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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

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

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and I want to take a moment to talk to you about Dyslexia. I have been a librarian for 26 years and I have never heard us talk about dyslexia in libraries. We did not talk about dyslexia in any of my MLS classes, even the ones that focused on youth. We have never talked about it in youth services meetings or at conferences or at any of the places where people who talk about getting youth to read talk about, well, getting youth to read. I think that we – and here I’m using the greater we meaning the library community as a whole, your mileage may vary – have done our community a disservice by failing to talk about dyslexia, how it impacts our youth and how we as libraries are under-serving our communities by not paying enough attention to dyslexia and other learning disabilities. So let’s start working right now to change that.

About 1 in 5 children has dyslexia and mine is one of them. I talk about her here at TLT as Thing 2. There is a lot I wish I had known about trying to raise a reader who has dyslexia and the learning curve has been hard, for her and I both. I had no idea what it meant to be dyslexic, to raise a child with dyslexia, and what the long term impact on our lives would be. I did not know how hard I would have to fight for her. I did not know that everything I thought I knew about raising a reader would turn out to be entirely wrong. We are two years into our journey and this October I’m here to tell you that chances are if you work in a school or public library then you need to better understand dyslexia in order to properly serve the almost 20% of your patrons of all ages that have it, including kids just like mine.

It is only in the past year that my daughter has finally read a complete book and she will be 11 in November. She likes graphic novels (all things Raina Telgemeier), the Here’s Hank books by Henry Winkley and Lin Oliver (which are written specifically with dyslexic kids in mind), the Magic School bus chapter books, and the Black Lagoon series by Thaler. What these books have in common is that they have short sentences, short paragraphs, graphics to help her decipher the text and a lot of white space on the page. There are some specific things to look for in books that can help people with dyslexia read and that includes using a more legible font (sans serif fonts are recommended), providing more spacing between words and line height, having more white space on the page, and having shorter blocks of text. Visually what you want is to create a page that makes it harder for words and letters to run together. This article on 6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users is a really good resource.

Most people think of reversing letters when they think of dyslexia and this is definitely part of it. My child will do things like reverse her bs and ds, which is pretty common. However, dyslexia is about more than just reversing letters because it has more to do with how the brain receives and processes information. For example, when my child reads she has a tendency to skip sentences, which can be common for children with dyslexia. She usually has to use her finger or a ruler to help her read the entire text because everything just blends together. Dyslexia is about processing information and it effects more than just reading. There’s a really good article about that here: https://time.com/4608060/dyslexia-reading-disorder/.

In library land we often talk about “reluctant readers”. Sometimes these kids are reluctant to read because they have dyslexia, and it is important for us to understand that. When children with dyslexia are diagnosed and given proper intervention, they are often taught a unique system of decoding information that involves using a multi-sensory approach. Unfortunately, most schools don’t even begin to diagnose dyslexia until the second or third grade and by the time these children have failed so many times and fallen so far behind that their self-esteem, their interest in school, and their foundations are already damaged. It is vitally important that parents and schools are aware of dyslexia and what it looks like so that intervention can happen early.

We’ve all heard the importance of reading levels and third grade. This information has told us time and time again that children who can’t read on or at level by third grade are less likely to graduate and are more likely to end up in prison. And yet, we don’t even test until 3rd grade in a lot of states. This needs to change if we want to help get kids reading by 3rd grade.

Because the brains of children with dyslexia work differently, the task of reading can make them physically tired. It’s literally draining their energy and it’s important for people who work with kids to understand this. They will often read in short bursts in part because they have problems concentrating, but also in part because the process is just exhausting. Read that again: for many of our youth with dyslexia, reading is quite literally physically exhausting and unenjoyable. But we can help them.

Dyslexia can have such a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem. I have heard my child call herself stupid so many times. What’s worse is I have had to hold her as she cried because the kids at school have called her stupid. Watching your child struggle with dyslexia means watching your child struggle to love herself in a world that is designed to cater to only one type of brain and trying to find ways to help her love herself. It is a great source of stress and heartache for families. Nothing has made my heart ache more then watching my child struggle to be a reader.

When we talk about reluctant readers or kids not liking to read, I’ve learned that it is important to remember that reading isn’t the same for everyone and some of our children have real struggles regarding reading. But with some care and knowledge, we can help them. I am here to tell you that on the whole, school and public libraries have not done enough to educate staff about issues surrounding dyslexia and other learning disabilities. And we have not done enough to be actively engaged in making sure that we provide accessible signage and services to our patrons with dyslexia. I did a quick search and I did not find a lot of libraries who were actively providing and marketing services to patrons with dyslexia. Upper Arlington in Ohio engaged in services to children with dyslexia. IFLA has some great discussion about services to patrons with dyslexia as well.

Today, I am here to ask us all to learn more about dyslexia and to implement specific services to our patrons with dyslexia. During the month of October, I will be posting every week about the topic of dyslexia. I will be sharing book lists. I will be sharing an infographic I have created about how libraries can better serve youth with dyslexia. And I will be talking about specific formats that help youth with dyslexia and discussing why they can help our youth become better readers. Please join me and let’s make our libraries more accessible for our youth with dyslexia. Let’s do our part to help ALL the children in our communities learn to love reading, even the ones with dyslexia. And make no mistake, with the proper support and tools, all people with dyslexia can and do learn to read and many of them even grow to love it.

Additional Information

Here are some infographics that help explain Dyslexia. You’ll note in this link that some of the infographics are about ADHD and that’s because it’s very common for dyslexic kids to also have ADHD. Mine does.

Here are a couple of lists curated by dyslexic organizations of books that help parents understand their child’s dyslexia.

21 Helpful Books About Dyslexia for Parents and Educators

If you would like to read about my journey as a parent to a dyslexic child, I have some blog posts about there here:

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/11/sunday-reflections-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 http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/04/sunday-reflections-how-misuse-of-the-40-book-challenge-made-my-kid-hate-reading-and-why-how-i-pushed-back/

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/07/collecting-comics-middle-grade-novels-that-a-middle-grade-reader-really-loves/

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/09/sunday-reflections-so-you-want-to-raise-a-reader-i-have-some-tips-for-you/

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes You Find Yourself at The Exact Right Place at the Exact Right Time, or what happened when we went to meet Dav Pilkey

Yesterday I took Thing 2 to a big event in the Fort Worth area to met author Dav Pilkey. Here’s my deep, dark secret: I have never read a Dav Pilkey book and I haven’t really heard much about him as an author because he’s one of those authors who has really never needed my help. His books have been flying off of the shelf for years; Kids and early teens have been loving them and asking for them by name and it just seemed to be going superbly for him. So I did not know until I sat in that audience yesterday and heard him talk about having dyslexia and ADHD that he did. And to be honest if I had heard this years ago, it probably wouldn’t have meant as much to me as it did when I sat in the audience with my own child who has dyslexia and ADHD. Everything I know and think about these topics changed when I learned more about what life with these diagnosis is like for our kids.

Yesterday was one of those moments that happen in life where you find yourself in the exact right place in the exact right moment and you have no idea that it is about to happen. As regular readers know, Thing 2 and I have been struggling to navigate the world of dyslexia and ADHD ourselves. She was diagnosed with dyslexia a couple of years ago and ADHD last year, although to be quite frankly honest I was pretty sure she had ADHD from the moment she was born. She’s had a whole host of various health issues and such since birth and it’s been . . . challenging to figure out how to keep her healthy, thriving and happy.

Last year, I got a lot of email messages from teachers about her inability to focus and her tendency to rush so quickly through assignments that she just didn’t do well. Add in the dyslexia and it’s like a bomb going off when it comes to academic achievement. Last year was rough, really really rough. It’s a miracle any of us survived last year, and we have the battle scars to prove it. Unfortunately for our kids, these scars are often found on their souls and on their self-esteem, which is why we really must do better for them.

Then there are the kids who tease. They call her stupid. Because she has some GI issues she had many years where she wasn’t really absorbing the nutrients of her food and just kind of stopped growing. She went from being in the 90% for her age to the 4th%. Kids love to tease her for being so small and she basically hates it. In the second or third grade, a group of girls created a “Bully XX Club” (the XX is a stand in for her name). The 40 Book Challenge last year made her hate reading, herself and me.

This year I’ve already had to fight with the school about her intervention and her being excluded from some of the classes she wanted and I would argue needed to take. I’ve learned that when you have a child who doesn’t fit the standard mold you spend a lot of time worrying, stressing, fighting, advocating and just trying to figure out how to navigate raising a not so typical child in a world that very much wants everyone to be the same. It can be overwhelming and discouraging and just plain exhausting, for everyone.

So here the both of us sat about to meet an author that she seemed really interested in meeting. His presentation began and it was engaging and humorous and then – he started sharing with all of the kids that he himself had dyslexia and ADHD and what that was like for him. This is a man who has written bestsellers, had his books turned into movies and musicals, and now had a regular TV show on Netflix and he was sharing with my child that he was just like her and you know what, it was all okay. He was okay. He was happy and healthy and thriving and succeeding even though he had spent most of his childhood years in trouble with teachers and struggled in school.

It was inspiring and rewarding and comforting and meaningful. Every once in a while you end up exactly where you need to be even if you didn’t know that was where you were heading. I don’t think this will make everything magically better for her. She’ll still have dyslexia and ADHD and we’ll all struggle to find ways to help her be successful in school, but she has a little more hope and little less shame about it all then she did before meeting Dav Pilkey, and that means everything. Because Dav Pilkey was willing to share his truth with these kids, a lot of kids got exactly what they needed to live their lives with a little more hope and belief in themselves. Dav Pilkey is now one of my favorite people, to be honest. I saw first hand what he meant to these kids and it was powerful and transformative.

Last night as we made the long drive home my child read one of the Dogman books out loud to me from the backseat of the car. It was the best podcast I ever listened to.

If you would like to read about my journey as a parent to a dyslexic child, I have some blog posts about there here:

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a…

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate Reading and Why (& How) I Pushed Back — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate…

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really…

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for …

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

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When I learned I was pregnant with The Teen, my first thought was “I hope she likes Science Fiction.” I was 29 at the time and was in the final semester of my MLS program at Kent State University. At this time I had been working in YA services as a paraprofessional for almost 10 years. I was an avid reader with a strong interest in science fiction, both loves I was looking forward to sharing with my child. The Teen has always been a strong and natural reader and now that she is a teenager, we love to read and talk about YA literature. It makes my YA librarian heart happy.

Six years later I was once again pregnant, this time with Thing 2, and was thinking similar thoughts. By this time I was 35 and had been a MLS degree holding librarian for almost six years and had been working in YA services for 15 years. Little did I know of the struggle we would have in our future trying to build another enthusiastic reader.

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As Thing 2 began Kindergarten, it became clear to me that she was exhibiting some of the signs of dyslexia. Dyslexia was not something we ever talked about in library school. As a public librarian, even one studying the youth services track in an ALA certified graduate program for library science, dyslexia was not something that we talked about. I could see the signs and felt a vague feeling that something was wrong in large part because I grew up with some family members who were themselves dyslexic. But more than that, there was just something going on at an instinctual level, that parental tickle at the back of the brain that lets you know that something just wasn’t right.

In the 1st grade, these concerns grew exponentially. Thing 2 often practiced mirror writing, she would write a word correctly, it just happened to be an exact mirror image. It wasn’t just that the letters were backwards or out of order, they were written so that if you held the piece of paper in front of the mirror, they would have been correct. Each letter was backwards and the order of the letters was backwards as well. Every time I saw her write that way, my concern grew.

It was during this year that my father came to visit. Thing 2 was happy to sit next to him on the couch and read to him from her book. She would see the word was and read it as saw. He looked at me as she left the room to get another book and said, “you should have her tested for dyslexia.” Having my worries confirmed by someone else without any prompting really validated my suspicions. Later that day, she would write her sisters name in sidewalk chalk in the driveway and he would marvel at how perfectly mirror like it was.

It took The Mr. and I almost 2 years to get Thing 2 tested and confirmed. We live in the state of Texas and it is one of the few if not the only state that has a cap on what percentage of students can be diagnosed as special needs. This cap puts pressure on the schools to keep their students undiagnosed so that they are in compliance with the state standards. In addition, in the first grade Thing 2 had a pregnant teacher who would miss many months of school and the long-term substitutes were not able to start the testing process in time for her to be tested in that year. At the end of the year the principal finally met with us and said that yes she there was sufficient reason to test her, but by this time it there was only two weeks before the end of the school year and we would have to wait until midway through the next year to get her tested. The next year, we had to start the process all over.

Thing 2 now participates in a special program which has helped her learn to read, though she still struggles and finds the overall process of reading unenjoyable. It is a fight each and every day to get her to read. She knows she is behind her friends in reading and often comments about how stupid she is. She will cry, rage, scream and cry as she struggles to read. As a parent, it is heartbreaking to see. My heart aches for my child.

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During those first years when we struggled to get her diagnosed, she had teachers who would continually send home letters telling us our child was behind her peers and made helpful suggestions for us to help her be a better reader. Take her to the library, they said, as if my daughter wasn’t being raised in a library with an army of library staff. Make sure she has access to books, they said, as if she didn’t have shelves full of books, many of them signed directly to her by the authors and illustrators that I had brought home from conferences and read to her each night. Read to her each night, they said, as if I hadn’t been doing that from day one. There is an issue, I replied, please help us help her. At one point, in a moment of extreme frustration and in a rage after getting yet another note in her take home folder telling me I needed to read to her more, I looked at The Mr. and said, “do you think I should just send them a copy of my resume?” I didn’t, for the record.

The fight to get her tested took almost two years. In those two years I had to learn a lot about being an advocate and what the school process was and what a 504 plan was. It was a frustrating time in which I felt that I was failing my child, felt that I was a failure as a librarian, and worried that she would fall so far behind it would be hard for her to catch up.

As I mentioned, she now goes to a special program and has a teacher that she loves. She has made a lot of progress and we are encouraging and engaged every step of the way. But it has been hard. It’s hard to watch her struggle to read and feel discouraged. It’s hard to hear her cry and call herself stupid. It’s hard to know how to get her to read without fighting about reading and making reading an even more negative experience for her.

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I have done many things along the way to help encourage her to be a reader, all the things that I have told parent after parent who has come into my library asking for help:

1. I take her to the library.

2. I let her choose her own books.

3. If we go to the store and she asks me to buy her a book and we have the money, I never say no.

4. If she asks me to read with her or to her, I say yes.

5. We listen to audio books.

6. I don’t fight with her about the books she chooses. If she wants to read the same book over and over again, we read the same book over and over again. If she wants to read a picture book instead of a chapter book, we read a picture book. There is already enough negativity in her life surrounding the concept of reading, her father and I try not to add to or be a source of that negativity.

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We recently went to the store and I suggested that she read a copy of Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. This is a book written in verse that met the minimum number of pages for her school assignment, but many of the pages have short poems and have a lot of white space on the pages. This is only the second book she has ever finished reading and she loved it.

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My co-worker recommended she read a Branches book and selected several that she thought Thing 2 might be interested in. Thing 2 selected and read Hank, a book that is written in a special font that is supposed to be easier for children with dyslexia to read. She loved this book as well.

She currently has to read 40 books by the end of the year, 20 by December. Half of these books are supposed to be chapter books over 64 pages. She has read well over 20 books, but I’m not sure we’re going to meet the 10 chapter books requirement. I’m trying to figure out whether or not I can be at peace with that. It’s a constant struggle for me as a parent to know when I should push her and when I should accommodate her special needs.

In library school and in libraries in general, we talk a lot about reluctant readers. We usually operate from the assumption that reluctant readers simply don’t like to read, that they just haven’t found the right book for them yet. What I am learning is that people are reluctant readers for a wide variety of reasons and I think we need to change our narrative. My child is a reluctant reader because reading is a challenge for her. When she looks at the words on a page she doesn’t see the same things that I do. She literally has to decode what she sees to make sense of it and that process is physically exhausting, emotionally challenging, and not really a lot of fun. It’s work for her in ways that it isn’t for other readers.

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I have now worked in public libraries for 25 years and I have never worked at a library system that talked about working with struggling readers or, more specifically, children with dyslexia. I have seen my peers put together sensory storytimes and storytimes in sign language, but I haven’t really heard a lot of discussion about how, specifically, to help children and the parents of children navigate the world of dyslexia. Now that I feel like I’m coming to a space where I can breathe and we’ve had some successful reading moments, I want to challenge us all in the field to look at ways that we can provide better services to children and adults struggling with dyslexia.

Some of the things I recommend are:

1. Visit The Dyslexia Foundation website and learn what the basic signs are and take a look at this page which helps you understand the difference between what a dyslexic child sees on the page versus what a non-dyslexic child sees on the page.

2. Invite your local school district’s dyslexic specialist to come and do some staff awareness and training.

3. Learn about dyslexia fonts.

4. Find digital resources that you can help steer parents towards.

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5. Consider making a booklist for kids with dyslexia at various ages and stages and include books like Hank, which is written specifically for kids struggling with dyslexia in mind.

Always keep in mind that not all people are dyslexic in the same way and not all tips, resources or tools work the same for everyone. There’s a lot of trial and error involved when you’re a parent and not an expert. Dyslexia is considered a spectrum disorder and knowing this information is very helpful. We were also told that dyslexia usually co-exists with other neurological differences, such as ADHD. So children who are dealing with dyslexia may also be dealing with other issues as well.

In just a few short years Thing 2 will be a teenager and people like me will be serving her in our public libraries. I wish that we talked more about ways to build a solid foundation for children like her and how to help them be successful readers in our libraries.