Homeschooling the Dyslexic Child

I love how homeschooling can meet the varying needs and learning styles of children. Maybe homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but I am convinced that in many cases, homeschooling may be the best option because of its flexible, individualized approach. Each child can be met exactly where he needs to be without being held back or passed over. You can speed up learning in one area and slow it down when needed in another.

But what if my child is dyslexic? This has often crossed my mind because I am aware that many children are dyslexic. What if I were to discover along the way that one of my children were dyslexic? How would I know? And can I still homeschool if my child is dyslexic? Like many, I thought it was all about switching letters. But there’s so much more to dyslexia, and it’s not all bad news. I’ve reached out to a friend with a dyslexic child and asked her to describe her and her child’s journey through homeschooling with dyslexia. I believe it will be a help to me and a help to others. Britney’s story:

“An aversion to learning.”  That is what I said about my middle child.  I had a gut feeling something was off. I tried to ask other moms, I was told to be patient. I knew they were right. I knew they meant well. Not all kids are the same. My oldest was an early talker, loved learning, and knew his letters and sounds at two.  I knew it was normal that they wouldn’t be the same.

Connor started first talking at nearly two. I tried and tried to teach him the letters and sounds in super fun and creative ways. Nothing ever stuck. When he was three, I would show him one letter over and over. A A A A; I would say the name of it every time… and then start fresh, show him letter, and ask him the name of it, and he would guess a different letter. I thought it was so strange that he could not rhyme, “Pan. Pencil. Flip. Can-opener.” He couldn’t even hear a rhyme.  I know this isn’t the most important tool, but it was so effortless and natural to me….rhyming.

Dyslexia—reversing letters? He doesn’t do that.

Dyslexia never crossed my mind as Connor does not have dysgraphia. Dysgraphia, which affects writing ability and fine motor skills, usually presents together with dyslexia, and is often an early sign. Yet, Connor has always been good at drawing, writing, and anything visual.  He did copy work like a champ. He wouldn’t know what the letters were or what he was writing. He has always had above average handwriting.

As he turned five and six, I was stuck on how to move forward. I bought him some Star Wars themed workbooks hoping that would be motivating to him. He was able to adapt enough to fill out the worksheets. I would sit with him and kind of emotionally drag him through it. Phonics began to click at the most basic level. He could sound out the earliest CVC words: CAT, SAT, DOG.  He acted like it physically hurt when I made him sound out letters, and he could only sound out letters he could see on paper.

I could tell it was exhausting. I was gentle and he would still end up in tears. It seemed like torture—he seemed so burnt out just trying. When speaking, he would jumble up long words, mixing up syllables. I thought it was cute. Again, dyslexia wasn’t really on my radar.

A sweet, gentle friend cautiously told me about dyslexia, and how she had suspicions that Connor was dyslexic. I was surprised! Dyslexia—reversing letters? He doesn’t do that. I Googled a few things, and realized dyslexia is not portrayed correctly at all in media; that’s why it took so long for me to realize. As soon as I began reading about actual dyslexia, it all clicked.  I got every book at the library on dyslexia… the most helpful book was The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Dyslexia by Abigail Marshall.

After I became aware that he had dyslexia, I started to notice weird letters doodled in small corners of his work. SNU above the word SUN on a worksheet for example.  I saw on one page he wrote NOPRUA and five pages later he wrote NORYAN. Ryan is his meddling big brother.  I really believe NOPRUA was NORYAN, and he was decoding.

I was devastated that it felt like help was available only to wealthy families.

I began looking into curriculums for dyslexia. The clearest options were the most expensive. There were other plans that claimed to benefit people with dyslexia, but indirectly, and they were a little more affordable. I also looked into tutoring and classes that might help, but they were so far beyond my budget. I had a local private school with a major dyslexia program reach out to me. They were $19,000 for an eight week program!!! I was devastated that it felt like help was available only to wealthy families, and I was on my own. 

I searched Instagram for #dyslexiahomeschool just to see if there was anything. I came across Sarah Janisse Brown the home school mom of fourteen children, the founder of Fun-Schooling by Thinking Tree and Dyslexia Games. Her website describes it: Dyslexia Games is a series of logic and puzzle game workbooks which trick the “artistic” right side of the brain into picking up the task of reading. It was developed in 2009 by Sarah Janisse Brown, a dyslexic herself, while she was trying to teach her then nine year old girl how to read.” It’s very out of the box. I emailed Sarah herself to ask how in the world my son would learn to read from this! She explained how it strengthens the right-brain-left-brain connections; it literally helps dyslexic kids learn to learn! It’s very affordable and very flexible!

With Dyslexia Games my son began to thrive!  Dyslexia Games is very independent, and so easy. From the first workbook, Connor had been able to do everything on his own. It builds upon itself. He felt confident and capable every step of the way! His self-esteem has been really important to me, so this is huge!

With Dyslexia Games my son began to thrive!  He felt confident and capable every step of the way!

Once Connor completed all the Dyslexia Games workbooks, he began recognizing letters and sounding out words around him in a similar way as my other children did when they were younger. When he was ready, we began by having me read a page from a book, and him reading it again after me. I believe this built up confidence and helped him understand how to read fluidly. We started a reading workbook at the kindergarten level and went up from there. He’s now starting the 4th grade level workbook. There are so many good reading programs available. We choose ‘Nonfiction Reading Comprehension: Science’. My older two kids were never interested in more playful stories and preferred non-fiction.

Connor is eleven now and has been willing to do the work of reading for school. It will take more effort than the average kid at the same level. I hate to admit he has shed some tears through the struggle. Not due to pressure or punishment, I made it my goal to preserve our relationship and his self-esteem, but, doing hard things can be frustrating. I cheered him on and celebrated each challenge he conquered.

I’m thankful for the right to homeschool my children. We are free to shed the labels of reading levels.

He had not been interested or motivated to read recreationally until we started visiting our local library every week. I required that he look at books, rather than play on computers, while I’m getting what I came for. Eventually, a conversation started up with the librarian, and Connor told her he doesn’t like to read because he’s dyslexic. With a positive beat, she said she knew just the book for him! She recommended some junior graphic novels. She said she likes them because the word count is smaller and incorporates pictures to help tell the story.

He gave in and checked one out. He read the whole thing in three days!! He has read two books a week since then. He’s currently reading the Percy Jackson series in graphic novel form.

This mom is thrilled that an understanding librarian helped Connor find his love of reading! Most of all, I’m thankful for the right to homeschool my children. We are free to shed the labels of reading levels. We are free to dismiss arbitrary benchmarks. Connor gets to take his time to grow in this area, while excelling at others. 

There are many benefits to dyslexic brains, they are so gifted. They just have to work a little harder at other things.

The last thing I want to talk about: I see many moms on Facebook groups asking if they should/shouldn’t tell their child they are dyslexic. I understand this feeling. I didn’t want labels on my kids either. What I’ve learned is that kids will become aware that they aren’t like other kids. This can hurt their self-esteem and make them worry about the differences. For us it began in church. Around first grade, Connor was frustrated that the Sunday school teacher would call on kids to read. Other kids he would be playing with would ask him why he couldn’t read. So I sat him down and explained that dyslexia had so many benefits:

“Your brain is more creative; you see things differently than other people.”

He said, “Oh, that’s why I am the best master builder?” (Lego Movie reference)

“Yes! And you are so good at puzzles and patterns! People with dyslexia often have a higher IQ. But because your brain is so good at these things, it makes other things like learning to read a little harder. You have to work harder at it, and it takes a little longer.”

I hope that little sample conversation helps. There are many benefits to dyslexic brains, they are so gifted. They just have to work a little harder at other things. I hope you’re all able to see the fun creativity these kids possess! One last recommendation, dot to dot books! Connor is obsessed with dot to dot books that go up to like 500-1000 dots. Your dyslexic child might enjoy that too!  

As I mentioned, my children’s self-esteem is very important to me. I watched my younger brother struggle in school. He was held back multiple times. He detached; he never enjoyed learning. He has a great work ethic, but he didn’t have space to reach his full potential.  Connor has room to learn to read at his own pace, there are no negative pressures or stress put on him. This is so important to me.

I am in many Facebook groups, and I see so many tired moms navigating tears and battles; I always try to share the benefits of homeschooling, especially homeschooling with Dyslexia Games.  I didn’t know Connor was dyslexic when I made the decision to homeschool my oldest. But I’m so thankful that we chose to make homeschool our family priority. My dyslexic son’s achievements are celebrated; his struggles are just another opportunity to get creative with his self-esteem intact.

Check out  Am I Qualified to Homeschool? How to answer those who question your qualifications.

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