Parenting a Dyslexic Child


This is a subject close to my heart. I’m dyslexic (I wrote about it in a list here). I could talk till the cows come home about how it’s effected me – there’s lots of positive as well as the more obvious negatives.

One thing I’ve never considered is how my diagnosis might have felt for my parents. So a big personal thanks from me to Becky AKA @tensandtwos for sharing this emotional, insightful list:

  • When you’re a child it’s all about fitting in. Being different is scary and isolating. Often you don’t really understand why you’re different. It’s just a sense.

  • As a parent of a child with differences it can be very upsetting to see them have to manage them.

  • Much as you try to reassure them that in the end being different is a good thing. That they have strengths others don’t.

  • Ultimately, you can’t take away the hurt they experience now and the hurdles they’ll have to overcome.

  • You want to wrap them up and protect them.

  • But you can’t follow them around at school all day. In any case they’d hate you for it!

  • My son showed early signs of reading problems in reception class. Let’s just say he didn’t get along with Biff and Chip.

  • Looking back, even at preschool they noticed he rarely took an interest in books, already favouring experiments.

  • It wasn’t until he was seven that it was suggested we had him tested. Though research now recommends early intervention.

  • By that stage his self esteem was already really low. He’d look down in class, afraid to be picked on for questions.

  • I wish I had pushed more to get help earlier in his school life.

  • But when it’s your first child you have no benchmark.

  • I thought maybe he was just slow to grasp phonics and everyone kept reminding me that kids learn at different speeds.

  • Getting him assessed with an educational physiologist was a revelation.

  • Finally we could stop speculating and take action. We had a clear plan of ways to help him at school and at home.

  • As soon as these interventions were put in place his behaviour did a u-turn. All his frustrations had been manifesting in outbursts and tantrums at home. Now that he felt more secure he was happier and calmer.

  • I felt guilty for not having connected the two. I put it down to him being a challenging, sensitive child.

  • Dyslexia is still misunderstood. I remember telling my mum that he may have dyslexia. She said she didn’t think so as he seemed really intelligent.

  • I’ve learned that there’s no one size fits all with dyslexia. It’s a complex area with lots of different needs and nuances. His assessment report is a 20 page document full of acronyms and centiles. You need a physiology degree to understand it. And a large gin.

  • I still don’t fully understand it. But in essence his particular challenges cover working memory and auditory processing. He struggles to remember what he was told two minutes before and doesn’t hear the sounds in words as most of us do. Surprisingly, his long term memory is amazing!

  • The school system while more inclusive these days, remains unfairly skewed towards those with a strong aptitude for the core subjects.

  • I fitted that mould. At school I was in the top set for everything. This doesn’t mean I am any more intelligent than my dyslexic son. My brain is just wired perfectly for school. That’s a very unfair advantage.

  • My son might not be able to spell simple words or recite timetables, but he is a talented little artist and loves science and technology. At eight he’s able to construct complicated electronics that baffle me.

  • I have no doubt whatsoever that he’ll find his path. It’s just the route to get there that will be hairy for him at times. I wish it could be simpler for him.

  • When he tells him he’s stupid it breaks my heart. He most certainly is not and it’s up to me and his school to assure him of this fact.

  • But it’s not straightforward. You can’t stop kids being mean. Or him feeling embarrassed when reading out loud.

  • He sees all the other boys reading Harry Potter and wants to be part of that gang. I’ve realised I can’t stop him having these feelings, but I can help him foster his own passions.

  • Often I worry I’m not doing enough to help his dyslexia. There’s so much out there now – apps and programs galore. It’s overwhelming.

  • Homework is often a disaster zone with both of us having meltdowns. I also have two smaller boys to keep entertained, but I try my best to stay calm and empathetic. Easier said than done. Often I’m screaming internally while using my best encouraging voice.

  • I’ve discovered it’s best to do little and often. He has to have time to play and wind down as school can be exhausting for him.

  • If I could recommend one tool for dyslexia that’s been a godsend for us, it’s Toe By Toe. It’s a book you work through gradually and it’s brilliant. Even for kids without learning differences.

  • Technology is a great enabler. He uses the iPad to unlock and record his creative ideas.

  • Councils and schools are so stretched and his needs are not deemed severe enough for one-to-one support. He has to be completely failing, not just struggling.

  • I dread school report time. Of course he gets some positive comments but it’s the codes of the latest curriculum that frustrate me. He will always get a B (below target) apparently. It’s this formulaic approach to the UK school system which doesn’t sit well with me.

  • I’m learning the hard way as he gets older that in order to get more help in school you have to be prepared to shout the loudest. As it’s very much a waiting game we’ve decided to pay for extra help and give him as much support at home.

  • I still lie awake at night hoping we are doing enough. Giving him the best start.

  • I cling onto the many success stories out there from entrepreneurs to artists who have turned their dyslexia into a positive.

  • It’s also great that some companies are now actively seeking to employ people with specific learning differences as they recognise the diverse and unique talents they can bring.

  • I can’t guarantee success for my son but my only wish is to help him to grow up to be confident in his own unique abilities.

  • I want him to believe that his dreams are possible and not hindered by difficulties at school.

  • I recognise that I might come across as a tad over protective and fiercely defensive of my son, but I want him to know I’ve got his back. Always. Even when he’s acting out I know there’s a reason behind it. A feeling of inadequacy I want to take away.

  • His wonderful tutor told me that self esteem is key. Yes you can help with reading, spelling and handwriting. But if you lose a child’s self esteem, it’s hard to rebuild.

  • So for now though I’ll keep reminding him of his amazing talents and slip in a bit of Dr Seuss now and again.

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  • Reply Rachael Savage March 27, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    My daughter’s dyslexic .. we had to fight to get an assessment at school, the head told us she was too intelligent to be dyslexic so we paid privately – the signs were all there, the diagnosis confirmed it. But facing that prejudice from a primary head was awful. Secondary school seems so much more supportive .. thankfully!! She listens to audio books (a lot) and prefers to read on her kindle as we’ve set it to a dyslexia friendly font and she can make it bigger so it’s easier to read x

  • Reply Jen Best March 28, 2018 at 12:07 am

    OMG. Can relate to all of this. 3 boys, eldest dyslexic and the late diagnosis. Thank you. So nice to know we are not alone xx

  • Reply Anouska April 2, 2018 at 6:53 am

    As a mother of a 13 year old dyslexic daughter I get this. She was diagnosed in reception and I have been through every emotion you describe here. I still do. But she has grown with her learning difference and although she still struggles it does calm down. However, GCSEs are around the corner and I already lay awake at night worrying.
    Thank you for you heartfelt list x

  • Reply Vicki Baloch August 18, 2018 at 11:27 am

    My daughter is 10 and was flagged as dyslexic at 6, so we had quite early support. Her school have been very supportive, but still spend a lot of time in there, bending their ears about teaching in dyslexic friendly ways and ensuring her self esteem remains high.
    Toe by toe was also amazing for her and the follow on book (Word Wasp) is also excellent and well worth working through as it helps with spelling also.
    Last term she stood up ans gave a presentation on dyslexia to her whole year, I was so proud of her!
    Knowledge is power and the more we bang on to non dyslexics about what dyslexia is, the better it will be.
    Audio books also a huge help for her, allows her to engage with age appropriate literature and therefore chat to her piers at the same level.
    We also do lots of homework uncoventially (her school totally support that luckily) so we talk about the spelling words, their meaning, using them in context etc. But don’t do the test, what’s the point? She’ll never do well unable spelling test after all.
    I often scribe her homework for her so she has the freedom to think about her answers without the limitations the dyslexia brings.
    And I’ve got agreement from her school that they won’t pick her up for spelling in subjects where they’re not testing spelling (so what if she spells the answer to a history question incorrectly, she’s being tested on history knowledge, not spelling!)
    Touch typing is the other key thing that I think really helps, it allows them to type rather than write and this really helps with the memory impairment many dyslexics have – the bbc has a free web based programme that I would highly recommend. As with all things dyslexic, little and often is the key to building their speed here.

    Final thought, half the world is run by dyslexics so the world is there oyster! We just need to walk ahead of them banging on the sea bed to make sure they’re talent is seen in all its glory!
    Thanks for the list, always comforting to remember we’re in this together xx

  • Reply Heather September 23, 2018 at 11:01 am

    This post and all the comments are so helpful. Not sure if all the posters automatically see this ala Facebook, but if you so, could someone please let me know how you get your child tested privately? I have no idea who or what expert would do such a test. My daughter is in year two and I am convinced she is dyslexic. We figured out my husband is dyslexic a few years back and I think there are some hereditary factors, but the signs are definitely there regardless. She struggles with so many of the things people have mentioned so this has been quite helpful. Thanks Clemmie for connecting all of this, love your lists and what you do.

  • Reply Hannah September 23, 2018 at 11:14 am

    I am dyslexic and only got tested because I volunteered to have one at 18 because I was fed up of being told I was lazy in Literacy despite being in top sets and working hard. I am now a primary school teacher and very aware of my own learning styles as well as others. The age of testing is tricky and it’s so hard to get right. Children between 0-7 are still massively developing so schools tend not to assess because it could suddenly turn around (it really can). But equally, I have to watch children struggle and I’m helpless as I can only offer interventions to help with spelling/reading/writing for those children who don’t. What I do though is massively promote Growth Mindset and build self esteem in class so everyone celebrates everyone. Now I work in Year 4 (age 8-9).. I’m the “baddie” teacher who suddenly refers the children because they are now past the magic “7” age- and the parents are shocked because they have never been told before. Parents find this really hard- Its literally the conversation I dread the most. Basically it’s all a tricky mess! But the best we can do is build self esteem and praise the positives. Above all schools, parents and the child need to work as a team to support that child as they are Number One.
    P.S I loved Harry Potter too but I listened to them on audio as I couldn’t read them- loved it. Also fact books were brill for me because there was no pressure to finish them. You can pick and choose bits and bobs and then research things I was interested in. Horrible Histories/Terrific Scientific are great too! If the text is still tricky there’s lots of comic strip style pics in there.
    Good luck!

  • Reply Emma Boyd April 16, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    I’ve only just come across your writing about your son. My son is dyslexic and nearly 17, he’s currently in first year of A levels. It’s been a rocky ride for him (and us!) and will always be I think. But you’re so right about self-esteem. It’s hard to say but I felt it my job to always maintain that, I don’t feel I’m doing so well with that now, teenagers are hard to reach! But you do have to push at high school for recognition; they have a terrible way of not taking it on board (I’m a primary teacher). He’ll get there and focusing on all the positives is such a good way, obviously aiming for some competency in reading writing and maths! Best wishes

  • Reply Becca January 29, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    My 7 year old son has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia (also working memory and auditory processing) via the school only because he had a wonderful teacher who listened to my concerns (compared to his previous teacher) and could understand why. His self esteem was at rock bottom but since his diagnosis, he is starting to gain confidence again, however I do also pay for a tutor for him for additional support, I do feel that there is not much understanding in schools regarding dyslexia and the tools to help support those who struggle.

  • Reply Rachel October 7, 2020 at 1:34 am

    Thank you for your honesty and openness. I have not found much to comfort me as of late but your words have. We have recently learned my 6 yr old is dyslexic. He has an OG tutor and the school he attends is currently reviewing his assessment to discuss interventions which may benefit him. I’m terrified for him and honestly, for me too. I’m afraid of the struggles he is facing and will continue to face, as well as how I can be the mother he needs to raise his self- esteem and be his greatest champion. I love this child with all my heart but there’s a part of me that just wants him to be “normal”- and I feel so selfish for saying that. He has a twin sister who loves the challenges of school and a 4 yr old brother who is eager to learn as well. I’m finding it hard to celebrate their victories because I can’t bear to think of it hurting my son with learning differences. He is very aware that his twin is catching on more quickly to things in school. All in all, I think I’m handling this quite poorly. I’ve never cared if any of my kids were academic super stars- I just hoped they wouldn’t struggle. That every day would not be so difficult. I pray they will all be confident, kind and competent little people who have meaningful friendships and relationships. I want them to be happy. Yet I’m so afraid my son with dyslexia will struggle every day of his life; this heaviness in my stomach and lump in my throat never ceases. I’ve always suspected something was different about how he was reluctant to read but I trusted all the people who assured me he was making progress. Now I feel like a fool and to the detriment of my son. Please tell me everyday will not feel like I’m being punched it the gut. I desperately need the support of other mothers who have been through this. Because I feel like it’s crushing me and right now, my focus needs to be on my son and not my own inadequacies.

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