How to help a child struggling with dyslexia


According to The International Dyslexia Association, 15-20% of Americans have language based learning disability, and dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.

That comes as no surprise to Jayne Black, President and Co-Founder Creative Kids Rock.

“As a child I knew that I was different than other kids and I knew that starting in first grade,” Jayne said. “I can remember hating to go to school and would cry every day because I knew I couldn't do things other kids were doing.”

MomsEveryday Host in Knoxville, TN, Whitney Kent also struggled in school.

“Growing up I just thought, you know, I didn’t get it,” Whitney recalls. “I thought reading and writing weren’t my thing and I had a really low self confidence.’

“I said things to myself like you’re not smart, you're stupid,” Jayne remembers. “I also said things to myself that I heard -- you're slow, you’re lazy, you just don’t work hard enough.”

Neither Jayne nor Whitney knew that the problem was really the way their brain processed the important fundamentals of reading.

“The reason that's important is that those skills in the preschool period are highly predictive of children's ability to read at school age,” Dr. Victoria Molfese, Chancellor's Professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies and Co-Director of Nebraska's Early Development and Learning Lab explains. “They’re foundational skills that formal literacy instruction builds on. One is phonological processing - the ability to hear differences between speech sounds, and the other is alphabet knowledge - the understanding that letters have names and sounds and that those letters are combined into words.”

“I would mess up words like hospital,” Whitney said. “I remember my mother would be like, 'Why can’t you spell this word it’s an easy word?'"

Finally, in 11th grade Whitney found out the reason why she struggled.

“I get emotional,” she said. “When I found out I was dyslexic I cried! You have a disorder, you have a documented medical condition. That’s when I was like, 'Oh wow, I’m a normal person! It’s OK to not understand this kind of stuff.'”

For Jayne it was much later in life when she learned about dyslexia.

“When my third child was born and he was in kindergarten, I saw a lot of the same signs I saw in myself as a child and when he was trying to struggle to learn to read that’s when I was like that’s exactly the things I went through he was already saying, "Why do I learn differently? What’s wrong with me?'” Jayne recalls.

That’s when she finally learned that both she and her son are dyslexic. The condition is hereditary and Whitney is already on the lookout for signs in her two year old Lucy.

“I see her doing things that maybe I do or having trouble with certain words and it scares me because I think, 'Oh no, did I pass this on to her?'” Whitney said. “There’s this sense of guilt and then I think, 'Oh no, you're gonna have to go through what I went through.' But then I think, 'No no, I know how to help her. I don’t have to yell at her for not knowing how to spell let’s just practiced over and over and over and we’ll get it.'”

“The earlier a child gets intervention the better,” Jayne said. “If they get it by second grade there’s a 67% chance they will be on target with the rest of their class."

Some of the warning signs to watch for include:

  • Late learning to talk
  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Mixing up rhyming words or struggling with nursery rhymes
  • Having trouble remembering names of familiar objects
  • Mixing up word sounds--instead of teddy bear saying beddy tear
  • Struggling with kindergarten readiness skills like learning letters and sounds

“If you see these signs, get it checked out,” Whitney said. “You don’t want your child to do what I did and get so down on themselves and think I’m not even worthy to be at school.”

Ironically, recent scientific studies have found just the opposite, that people with dyslexia are not only fully capable of learning but are actually gifted or have an advantage in certain artistic and scientific fields.

“There’s a whole other amazing side to being dyslexic and that’s that these kids they are so creative,” Jayne said. “I started Creative Kids Rock because there wasn’t anything out there for these children to really focus on what their strengths are. My whole goal is that kids who have dyslexia can live in a world where they’re known for their creative, artistic strengths what they can do what they’re great at doing not for the things they struggle to do.”