share experiences and strategies. Support groups and online communities can offer valuable insights and emotional support. Your child can also benefit from interacting with peers who face similar challenges.
Address Bullying And Stigma
Unfortunately, dyslexic children may face bullying or teasing from their peers due to their learning differences. Be vigilant and proactive in addressing these issues with the school, teachers, and counselors. Teach your child strategies to handle and report bullying, and help them understand that their worth is not determined by the opinions of others.
Practice Mindfulness And Stress Reduction
Teach your child mindfulness techniques to manage stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises, physical exercise such as swimming, and prayer can help them stay calm and focused. These practices can be valuable tools in building resilience.
Set Realistic Goals
Work with your child to set achievable goals that are based on their strengths and interests. These goals should be tailored to their abilities, allowing them to experience success and build confidence.
Encourage Extracurricular Activities
Participation in sports, (martial) arts, or other extracurricular activities can boost self-esteem, develop social skills, and provide a sense of accomplishment outside the classroom, besides reducing unwanted high stress. Encourage your child to explore and pursue their passions.
As your child grows, encourage them to take on more responsibilities and make decisions for themselves. Building independence fosters confidence and prepares them for the challenges of adulthood.
In conclusion, raising resilient dyslexic children and youths is a journey that requires patience, understanding, and unwavering support. Dyslexia does not define their worth or potential; it is just one aspect of who they are. By following the strategies mentioned here and focusing on their strengths, individuality, and emotional well-being, you can help your child thrive, overcome challenges, and develop the resilience necessary to navigate the world with confidence and pride. Remember, it’s not about erasing dyslexia; it’s about embracing it as a unique part of a larger, wonderful whole.
Raising a dyslexic child can be a rewarding and transformative journey, and it’s essential to focus on their overall well-being rather than solely on academic success. Dyslexic children have unique strengths, talents, and the potential to become resilient, confident individuals when provided with the right support and environment.
By educating yourself, fostering open communication, promoting self-advocacy, and embracing their individuality, you can empower your dyslexic child to thrive. Together, we can break the cycle that leads to mental health challenges among dyslexic youth, ensuring that they grow up in a compassionate world that values their differences and celebrates their gifts.
Featured image courtesy of Oleksandr Pidvalnyi