What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.
Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.
You can help your child immensely!
Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.
I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.
Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.
Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.
I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.
Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.
A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.
Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.
More about Nessy here.
More about Learning Ally here.
I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.
Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.
Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)
AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.
In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.
Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.
You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.
The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.
Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.
No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.
I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.
Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”
Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:
Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:
Now for a peek at “The Mall.”
Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.
#6 Afterschool between the cracks.
Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:
While you drive in the car:
- The Handwriting Tears App.
- Listening to a Learning Ally story.
While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:
- All About Reading reader.
- All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
- Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.
20 minute intervals at home:
- The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.
#7 Learn to say “No.”
Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.
Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.
Not every school district is “helpful.”
Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.
But every child deserves to become a strong reader.
I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!