Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Dyslexia Awareness Month Wrap-Up: Spoiler Alert, there is no wrap up because there is no magical cure

Today is officially the last day of October – Happy Halloween! – and I thought I would write a wrap-up for our series on Dyslexia for Dyslexia Awareness Month. But here’s the thing, there is no wrap up. Tomorrow, on November 1st, when everyone who has dyslexia today wakes up, they will still have dyslexia.

Ten years from now, my child who has dyslexia will still have dyslexia.

And because dyslexia is genetic, there is a very real possibility that my grandchildren will also have dyslexia, should she choose to have children of her own.

You don’t outgrow dyslexia.

There is no cure.

Yes, people with dyslexia learn strategies that work for them, if they receive early and good intervention, but they don’t stop being dyslexic. And that’s a really important thing for libraries to understand.

If 20% of our youth – 1 in 5 – have dyslexia, then 20% of our adults do as well.

Our regular readers and library users have dyslexia. They just don’t talk to us about it and that’s okay. But we need to be aware of this. We need to know and understand that 20% of the populations that we serve, 1 in 5 members of our community, have dyslexia. And we need to be serving them better. We need to serve them with more intentionality. We need to learn more and train more and talk more and promote more when it comes to helping the 1 in 5 patrons in our community that have dyslexia.

We need to make sure that we have multiple formats in all age ranges. We need the book and the audio. We need large print.

We need to design for dyslexia in our signage and on our webpages.

Not my infographic, source: https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/2016/09/02/dos-and-donts-on-designing-for-accessibility/

We need to curate services and then promote those services. Let parents know the benefits of using audio with print. Consider shelving audio right there with the print book so that they are easy to find. Let users know that Overdrive allows you to change the font and make other modifications to increase reading accessibility.

We need to coordinate with the people in our communities who have dedicated their professional expertise to knowing and serving people with dyslexia. Ask them to come into our libraries and talk with us about what we can do, and what we can do better. And ask them to help us train our staff.

We can’t just be aware of dyslexia in the month of October, because trust me, people with dyslexia are aware of dyslexia every day of the year. Dyslexia isn’t just an October thing. So even though October is coming to an end, don’t let your efforts to know about and serve patrons with dyslexia come to an end. Our patrons need us to do better, even on November 1st. Maybe especially on November 1st.

Dyslexia Awareness Month: In Which I Interview My Child with Dyslexia

Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard: All our Dyslexia posts and references in one place to help us all better serve youth with dyslexia

Scout was in Kindergarten when I began to suspect that she had dyslexia. She was outside writing on the sidewalk with chalk and she wrote her sister’s name as a perfect mirror image. It was eerily uncanny how perfectly mirrored it was. In the first grade I noticed that she would read some words backwards. For example, she would read “was” for “saw”. I also noticed she would skip lines or paragraphs but at the time I didn’t realize that this was also dyslexia.

One day, my Dad was visiting and he saw her write in chalk and looked at me and said, “you should get her tested for dyslexia.” My brother is dyslexic and in hindsight, my father had undiagnosed dyslexia as well. Having my father say this to me confirmed my suspicions and I began the long and often challenging journey to getting a dianosis.

When the diagnosis finally did come, my daughter was given a 504 plan and put into an intervention program called MTA. I am going to be completely honest and tell you that I just trusted that the school was doing what they needed to do to help her. And let me be very clear here, her MTA teacher was a blessing. Hands down. Scout still tells me how much she loves her and asks me to contact her because she misses her. It was the other teachers that I constantly had to struggle with. And administrators. And homework. And bullying. And self-esteem. And anxiety.

Each new school year became harder and presented new challenges. Scout is now in the 5th grade and next month she will be 11-years-old. It was only last year that she read her first chapter book from cover to cover on her own.

Learn more about Scout’s Operation BB: Books in Backpack here

Last year she also began her own initiative called Operation BB: Books in Backpacks. This was also a turning point for her in being an enthusiastic supporter and champion of books. It was one of the first of many turning points for us last year. But last year was a rocky year when it came to reading because every progress we made, it seemed like there were forces working against us. Strict adherence to the 40 Book Challenge in her class was causing us a lot of set backs when it came to reading. So much so that halfway through the year I said we are not going to do this anymore. You can read about that experience here.

This year as she began a new school – an intermediate school – we had another huge setback. This school was set up so that she would take her intervention as a separate period and would not get to take any of the same electives as her peers, such as art, music, STEM, choir and band. Her entire schedule were intense academics with a lot of reading and writing, which gave her no creative outlet, no period with a moment of relaxation, no period where she could take a brain break and engage in something she both enjoyed and could feel successful at. So I fought long and hard with the school to get this changed. She is now able to be released early from her ELAR class to go to her intervention AND she gets to take the same electives as her peers. This change has been miraculous. She is happier and doing better in school and seems to look forward to going for the first time in all of the six years she has been going to school.

The other thing that has changed in our home is that I have fully committed myself to understanding what dyslexia is, what it’s like for her and how to better help her be the best her she can be. I read about it, I write about it, and I’ve joined parent support groups. We talk about it in our home. When I read about someone she loves being dyslexic, I go home and tell her as an example of someone who is dyslexic but not ashamed and, more importantly, succeeding. She is no longer ashamed of who she is and feels more open to talking about dyslexia. Several times now in the car she has told me about something that she has found challenging and I have been able to go to her teachers and ask them to help me help her succeed.

It’s also made me realize that in our libraries we are not doing enough. We need a wide variety of formats to help our patrons with dyslexia. Like Autism and other spectrum disorders, dyslexia is considered a type of neurodiversity and a spectrum. What works for one of our patrons with dyslexia may not work for another. Some people with dyslexia love audio books, so we need those. Some people like digital books because you can adjust the fonts or backgrounds, so we need those. Some people need large print. Some people prefer graphic novels. Access to a wide variety of resources is one of the best ways that we can help our patrons with dyslexia.

Today I’m going to interview Scout who is going to talk with you about her journey with dyslexia. I am going to ask the questions and just type her responses for you.

What is dyslexia like for you? What happens when you are trying to read or do school work?

I have to slow down so I don’t get things mixed up. I sometimes mix up letters and skip lines. Sometimes it’s hard to read if there is small lettering because it looks blurry and blends together. Sometimes when I read I get headaches or feel tired. Looking at words for a long time is really challenging. Sometimes I just have to take a break and go outside or look at something else.

What helps you be a better reader or do well with your homework?

Going slow and using my decoding skills to make sure that I read something right. Sometimes having someone read something to me helps.

What do you wish people knew or understood about dyslexia?

That it doesn’t make it hard for me to learn; I’m not stupid. It just takes me longer sometimes to do the work.

What was school like for you before you learned you have dyslexia?

It was a lot harder because I didn’t know how to decode then and things were more confusing. I felt overwhelmed because all the words would flow of the page and it was confusing. I felt like I was different from all the other kids and wasn’t learning what I was supposed to. It was scary and I often felt like I was stupid.

What happened when they began testing you for dyslexia?

I felt kind of confused because I didn’t know what it was. And it was overwhelming because I didn’t know why and stuff I was getting tested. They told me I had to read a lot of big sentences and words. It was hard.

How did your life change when they told you that you have dyslexia?

I was scared because I thought I was so different.

How do kids in school treat you when you leave the class for intervention?

People would call me stupid and different. Sometimes they laugh at me because I use the wrong word when I’m talking and I am trying to remember what the right word is. I got really mad because it really upset me. I didn’t like feeling so different and bullied.

What do you do in your intervention?

{Editor’s note: Thing 2 is involved in an intervention program called MTA. You can read about it here.}

We learn to decode words. We also learn to write cursive because it’s easier to read. {Editor’s note: it’s easier for some people with dyslexia to read and write cursive because they don’t have to pick the pen up off of the paper and they are less likely to write a letter backwards is what I was told by the teacher.}

Do you want to talk about how you feel about reading? What happened last year with the 40 Book Challenge? How did it make you feel?

The 40 Book Challenge felt overwhelming because I knew I would have to read books that aren’t in my level and harder. I felt really scared. I cried and fought about doing it because I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to read because it was too hard.

How do you feel about reading now?

I love reading. I like to read The Black Lagoon books, Here’s Hank, Raina Telgemeier and other graphic novels. The words are more spread out and when they aren’t so close together so it helps me not skip a line or blend the words together. The Here’s Hank books are in a certain font that certain people with dyslexia like and it helps me not blend the words together.

What changed for you about reading? What made you like it?

The Here’s Hank books because I read them and felt like I could. And the books are really funny.

What about listening to audio books?

I don’t really like listening to audio books because I can’t visualize and I can’t see the words. Trying to listen and read at the same time confuses me.

Do you like being read to aloud?

Sometimes, with more advanced books. I like to see the words when I’m being read to. I like hearing a real person’s voice rather than hearing a robot’s voice. And I don’t like reading on the computer because on the computer the words are much closer and it is hard to see them.

So just tell our readers what you want to say about dyslexia:

Always know that you aren’t different or dumb, you can actually be smarter. Just keep trying and you will get there someday.

What do you want your teachers to know?

I want my teachers to learn more about it and how they can help people with dyslexia. Like how using a bigger font size can help. Also slow down when you talk. Explain things well and be patient.

What do you want your parents to know about you and dyslexia?

Just be patient. Slow down when you read to me. And make sure you are explaining yourself well.

What do you want your friends to know about dyslexia?

To not laugh at me whenever I say a word wrong. To be patient and kind.

You’ve spent a lot of time with me in libraries. What do you want libraries to know about dyslexia?

Be sure and help people with dyslexia. Have some books that are dyslexia font. Be patient and explain where the books are so people can find them.

My Top 5 Books or Book Series:

Raina Telgemeier books

Here’s Hank by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

The Black Lagoon books by Mike Thayer

The Magic School Bus (chapter books)

Graphic Novels {She named quite a few}

So what do I, Scout’s mom, want you to know about her and dyslexia?

Scout has dyslexia and she will not outgrow it or be cured from it. She is, however, learning great strategies that are making it easier for her to learn and grow and be her very best. It has been hard trying to navigate the school system and advocate for her. It has been heartbreaking to see her struggle, cry and call herself stupid. I have been devastated by the things people have said about her and done to her.

I think in the beginning I really failed her. I should have learned more, advocated more and fought harder. Whatever special need your child may have, you have to champion your child. Even when it’s hard. They can’t do it for themselves so you have to do the work.

I also want you to know that she is more than dyslexia. She loves space (a lot!), sharks, art, photography and a lot of sports. She plays soccer and basketball. She loves to be outdoors and she has always loved swinging and being in motion. She is very sensitive and has to work harder than anyone I know because the world is very different for her. But man, she’s a great kid.

I want to end this post today by sharing with you a story that I consider a miracle and a blessing. This year Scout’s Girl Scout troop has been working on building, installing and filling Little Free Libraries at all the schools in our town. The other day we went to fill the one at the elementary school that she attended. There were a lot of things she hated about that school and we had a lot of negative experiences there trying to get her diagnosed and helped. But as the girls from her troop went through a box of books and were filling the library, she pulled out a Here’s Hank book and she asked if she could keep it. Her troop leader said sure. Yesterday she opened that book to read it again and when she did, she discovered that it was signed by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. I cried as she jumped for joy over her discovery. It truly felt like we had finally come to a good place with reading, with books, and with this school. Her last experience with this school will get to be a positive one, and I am thankful for that.

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Tips from an Educator on Helping Students with Dyslexia Succeed

Today for Dyslexia Awareness Month we have an educator and parent to a child with dyslexia who talks with us about adapting assignments to help our students with dyslexia be more successful in school.

I first met AJ at the end of her first grade year. Her mother and I had been dating for nearly three months, and I began coming over once or twice a week after school. Being an educator, I quickly adopted the role of in-house tutor. At the time, AJ had a remarkable teacher who had moved up with her from kindergarten, a teacher who had personally arranged for her mother, a retired teacher, to work one-on-one with AJ when she noticed that AJ was falling behind on reading. It didn’t take long to see several indicators that AJ might have dyslexia, which I shared with her mother. She mentioned that she had also wondered about the possibility that AJ was dyslexic, and that AJ’s father was dyslexic.

Fast forward to fourth grade. I had been trying, and failing, to have AJ’s teachers recommend dyslexia testing for two years. Despite my efforts, and my own experience in education, I was categorically dismissed on the basis that AJ was at or close to the reading level of her peers. Of course, AJ’s second grade teacher was out on maternity leave for more than half the year and hardly worked with AJ on her reading comprehension; AJ’s third grade teacher was so fixated on AJ’s maturity and enthusiasm for learning that she could not recognize AJ’s struggles. 

Finally, thankfully, AJ was assigned to Mrs. B’s fourth grade math class. Unlike previous teachers, Mrs. B had a dyslexic son. Though she was not AJ’s English teacher, she partnered with us to pursue testing, producing evidence of AJ’s struggles and advocating for services. After testing, the diagnostician determined that AJ was not only dyslexic, but that her dyslexia was an impediment to both reading and mathematics skills. We felt vindicated and relieved by the results, and legitimately believed that our daughter would finally get the support she needed to succeed in class.

We were wrong.

AJ’s fourth grade English teacher contacted us to celebrate her “tough-love” method, in which she effectively refused to help AJ because she believed that our daughter relied too heavily on assistance. Her fifth grade math teacher refused to tutor her because, to paraphrase the teacher, other students were doing worse than AJ was and she had to prioritize them ahead of state testing. A few weeks ago, we were forced to call a meeting with her sixth grade teachers, several of whom were again not providing the services afforded her. While the dyslexia specialist continuously acknowledged our suggestions as research-based and our frustrations as warranted, the teachers were dismissive.

Just a week later, AJ informed us that her English teacher had explicitly stated that she had a goal for AJ to leave dyslexia services and end her 504 plan by the end of the year. The teacher in question, Mrs. T, had not discussed this with us, and to date has yet to share with us that she is actively encouraging our daughter to remove a support system specifically put in place to ensure her success. Mrs. T believes that AJ simply needs to work harder and be more independent in order to succeed academically. In the meeting, she made a comment that we have heard often: AJ isn’t struggling in my class. She’s one of my hardest workers.

One of the most pervasive statements AJ’s teachers have made over the years is that AJ exhibits a work ethic that they wish all students had. And therein lies the problem. AJ does work hard, harder than any student I have encountered in my eleven years of teaching. Most nights, she spends three to four hours on homework. We review math problems together, go over presentations, move line by line through essays. Her teachers can’t see her tireless determination to understand. I can.

I can also see her frequent breakdowns. I see her crying when she is confused, see her anxiety rising until the slightest sounds are triggers. I see her asking to stay home when we go to the gym so that she can finish homework, begging not to go with us to the park or to get dinner. AJ is eleven years old and puts in nearly twelve hours of academic work per day. This is the definition of struggle.

Imagine a child who wants to succeed more than she wants to play with her siblings. More than she wants to swim at the gym. More than she wants to eat. Now imagine that she is being praised for this behavior, that she walks into classrooms with teachers who celebrate her diligence and encourage her not to use her resources. It’s heartbreaking.

When I heard that October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, I realized that, prior to AJ’s diagnosis, I had never had a conversation about dyslexia outside a school building. I have never heard of a support group for parents of children with dyslexia, and her doctors have never mentioned her dyslexia during appointments. More alarming is the relative dearth of literature aimed at parents of children with dyslexia. 

How do parents know how to support school-aged children with dyslexia? Where do they get the language? When do they learn about encoding and decoding? How would they recognize the signs of and advocate screenings for dyslexia?

Without my training as an educator, I would be woefully inept at helping AJ with her homework. If, together, we spend hours completing assignments each night, if she succumbs to weekly panic attacks, where would we be without my pedagogical understanding?

To that end, I want to share a few of the strategies that I have urged AJ’s teachers to implement. Hopefully, they better equip parent advocates and encourage educators to reflect on best practices.

Minimize text in assignment descriptions and directions.

One of the things AJ and I spend the most time with is deciphering the tasks she is given and the requirements for those tasks. Use short sentences or bullet points to convey instructions, and explicitly state what is expected of students.

Be targeted and intentional with independent tasks.

Recently, AJ was assigned a series of presentations in her social studies class. The teacher assigned the task through seven text-heavy slides. Students were given a research topic, then directed to several websites where they were to locate information to answer predetermined questions. By the end of the instructions, I had counted no less than seven steps requiring AJ to encode and/or decode information. When I approached the teacher, she informed me that the most important part of the assignment was putting answers to the questions on to preformatted slides. It was unnecessary for AJ to spend an hour reading assignment directions, much less to read and filter large blocks of information on various websites to answer her questions. If the task is rooted in application, AJ would have been best able to demonstrate mastery if she had been presented with a bulleted or reduced list of pertinent details. Instead, she got stuck making inferences about what she was reading, a task that the teacher had not even intended to assess or reinforce.

When differentiating, zero in on the specific skill that you want students to master and center that skill. Look for ways to reduce encoding and decoding tasks that are not being tested so that students can give their full attention to mastering only those skills which you are assessing.

Chunk lengthy assignments into clearly defined, measurable segments.

As my daughter gets older, her school projects become more and more involved. Instead of presentations that take one class period to prepare, AJ is now being assigned projects which require as much as three-to-four weeks of work and numerous elements, from research to graphic organizers to media presentations. These projects likely overwhelm even the most naturally studious children, but they can wreak havoc for kids with dyslexia. What often helps AJ is when we go through a task together, breaking the task down into concrete steps on separate lines. This reduces the clutter sometimes created by paragraphs or blocks of text, and it organizes her thoughts. She also has a clear reference tool to which she can refer from day to day, serving both as a reminder of what she has done and an indicator of her progress toward completing the full assignment. The problem, of course, is that this process can take an entire evening on its own. Teachers can better support dyslexic students by doing this ahead of time, providing students with a clear and manageable trajectory from the outset.

Provide sparsely worded rubrics and/or checklists with assignments.

For students with dyslexia, nothing is more disheartening than pouring effort into an assignment only to learn that they have done it incorrectly. With AJ, the fear of failure is so strong that she often shuts down before even starting assignments. I have learned that much of her anxiety and confusion stems from her not understanding how she is going to be graded, and which aspects of an assignment are most important for her to focus on. She, like many students, is self-critical and a natural over-achiever. Rubrics not only guide her; they help rein her in when she is working far beyond the expectations of the assignment.

Don’t mistake hard work and/or extra work as understanding.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but routinely celebrating students for working harder than their peers, or for exceeding the expectations of an assignment, actually perpetuates a dangerous level of diligence. Students like my daughter seek recognition, and they will push themselves well past exhaustion in an effort to impress the teachers who frequently praise their work. As hard as it has been for me to learn, it’s not a good thing when my students put in additional hours for my class on a regular basis. Public school already dominates the lives of adolescents, making it difficult to pursue healthy and meaningful outlets, sometimes forcing students to choose between livelihood and academic success.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Ronnie K. Stephens ( https://twitter.com/RonnieKStephens ) is a proud dad and lifetime educator. Novelist, essayist, and poet. Neurodivergent. Loudmouth advocate for human rights. ronniekstephens.com

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Dyslexic—and Bilingual? a guest post by Laura Rueckert

Today for Dyslexia Awareness Month author Laura Rueckert is sharing her experiences raising children with dyslexia in a foreign country and why she wrote that into her upcoming YA fantasy novel.

When I first starting writing A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN, my YA Fantasy coming Fall 2020 from Flux, I knew I wanted the main character Jiara to be an immigrant. As an American living in Germany, I understood firsthand what it was like to deal with a new country, new customs, a new language.

And then my kids were diagnosed with dyslexia. They say 1 in 5 people has dyslexia, but you wouldn’t know it when reading YA books, where it rarely seems to come up, so I decided Jiara would have dyslexia, too. After the diagnosis, several well-meaning friends and family members suggested I stop speaking English with my kids, saying maybe they’d have less trouble if they only had to concentrate on one language.

I was honestly shocked. I’d been speaking English to my kids since they were born. It was only later, in fourth grade, that they received the diagnosis. How could stopping help? And besides that, every child in Germany has to learn English in school. Wouldn’t it be an advantage for them to keep hearing it at home? They had enough classroom disadvantages as it was.

Luckily, none of the experts agreed with the advice I’d received. I continued speaking and reading to them in English. I didn’t push them to read by themselves in either language, but it was important to me that their English comprehension was solid. And what did I find? Three+ years later, they still have spelling difficulties, but they’re still doing great in English class.

It was only later that I found research saying there is no certainty whether being bilingual helps or hinders someone with dyslexia. The only correlation I found was that bilingual children are diagnosed later, because it’s often assumed their difficulties stem from spending less time on the language used in school. Exactly that happened with us—teachers assumed my children were slower in learning to read and spell in German because they spent half their time hearing English.

I opened with the statistic that 1 in 5 people has dyslexia. But worldwide, more than half the population speaks two or more languages. And that includes people with dyslexia. A tip from me would be to trust your instincts. If your child is growing up with more than one language and you suspect they have dyslexia, do whatever you can to get them tested as early as possible, even if their teachers don’t feel it’s necessary yet. It was such a relief for all of us, including my kids, to know the reason behind their difficulties.

In the fantasy world of A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN, no one understands the concept of dyslexia, and Jiara’s been raised to think she’s just bad at languages and learning. When she ends up having to marry a young, foreign king for political reasons and move to his country, she’s terrified she’ll never learn the new language, and never be able to understand people there.

No spoilers, but given what I wrote about my kids, I think you can guess she’ll manage fine. And that’s the message I want kids with dyslexia, multilingual or not, to see. It’s important to me that my depiction of dyslexia is accurate, so since I don’t have it, I worked with authenticity readers who do.

But Jiara’s story isn’t only about having dyslexia. It’s a murder mystery. It’s about grief, friendship, and an LGBT-accepting society. And it’s about the wonder of getting to know another country and their customs, and especially about learning that we’re often more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

I hope people enjoy A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN when it comes out in Fall 2020. Until then, if you’re looking for books already in stores and libraries, remember to check Teen Librarian Toolbox’s post from earlier this month which includes a list of books featuring a main character with dyslexia.

And if you’d like more information on dyslexia and multilingualism, here are some resources I found helpful:

FAQs About Bilingualism and Dyslexia

Dyslexia, Bilingualism, and Learning a Second Language

About A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN

YA Fantasy, Coming in Fall 2020 from Flux

When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the killer is brought to justice. The mourning period hasn’t even reached its end when Scilla’s betrothed, the king of a country far away, requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride.

Marrying the man meant for her sister would make her feel bad enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara believes her chances of learning a new language are slim. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land, where she’d be unable to communicate. Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin came from the king’s country. Marrying the king would allow Jiara to hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s spirit, whose thirst for blood mounts every day.

To save her family, Jiara must find Scilla’s killer . . . before he murders her too.

Add A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN on Goodreads

Meet Laura Rueckert

Laura Rueckert is a card-carrying bookworm who manages projects by day. At night, fueled by European chocolate, she transforms into a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura grew up in Michigan/USA, but a whirlwind romance after college brought her to Europe. Today, she lives in Germany with her husband, two kids, and one fluffy dog.

Website ; Twitter ; Instagram ; Goodreads

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Dyslexia from a Teen POV, a guest post by teen blogger Lauren

For today’s Sunday Reflections and Dyslexia Awareness Month post I thought I would turn it over to a teen who has graciously agreed to share with us what it’s like to be a teen with dyslexia.

I’ve had a formal dyslexia diagnosis since I was eight years old, and, in the almost a decade since, I’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to live in a world where your brain doesn’t work in exactly the same way as most people. Though I was diagnosed fairly early into elementary school, it was only the start of a long road of dealing with schools and trying to help me work around my learning disability. Today, my dyslexia isn’t as huge of a part of my life as it was when I was younger thanks to a lot of support from tutors and my mother who fought fiercely to get me the help I needed. I’m lucky that I had the support I did because many people in my position don’t.

I have a weird relationship with dyslexia because I’ve always been a prolific reader. Though I always preferred listening to my mom read to me over doing it myself, I always had a book in my hand. English was where I excelled until it came to putting words on paper. When I was in second grade, I couldn’t spell to save my life. I still have the occasional nightmare about taking my paper up to the teacher and her telling me that I was lazy and rushing because of all the spelling mistakes. I would take the paper back to my desk and stare at it on the verge of tears because I could not find anything wrong with the way I spelled the words. There was nothing I hated more than disappointing my teacher, and she made me feel like a complete failure. The worst part was, I could never get the teacher to look at the paper long enough to see past the spelling mistakes to what I’d written.

When my mom went to my teacher with concerns about how I could ace spelling tests every week but write a paper where I spelled “beautiful” four different ways without realizing it, she was brushed off. The teacher assured her I was smart, and, if I paid more attention, I’d figure it out.

For the first semester of third grade, I was treated as a careless kid who didn’t care enough to spell or space properly. It wasn’t until our 50 States test that my teacher started to realize there might be something bigger at play. We had to spell every state and every capital properly to get credit. By that time, I knew I was bad at spelling and that I couldn’t get over it no matter how long I studied. I froze. I panicked. I refused to write anything for hours even though I knew all the answers. It would crush me to fail over spelling errors. When she broke down and told me to forget about spelling, I wrote them all out in less than fifteen minutes. Between that episode and getting back my standardized test scores, I finally got a teacher to recognize that there might be more going on than a behavioral issue.

That was the year I got tested. After the diagnosis, I worked with a woman who specialized in teaching phonetics to dyslexic kids. The goal, I guess, was that if I studied the rules enough, I’d become a phonetic speller. After two painful years of dead ends with that method of therapy, my mom took me to her friend who tutored kids. She was the one who finally cracked the code on the wiring of my brain. I’m able to read so well out loud and so fast in my head because every word I know, I have memorized by sight. I was shocked to learn that most people didn’t just know the principals of phonetics but used them every day to figure out words by sounding them out. I could memorize these ideas enough to pass a test, but I could never harness their full power.

It was this woman who suggested we try a method that would play off of how the pieces of my brain came together. She had me start typing everything, which was a completely novel concept at that time, in elementary school. When I started, the entire page was filled with red squiggly lines, most of which didn’t have suggestions for how to fix the words. We worked together to brainstorm ways to get the word close enough that the computer would understand. Between working with Holly and putting in time with my mom every day during the summers, I got the squiggles down to only a few words.

Having access to a computer changed my life. It made me so much more confident. It put aside all the unimportant details and presented my ideas in a perfectly spaced, perfectly spelled, perfectly bland font. The few assignments I got to turn in typed allowed my teachers to see what I was really capable of. It also helped me learn how to spell by reinforcing the correct spelling day in and day out instead of leaving me to aimlessly flounder in my mistakes. I would have had an entirely different outlook on school had this technology been available to me.

Sadly, the private school I went to elementary school at refused to allow me to bring a computer or have any other kind of accommodation beyond extra time. All the time in the world wouldn’t help me find my spelling errors, and, at a school where a point was counted off for every spelling error, my struggles paralyzed me. Even though by the time I was ten I knew it wasn’t my fault, it didn’t make me feel any less incompetent.

My mom moved me to public school under the impression that they would have to offer me more accommodations, but, after taking their testing, I was denied any accommodations. With my disability, I scoured average on the spelling section, and, even though this represented a huge drop compared to my other scores, they shrugged me off with policy loopholes. That’s one of the hardest realizations that you come to with schools. Lots of administrations are happy to leave children at okay or good enough instead of working to make slight tweaks that could help unlock student’s potentials.

Some teachers were more understanding than others, but, as everyone who has dyslexia or has parented someone dealing with it knows, there were a lot more people who didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand.

I finished high school online, free to use my computer for all my assignments, and it felt like a million pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. It’s still not a perfect system, but having the computer gets me a lot farther than I was. It’s helped me learn to spell, it catches my mistakes, and, if I can’t find the right order for the letters, I can ask Siri to spell it for me. Technology has changed my life, but I still feel a flood of panic every time I have to hand write an essay. On my AP exam, I felt like I was starting ten steps behind as spelling is considered in your final score. There was no way to tell them I was simply doing the best I could. My handwriting is leaps and bounds better, but I limit the vocabulary when I write people notes based on what I think I can spell. My spacing still looks weird sometimes. I flip numbers in my head. My dyslexia and the feeling of needing to prove myself I gained from being frowned upon all those years is still with me. It always will be. I’ve learned to adapt and live with it every day.

What this experience has taught me, though, is that all I can do is my best, and that’s all most people are doing. I try not to judge on superficial things, and keeping an open mind about people’s abilities is so important to me I wish that spelling wasn’t looked at as some marker of intelligence or proof that you care. I wish that more technology was available at a younger age to kids to help them get their work seen for what it is, and I hope that we’re moving closer to a more empathetic world where small tweaks can be made for kids that need them instead of being frowned upon as taking short cuts or “cheating” like I was told when I asked for help.

And I want kids that struggle with dyslexia, no matter what way it impacts them, to know that they don’t have to limit themselves to what they think they can safely do or to keeping people’s expectations. One of the things I’m most grateful for is that when I was younger, my mom never let me quit writing with big words even if I could barely spell them. Se refused to let me compromise on what I wanted. I also realized I loved telling stories, and, even when no one would look past the surface to read them, I kept working. Today, I’m a book blogger and a writer, two things that definitely don’t seem typical of someone with dyslexia. Do what you love even if it feels impossible at first because, even on the hard days, it’ll make you love the things your brain can do.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Lauren is a writer and YA book blogger at www.readingwritingandme.com. When she’s not working on college applications, she’s working at her local bookstore or playing music. Lauren is also a mental health awareness advocate and host of the podcast, The Empathy Factor, where she’s always asking “What if that was me?”. 

Dyslexia Awareness Month: What are libraries doing? Here’s a small sample

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and as a librarian and the parent to a child with dyslexia, I’ve been really focusing on how school and public libraries can better serve patrons with dyslexia. You can find all of our posts at our Dyslexia Awareness dashboard. Today I thought I would take a look at what some libraries are doing during this month.

Although this blog is not related to the library that I work at, I do work at the Fort Worth Public Library where I select materials for youth and work with the other staff serving youth to provide quality services to the youth in our community. Towards the end of September I sent out an email to our youth services staff talking about dyslexia, my experiences as both a librarian and a parent, and I highlighted areas of our collections that would be particularly helpful to our youth patrons with dyslexia. I was very happy to see the other day that as I walked through my library a co-worker had read my e-mail and used the display area that she is responsible for to put up a Dyslexia Awareness Month display. I was also happy to see that several of the books had been checked out. Thank you Joanie Ramos for this great display and helping raise awareness!

I was also very happy to see on Facebook that the Teen @ Washington County Free Library had chosen to do a display as well. They have done a great job here of highlighting the various services they have for patrons with dyslexia.

On Twitter I follow librarian Jennifer Taggart and she also shared what her library is doing for Dyslexia Awareness Month.

A quick search of Twitter using the hasthag #Dyslexia and the keyword library revealed a few other libraries sharing their Dyslexia Awareness Month displays.

That same search revealed that some libraries were bringing in guest speakers, sharing films, and raising awareness in some other ways as well.

If you’re not sure what your library can do to help patrons with dyslexia, please check out the ALSC guidelines here. You can also find an informative article addressing this topic here. And finally, please check out the infographic I made here.

Thank you to all of the libraries who have made the choice to help us raise awareness during Dyslexia Awareness Month. Remember, 1 in 5 children will be identified as having dyslexia and it’s important if we want to raise readers that we know how we can best serve youth with dyslexia.

If your library provides special services, is doing a display, has special collections, or somehow does something to reach out to patrons with dyslexia, please leave a link in the comments for us to see what other libraries are doing.

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

This month as I set out to learn and talk more about dyslexia, I went on a quest specifically to find out what types of books are better suited for readers with dyslexia. The answer to this question is slightly more complicated and I touch on it some in this infographic. Along the way I found a list of books for kids that feature main characters that have dyslexia. This is great, I thought. We’ve talked a lot about representation and I had just stumbled upon a list of books that could help kids with dyslexia feel seen and understood. The problem was, the list primarily featured younger kids. So I went looking for a list of teen (young adult) fiction that featured teens with dyslexia and to be honest, I didn’t find a lot.

So I asked my librarian friends on Twitter for recommendations and to be honest, I still didn’t find a lot. When you consider that it is believed that 1 in 5 people has dyslexia, it seems like there should be more than a couple of handful of books that feature characters with dyslexia. And keep in mind that some of what was recommended was just believed to be dyslexia, some of the books recommended don’t actually use that word. If we want to help kids with dyslexia feel validated and help our world better understand and support kids with dyslexia, I believe that it is important that the word dyslexia be used to help de-stigmatize and normalize our kiddos with dyslexia. They are around 20% of the population and it’s important. Though to be clear, any type of disability is underrepresented in youth literature and it is a huge opportunity for growth when we talk about representation.

Here’s a look at what I did find or was recommended to me.

Photograph of an RA tool I created to share with Fort Worth Public Library staff

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publisher’s Book Description: Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone? 

Karen’s Thoughts: I’ve read this book and it’s a very good book. At the time that I read it I wasn’t looking for dyslexia representation, but as soon as it was recommended to me for this list I thought, yes! The main character, Claudia, has dyslexia and it shown to struggle in many ways with reading, homework and many of the same issues that I see my child with dyslexia struggling with.

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Publisher’s Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of the car while her stepmom fills a prescription for antibiotics. Before Cheyenne realizes what’s happening, the car is being stolen.

Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne and once he finds out that not only does she have pneumonia, but that she’s blind, he really doesn’t know what to do. When his dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes–now there’s a reason to keep her.

How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare?

Karen’s Thoughts: I have not yet read this book so I can’t comment on the representation of dyslexia, but it was recommended to me and I have read other April Henry books and she writes engaging books for teen readers.

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Publisher’s Book Description: Karl, aged seventeen, is hopelessly in love. But the object of his affections, Firella, demands proof, and poses him a series of questions regarding his attitude to the many sides of love. But Karl is dyslexic, and convinced that if Firella finds out, she will think he is stupid, and unworthy of her, and leave him.

So Karl asks a local writer to help him construct his replies – and an unlikely, but extremely touching, friendship develops between the two men. They both come to learn a great deal about about life from a very different perspective, and when an act of violence shatters their calm, they find their respective appraisal of life shifting in profound ways.

This is Aidan Chambers’ Dying to Know You.

Karen’t Thoughts: This is another title that I haven’t read but I looked at reviews and all of the reviews clearly state that the main character, Karl, is dyslexic as does the publisher’s book description. Given that many of us fight to get our kids a proper diagnosis, I feel that it is important that the character is clearly identified as being dyslexic.

Life at the Speed of Us by Heather Sappenfield

Publisher’s Book Description: Silence is safe. Fate is not.

When Sovern Briggs survives a car crash, she stops talking to seal in the memory of the final sounds from her mother’s life. As conflict with her father builds and failure in school looms, Sovern seeks relief in a dangerous boyfriend and in speed’s adrenaline edge. These needs collide, leading Sovern to a snowboarding accident that changes her future and perhaps that of our universe.

Life at the Speed of Us weaves dyslexia, math, cutting-edge science, genius, and love into a young woman’s reluctant journey toward grace. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This is yet another book that I haven’t read that came recommended to me. Again, I appreciate and think it’s important that dyslexia is clearly named.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Publisher’s Book Description: When twelve-year-old Foster and her mother land in the tiny town of Culpepper, they don’t know what to expect. But folks quickly warm to the woman with the great voice and the girl who can bake like nobody’s business. Soon Foster – who dreams of having her own cooking show one day – lands herself a gig baking for the local coffee shop, and gets herself some much-needed help in overcoming her biggest challenge – learning to read . . . just as Foster and Mama start to feel at ease, their past catches up to them. Thanks to the folks in Culpepper, though Foster and her mama find the strength to put their troubles behind them for good.

Karen’s Thoughts: I have read this book, though it has been a while. I love all books by Joan Bauer and remember loving this one. I looked at reviews and although they state the main character is struggling to learn to read, most of the reviews don’t indicate one way or the other if the main character is stated to have dyslexia. This book did, however, show up on a recommended reading list about dyslexia.

You’ll see Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo on the image above. It was recommended to me with the caveat that one of the characters discusses having some type of learning disorder related to reading by that they never outright call it dyslexia. So I share that here with that caveat.

If you want to see the original Twitter conversation and all of the recommendations, you can find it here:

And here is a picture of the RA tool I made for the staff at Fort Worth Public Library for books featuring characters with dyslexia of a younger age:

Other Reading Lists

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/encouraging-reading-writing/7-books-featuring-characters-with-dyslexia-or-adhd

Confessions of a Dyslexic Word Nerd, By Amanda Hosch

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and this month we’re sharing posts and resources to help us all better understand what dyslexia is and how we can best parent and serve youth with dyslexia. Today we are honored to share a guest post by Amanda Hosch who shares her story of growing up with dyslexia.

I’m dyslexic.

I’ve learned when to announce this to new colleagues and friends. Too soon, and they tend to doubt me on a myriad of subjects that have nothing to do with spelling. (I can listen to a weather report as well as anyone.) Too late, and I’m met with disbelief and—more than once—arguments about whether or not I actually have dyslexia. (Dude, why would I lie?)

The beginning of formal schooling in first grade brought frustration and feelings of stupidity. Spelling tests were 20 words of pain and humiliation. It didn’t matter how carefully I read instructions, pesky “n’t” would appear and disappear, like a trickster, ruining my work. The middle of words vanished into thin air. Spaces appeared randomly. Did that word begin a “b” or a “d” or perhaps a “p”? Numbers jumped around. “9” tumbled upside down until it became a “6.” I can still feel the burn of shame on my cheeks when I failed the clock-reading test. I said the wrong number (6 or 9). When the teacher asked if the number was on the clock’s left or right side, I panicked and blurted out an answer. It was wrong, and everyone laughed at me. To this day, I have no idea how anyone innately knows left or right. I believe that most of you do, but I have no clue how. Oh, for those people who say, put your thumbs out at a 90-degree angle and see which one makes an “L.” Hi! Dyslexic here. “L” looks the same as “⅃” to my brain. That “trick” is no help at all, and I may be silently cursing that condescending helpful hint.

Fun side fact: besides regular old dyslexia, I have what’s known as directional or geographic dyslexia. I have no concept of left or right, have very limited spatial awareness, and can get lost a block away from home. Yeah, my older brothers thought that was a hoot.

If I had been left to figure things out on my own or just told to work harder, I would have hated school. Not too long ago, it would have been assumed I was incapable of learning. I’m incredibly fortunate because my mother knew something was wrong with my language processing and actively searched for answers. We were a family of readers and I loved being read to. However, even as a little girl, I wanted to be able to read by myself almost as much as I wanted a cat. When I was an adult, my mother told me that my diagnosis was a relief. My difficulties had a name and she had an action plan.

I’m not quite sure if my small, Catholic, New Orleans elementary school previously had paraprofessionals, but my mother somehow convinced the principal that she needed them. That I needed them. And so I and a few other students were given in-school support. At home, my mother would go over the sessions, reviewing and reinforcing them until I felt confident. Outside of school, I also saw a speech-language pathologist for my speech impediment.

I was taught how to learn—how I had to study—which was different than the easy-breezy read-it-once way my older brothers did.

When reading long paragraphs, it helped to have a solid ruler under each line so that the word chunks wouldn’t play switcheroo and bounce up or down a couple of lines, jumbling meaning. Sometimes, it meant my mother had to read a passage out loud to me as I read silently along. Or have her spell out a word slowly since looking words up in the dictionary was an exercise in futility if I couldn’t decode the first syllable.

Early intervention made a difference.

Let me rephrase that: early intervention made a huge difference for both my academic success and my emotional wellbeing.

By the time I entered fourth grade, I had study skills out the wazoo, and was reading way above grade level. For pleasure!!! The librarians at my local branch (Nix Library on Carrollton Avenue) knew me and would offer suggestions. I adored Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, James Herriot, and Agatha Christie. I learned to be comfortable while reading, accepting that sometimes (lots of the time) I’d have to reread a passage until it would settle down on the page.

And yes, spending two to three hours a week memorizing how to spell 20 vocabulary words might seem excessive, but remember this was the late 70s/early 80s, and there were only three major TV channels. Throw in a perfectionist streak and a desire to one-up my brothers, and well, that’s how this dyslexic finally won the spelling award in 8th grade.

Even now, decades later, letters/letter chunks still swim around on the page, especially if I’m tired. Ending of words go missing all the time. Is there a “d” at the end of “you’re welcomed?” I’ve looked it up dozens of times and still can’t recall.

While early intervention with learning strategies made the difference in being able to do schoolwork well, my mother’s unwavering support and belief in my ability to succeed meant I never blamed myself for being dyslexic. It simply was. Like my brother needing glasses. No big deal. School was more work for me than for others, but I had the tools.

I graduated near the top of my class at my college-prep high school. Was a lead in my high school play senior year. Was editor of my university newspaper. Been published in academic journals. Taught at the university level in Europe and Asia. Traveled throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Wrote a middle grade mystery. (A special shout-out to all the copy editors and proofreaders of the world!)

I will always be dyslexic. There is no cure. However, I have strategies formed over a lifetime to work through difficulties and the self-confidence to use them.

If you have a young person in your life who has dyslexia and you want to help, here’s some things that were useful to me:

Accept the child as is. Be patient. Be kind. Ask questions and listen.

Ask how they would like feedback. Do they want hints about what’s wrong or do they need it clearly pointed out? Adjust as they child changes.

Don’t mistake discouragement for laziness. Don’t tell them they need to focus better. It’s tiring to always be the one who has to work harder for every small success. Would you tell a kid who needs glasses to squint harder to see the white board?

Acknowledge the child’s hard work. Actively tell the child you see the effort.

Advocate for the child. Ask for testing if you think there’s an issue. Ask for services if needed. Politely but persistently. Encourage and gently reinforce learning strategies at home.

Find out what the child enjoys, support them, and let them dig into that subject.

Audio books count as reading. Graphic novels count as reading. Re-reading books count as reading.

If the child is a word nerd like me, explain that English orthography is weird. Do you remember this from school: “i before e except after c or when sounded as ‘a’ as in neighbor and weigh”? Weird (see what I did there?), it’s like there’s a glacier (again!) of words that don’t follow that rule. With a little bit of time, I could probably think of at least eight (I’ll stop now) more examples.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Amanda Hosch loves writing, travel, and coffee. She lived abroad for almost a decade, teaching English as a Foreign Language. A fifth generation New Orleanian, Amanda now lives in Seattle with her husband, their daughters, two rescue cats, and a ghost cat. Her first novel, MABEL OPAL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING, a middle grade mystery, was published by Capstone Young Readers in 2017. A cat on her lap and a book in her hand is her ideal way to pass an afternoon.

Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard: All our Dyslexia posts and references in one place to help us all better serve youth with dyslexia

My Journey Parenting a Child with Dyslexia

Here are the articles I have written as both a librarian and the mother of a child with dyslexia in which I share my personal journey of learning how to better understand, advocate for and help my child with dyslexia. Every day I’m learning more about how to better understand and help my child and children like her. I hope you will join me on this journey because if we want to raise readers, we need to understand that not everyone learns to read in the same way and at the same time. And if I could say one important thing to you it is this: never ever shame a person on their reading journey, no matter where they are at, what they are reading, or how it may differ from yours.

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia 

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back 

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader with Dyslexia Really Loves 

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You 

In Which I Interview Thing 2, My Child Who Has Dyslexia (She wrote some of the questions herself)

Everything You Need to Know About Dyslexia and Library Services to Youth with Dyslexia at TLT

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

How Libraries Can Better Serve Youth with Dyslexia, an Infographic

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

Additional Posts About Dyslexia at TLT

What if it’s more than Reluctant Reading

Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

Dyslexia from a Teen POV, a guest post

What are libraries doing for Dyslexia Awareness Month? Here are a few examples

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Tips from an Educator on Helping Students with Dyslexia Succeed

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Dyslexic—and Bilingual? a guest post by Laura Rueckert

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Dyslexia from a Teen POV, a guest post by teen blogger Lauren

Library Services to Youth with Dyslexia Guidelines and Examples

Upper Arlington in Ohio services to children with dyslexia

IFLA has some great discussion about services to patrons with dyslexia as well

ALSC guidelines for library services to children with dyslexia

An interview with The Dylslexic Librarian

Dyslexia Organizations, Dyslexia 101 and Designing for Dyslexia

Resources to learn more about the basics of dyslexia and how to better serve youth with dyslexia. Many of these websites have helpful infographics and design tips that we should keep in mind when designing our signage, flyers, etc.

CNN: This is what reading is like if you have dyslexia

International Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia Fact Sheet

Made by Dyslexia

Decoding Dyslexia

Understood.org

Dyslexia Affects More Than Just Reading, here’s a look at other skills that can be affected by dyslexia

DITC: Dyslexia in the Classroom, what every teacher needs to know

Dyslexia Accommodations in the Classroom – please don’t ask students to read aloud, don’t count off for poor spelling, don’t insist on book levels, don’t make book levels public knowledge if you use them, and consider letting students take photos of notes on the board or provide printed out copies of notes. These are just a few of the accommodations that are suggested to help youth with dyslexia be successful in school. A quick Google search will lead you to many more resources about this important topic.

Dyslexia and High School Drop Out Rates – Undiagnosed dyslexia, self-esteem issues and an unsupportive learning environment or lack of resources can lead to a higher drop out rate for students with dyslexia. It is imperative that we advocate for early diagnosis and proper educational support and that our youth with dyslexia are given proper instruction in order for them to be successful.

Scholastic: Dyslexia, what teachers need to know

Dyslexia, what you’re seeing in your high schooler

F is for Fail – this article is from Canada, but it touches on some important points. One of our biggest measures of academic success is whether or not a child can read at level in the 3rd grade. However, schools don’t typically test for dyslexia until the second semester of their 2nd grade year. At this time, it’s often too late for proper intervention. We need routines screening beginning the moment our kids start school to help get them and keep them on track.

Dyslexic Library – a blog by a mother and daughter

Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia – want to better understand what it’s like to have dyslexia? This article really helped me better understand that anxiety and self-doubt that can come from having a brain that thinks differently in our world.

Infographic source cites on infographic itself

6 Surprising Bad Design Practices that Hurt Dyslexic Users

Designing for Dyslexia

What to Look for in Books

What makes a book dyslexia-friendly?

Scholastic Acorn and Branches books are a great resource for readers grades K-3. Also look at graphic novels and audio books, especially for readers grades 3-7. Graphic novels, audio books and hi-lo readers like those published by Orca are great for high school readers with dyslexia. Many people have also suggested decodable books. Digital media is a great resource for readers with dyslexia and tools like Overdrive allow readers to personalize their tools in ways that work best for them.

When recommending books to readers with dyslexia, consider the following:

Shorter is better – shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs help prevent the blurring of text.

Bigger is better – bigger text can help prevent the blurring of text as well

Sans-Serif fonts – many people with dyslexia find san-serif fonts easier to read

More “white space” on the page – having more white space, or negative space with no text at all, on the page is helpful

But not actual white space – black text on a stark white background is often the most difficult to read, using an off white page can be helpful for many readers with dyslexia

To the left, to the left – Left justify your text for easier reading

Simple is better – Whatever you can do to simplify your text is better. Use bold lettering instead of italics, for example. Don’t add a lot of flourishes and fancy stuff. You want to make it as easy to read as possible so that readers with dyslexia have less opportunities to mix up letters and words, skip lines or paragraphs, etc.

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

Yesterday I shared with you an Infographic I made about how we as librarians can better serve youth with dyslexia. One of the most important things we can do is to provide a wide variety of formats for our patrons to help them become independent readers. Dyslexia is often referred to as a spectrum, which basically means that not all people with dyslexia have the same issues. It’s also not just a matter of reversing letters. When looking at the page a person with dyslexia may reverse letters, they may reverse words, words and lines may blend together, etc. This is why it is important that libraries provide access to a wide variety of formats.

Audio Books

There is, unfortunately, still a lot of bias against audio books, which many people also refer to as ear reading. Recent research is helping to break down this bias as it reveals that listening to an audio book lights up the same parts of the brain as reading the words on a page does. But it’s really important that librarians understand that audio books are a game changer for many readers with dyslexia. Audio books gives readers a personal freedom while also helping them develop both fluency and accuracy while reading. For many people with dyslexia, audio books are a real game changer. Learning Ally is a producer of audio books specifically with learning disabilities in mind and they discuss the benefits of audio books here.

It is vitally important that libraries purchase audio books for readers of all ages. If possible, consider shelving your audio books right there with the books so that the two are together and easy for patrons to find. Playaway, for example, allows you to buy Bookpacks with the book and audio book packaged together, though they tend to be for younger readers. Audi books aren’t just for long commutes, they are an access issue for people with a wide variety of learning disabilities and reading challenges.

Digital Media

Digital media, both ebooks and eaudio books, are helpful for a lot of reasons. A lot of libraries provide this through Overdrive and it’s important that librarians know that Overdrive has accessibility features that can help readers with dyslexia. For example, when reading an ebook through Overdrive you can change the font to make reading easier and the Dyslexie font is one of the font options. There are a variety of fonts – typically san serif fonts – that many readers with dyslexia find easier to read.

Overdrive and other digital content readers often allow you to increase the font size or change the background color. Digital audio books often allow you to decrease or increase the reading speed. These are just a few of the ways that digital media allows users to personalize the reading experience and this is important because it increases the likelihood that the reader will be successful and have a positive reading experience. Again, access to digital media is an access issue when it comes to people with disabilities and other learning challenges and we owe it to our patrons to provide access.

Large Print

I have worked at many libraries that have large print collections, but only adult large print. I am at the age now where I use readers and I understand the appeal of large print for older adult readers. But large print is beneficial to other populations as well, including youth with dyslexia. Large print utilizes a larger font size and typically has more white space on the page, which means there are less words to run together. Large print, more space between words and lines, and more white space all help the reader differentiate what they see on the page. Large print can help increase reading speed for people with dyslexia. It’s time that libraries consider having large print versions of books for readers of all ages.

Hi/Lo Readers

Hi/Lo readers, also sometimes called High/Low readers, are books that are specifically designed for what are often referred to as “reluctant readers”. These are shorter books that have shorter sentences, shorter chapters, and are generally written to be quick paced and engaging. They aren’t as intimidating to readers because they are thin books and they look like quick reads. These are also of interest to readers with dyslexia because the shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs once again make it easier for readers to differentiate what they are seeing on the page. Plus, because they aren’t large tomes, a reader is more likely to finish and have a successful reading experience. That’s what we want, readers having successful reading experiences so they will keep reading and not give up. Practice really is important but each failure results in shame and discouragement and makes it that much harder for our kids to want to keep trying.

Orca is a publishing house that specializes in writing Hi/Lo readers for teens. They have several lines of interest and I’ve read a few and they’re pretty good. There are other publishers out there as well. I wouldn’t label them in any way as Hi/Lo readers because you don’t want to shame our readers. But if you want to put any type of label or category on them, I just refer to them as “Quick Reads”. Hi/Lo readers can help our kids have positive reading experiences, and I can’t begin to tell you how much that matters.

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are one format that I have completely changed my mind about. I am here today to admit that I used to be a graphic novel snob. And while they still don’t personally work for me as a reader, I am here to tell you that they can be the difference between reading life or death for so many of our youth. I have watched my daughter read graphic novel after graphic novel and just truly come alive as someone who loves reading.

The other day we were driving in the car and she just told me out of the blue that, “the reason I like reading graphic novels is because the text isn’t in straight lines so it doesn’t blend together and I don’t skip lines.” And a lightbulb went off for me. The thing that doesn’t work for me as a reader is exactly what she needs because the straight lines of text start to blend together for her if there are too many.

There are a lot of articles out there about the benefits of reading graphic novels. Scholastic has one. Here’s one that looks at research. And here’s another. The gist is this: graphic novels allow readers to engage with the text in a way that visually reinforces the storytelling. But here’s the more important part: while reading graphic novels our youth are having positive reading experiences while practicing the fine art of reading and each one of those positive reading experiences are important because they are more likely to continue reading because they find it enjoyable.

At the end of the day, that’s what we want: positive reading experiences. We want our kids to keep reading, not to give up because of shame, frustration, boredom, or other negative experiences associated with reading. Anything we can do to help our youth have those positive reading experiences, we should be doing them. That’s why having a wide variety of formats matters. No two people are dyslexic in the same way, we need to have a variety of formats so that each of our kids can find what works best for them and then keep doing that and banking those positive reading experiences.