Tips for Helping Children with Dyslexia and Other Special Needs

Tip #1 - Know Your Child’s Strengths and Capitalize on Them!

It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of focusing only on the negatives, especially if you are homeschooling after a less-than-average public school experience. But kids with dyslexia, dyscalculia and other special needs excel in a variety of areas. Figuring out where your kiddo’s strengths lie and spotlighting them during both learning and everyday life can be a gamechanger for both confidence and determination.

So, what strengths do many exhibit?

Extraordinary Multi-tasking & Kinesthetic Strengths
Kids may be able to comprehend your read-aloud while building an intense block structure or creating a detailed drawing. Allowing your child to use their motion to their advantage strengthens these abilities.

Imagination and Creativity
Allowing them to flesh out ideas, go beyond the story or question, and explore using multi-media opens a new educational world for your child. Playing games with words, logic, or numbers makes learning fun. Try Banangrams, Mastermind, and Sequence!

High-level Comprehension & Critical Thinking
Audiobooks and the scientific method may be your child’s best friends! Listening while reading the words along in the book helps with recognition of proper pronunciation and sounds; and the scientific method is steady, predictable, but allows a dose of imagination in the problem-solving process. Science-heavy learning may be a great idea!

Unique Visual Processing
Seeing the world in a different way is a gift for some students, though it tends to frustrate their teachers and parents. Embrace these differences and help them use their brains to retrieve information in a strongly visual way, with color-coding, highlighters, colored flashcards, creative fonts, and accompanying illustrations.

Tip #2 - Break It Down!

I’m not just talking about a dance break, though sometimes they help to wiggle out frustrations! Breaking pieces down even more than we think necessary becomes the key to success. For dyslexic students and those with reading difficulties, this takes a step back from even syllabic deconstruction. You have to go back to basic letter sounds, beginning with the ones that are constant. For example, the letter B always makes the ‘buh’ sound. Have them go on a hunt for the letter b, highlighting it or circling it or putting stickers with it in various texts. Look through books and just find the letter B. Knowing that B says ‘buh’ is immensely empowering and foundational for them!

They need to first master letter sounds before moving to different vowels, one at a time, and see them in use. Focus only on the single vowel sound and repeat for recognition. Take them through word ladders (ba-da-fa-la-ma-na-pa-ra) before even making short words or syllables. Once you’ve made it through the vowels, then move to rules for syllables - they always have a vowel sound and they can always be divided into monosyllabic “words.” Step by step! Bit by bit!

For those with mathematical difficulties, use the same approach but with math procedures, maybe even more broken down than you ever thought possible. For example, just recognizing the + sign as the symbol for counting up may seem like a simple concept, but dyscalculaic students can become easily confused if you switch immediately to subtraction. 5 + 3 isn’t the same as 5 - 3 in our brains, but a dyscalculaic student may blow right by the symbol and see only the numbers, applying a rule that doesn’t exist to the most simple of problems. The + symbol becomes the focus, not the numbers - and practicing recognition of just the plus signs in problems could be a starting place before even working with numbers. Highlight the plus signs or circle them with a fun pen, saying aloud each time that “the plus sign means add to!” Don’t even use numbers until you feel strongly that the plus sign is recognized and its meaning is known. It may be a long road and difficult for you, but it will be foundational and build immense confidence in your learner!

Tip #3 - Intense Structure and Repetition

Knowing in advance what you’re planning to explore in any given day and revising a “standard” approach to one that is more friendly to your child’s abilities is key. Dyslexic and dyscalculiac students need a predictable process that follow rules, and even more detailed than you may think. While it may seem like a natural progression for you, adults often leave out processing steps that now come naturally to them.

Using explicit instruction, where you look at a problem or word first, identifying what you can while thinking aloud your process will help students to understand how to move through thought. This guided practice where you are both involved, sometimes asking yourself questions and sometimes asking them questions, will increase confidence and independence while establishing a firm foundation for approach.

Once the main concepts are down, repetition is key. Look at the word, say it aloud, use it in a sentence, put it on a flashcard or sticky note, use it in conversation...connecting the written word with the spoken sounds is a key skill for students. For math, put problems all around the house on sticky notes, use addition as you walk or ascend the stairs. Connect the auditory and kinesthetic process with the actual symbols and number sentences.


Both acronyms for systems of approaching new texts or problems, DISSECT and BEST are just two ways that can help dylexic students remember a procedure instead of succumbing to instant frustration. CRA works for kids with dyscalculia and other mathematical difficulties by breaking down the process. This turns tense moments into learning opportunities, allowing students to eventually take control and use a step-by-step approach to learning.

Discover the context.
Isolate the prefix.
Separate the suffix.
Say the stem.
Examine the stem.
Check with someone.
Try the dictionary.

Break it apart.
Examine the base.
Say each part.
Try the whole word.

Concrete to Representational to Abstract
Start with a kinesthetic approach, using manipulatives like counting bears or even building blocks. Once the concept is mastered using this approach, move on to representational, where they have to draw their own pictures in place of manipulatives. Talk through the process and have them explain it back to you..and don’t be surprised if they see it a bit differently than you were taught! Finally, present just the problem, and let them work their way through it bit by bit. Doing the same problem multiple days in a row strengthens ability without overwhelming with potential new knowledge.

Tip #5 - Find Your Tribe!

Support. It is paramount in the educational process, but finding parents whose children have unique abilities and challenges can help you feel like you’re not alone. There are multiple groups online as well where you can find support from other parents or even student groups for older kids to know they aren’t alone.

Schedule time to talk about educational issues, and share what worked for you and your child. And then schedule some time where you only focus on the positive. A healthy parent makes a healthy educator.

Tip #6 - Leverage Online Learning & Real-World Application

There are also a number of online platforms that you can leverage for your students’ needs and strengths.

For example, dyslexic students greatly benefit from audiobooks or interactive texts where the words are highlighted as they are said aloud. Cloze (fill-in-the-blank) can also be a fun and creative way to strengthen skills, as students must see and hear the word in their mind as they sleuth out what is missing based on context. And read, read, read. Read the same books over and over, doing something different each time. Search for letters, for sounds, for certain words. Read in funny voices or take turns doing characters. Repetition helps the students recognize words and their respective pronunciations.

For dyscalculic students, seeing how numbers work in the real world not only increases understanding but also encourages independence. Let them help you to write a check, to calculate a grocery bill, to go online shopping and compare prices, to bake something using a recipe. Show them how a small error can make a huge difference in a budge or to a taste bud!

LightSail - Blog Post Bio - 150X150This article was provided by LightSail for Homeschoolers’ team of experienced homeschool moms/writers. LightSail is an adaptive online language arts program for grades pre-K through 12. A foundation in the science of reading and writing combined with the experience of a team of home educators creates a family-friendly learning experience advancing skills in reading, writing, vocabulary, and fluency. LightSail provides tens of thousands of ChildSafe books and multimedia resources from leading publishers such as World Book and Lerner Publishing, including thousands of audiobooks in multiple formats: standard, text highlighting by word, and text highlighting by sentence.

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