Understanding and Working with Dyslexic Students


What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurological condition that makes reading more difficult. People with dyslexia have difficulty reading despite having average or above average intelligence. They may experience trouble matching letters with their sounds, sounding out words, spelling, short-term memory and language/verbal comprehension.

How is Dyslexia diagnosed?
Dyslexia must be diagnosed after a proper evaluation by a trained psychologist. If you suspect your child has dyslexia, you should visit it a neuropsychologist for testing.

How do I find a neuropsychologist?
Please see the following list of recommended evaluation agencies in New York City on the Hunter college website:

My child has been diagnosed with dyslexia? Now what?
First, it’s important to find the right educational environment for your child. If your child is  thriving in a mainstream setting then it is important to consider what kind of support s/he is receiving for her/his dyslexia. If the school is unable to offer Wilson or Orton-Gillingham training then it is important to think about supplementing the child’s education with Wilson or Orton-Gillingham tutoring.

What are Orton-Gillingham and Wilson?
Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach for teaching reading and writing that has been found to be effective for teaching dyslexic people. When first meeting with a student, the Orton-Gillingham instructor presumes no prior knowledge on the part of the student. The student is systematically taught the rules of the English using visual, kinesthetic and auditory cues. Students begin by learning sounds of letters and then move on to sounding out syllables and learning the rules of syllabication. The curriculum moves forward sequentially and cumulatively from isolated letter sounds to reading  and writing passages.

The Wilson Reading System is a branded reading program based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. The Wilson company publishes materials and curricula that are based on Orton-Gillingham principles.

Additional Resources


The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

Books for Parents

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.
Dr. Shaywitz is the director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills Activity Book by Suzanne Carreker & Judith R. Birsh.
This book explains why multi-sensory teaching methods work in the classroom. Specific strategies are outlined to increase reading comprehension, phonological awareness, organization, study skills, and more. Observation tools, assessment models, instructional materials, and activities are included.

Books for Children

It’s Called Dyslexia by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos & illustrated by Nuria Roca
(Ages 4-7)
“This is one of several titles in Barron's Live and Learn series for younger children. They are books that take a child's point of view, especially if the child suffers from some physical challenge or lacks self-confidence in going about everyday activities. These attractively illustrated picture storybooks encourage kids never to be afraid of a challenge. Following each story are four pages of suggested activities that relate to the book's theme. A final two-page section offers advice to parents. The child in this story knows the alphabet, but she sometimes has trouble putting all the letters together to read words. No matter how hard she tries, she often mixes up the letters or writes them backwards. She's unhappy until her teacher explains that she has dyslexia, and that she can be helped to read and write correctly.”

Author: A True Story by Helen Lester
(Age Level: 4 - 8, Grade Level: P - 3)
"Lester's lighthearted book of how she came to write children's books will give aspiring authors of any age a lift and encouragement to persevere." -Publishers Weekly

An inspirational true story of a girl, Helen Lester, who has trouble writing even something as simple as a grocery list and ends up becoming a teacher and then a celebrated children’s book author.

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester & illustrated by Lynn M. Musinger
(Age Level: 4 - 8, Grade Level: P - 3)
"This book is must reading for any kid--or grown-up--who refuses to follow the pack." -Publishers Weekly

This  tale of an odd penguin who doesn’t fit in with the perfect penguins in his  colony is well suited to budding out-of-the-box thinkers who often do things differently from their peers. Stories give children a way to think positively about themselves and Tacky is a hero for children who struggle with differences.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
(Age Range: 5 - 8 years, Grade Level: Kindergarten -3)
"...an inspiring picture book...the author clearly shows the ways that children internalize critical comments made by others and suffer for their differences." -School Library Journal

"This story is truly autobiographical. It is about my own struggle with not being able to read. This story honors the teacher that took the time to see a child that was drowning and needed help...Mr. Falker, my hero, my teacher, not only stopped a boy from teasing me, but he also noticed that I wasn't reading well and got a reading specialist to help." Patricia Polacco

The Alphabet War: A Story About Dyslexia by Diane Burton Robb and Gail Piazza
(Age Level: 7 - 10, Grade Level: 2 - 5)
"Adam's experience will inspire and encourage many youngsters who find themselves in similar predicaments. Equally important, the book sounds an alarm for educators and parents." -Booklist

“When Adam started kindergarten, the teacher wanted him to learn about letters. But “p” looked like “q,” and “b” looked like “d.” Adam would rather color or mold clay. In first grade, his teacher wanted him to put the letters into words so he could read. That was the beginning of the Alphabet War. “Was” looked like “saw,” and “there” looked like “then.” Almost everyone else in his class was learning to read, but Adam was fighting a war against letters. In second grade, he had to learn to spell, which was also impossible. Now he was so frustrated he got into trouble and had to go to the principal’s office. At last, in third grade, he got the right kind of help. Slowly he began to do better. During fourth grade, he learned that he could excel in other things. That gave him the confidence to take chances with reading. One day he found himself reading a book all by himself!”

Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever,  A Series by Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver
(Age Level: 7 - 11, Grade Level: 2 - 5)
"Hank Zipzer is the kid next door. Humor, magic, a school bully, a pet dachshund named Cheerio, and a pet iguana that slurps soup at dinner add up to a fun novel with something for everyone."          -Library School Journal

What Is Dyslexia?: A Book Explaining Dyslexia for Kids and Adults to Use Together
by Alan M. Hultquist, illustrated by Lydia Corrow (Ages 8 and up)

“What is Dyslexia?" is designed to help adults explain dyslexia to children.The author provides information about all the possible most common types of dyslexia: trouble with sounds, trouble remembering how letters and words look, trouble finding words, and mixed dyslexia. He deals with the basic facts and adopts a style which is accessible to children without talking down to them. This book includes clear examples which children will be able to understand, as well as activities for parents to do with their children. The author emphasises that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that having dyslexia is okay.This book will be valuable for parents of children with dyslexia, as well as other adults working with children with dyslexia.”

My Name Is Brain by Jeanne Betancourt
(Age Range: 8 - 12 years, Grade Level: 4-7)
"Children with learning problems will relate well to this book." 
- School Library Journal

“Struggling with problems that the kids in his class see as clowning around, such as mixing things up and spelling letters backwards, Brian learns he has dyslexia and suffers peer teasing when his friends do not understand. Reprint. K. SLJ.”

Two-Minute Drill: Mike Lupica's Comeback Kids by Mike Lupica
(Age Level: 8 - 12, Grade Level: 3-5)

“Chris Conlan is the coolest kid in sixth grade?the golden-armed quarterback of the football team and the boy all the others look up to. Scott Parry is the new kid, the boy with the huge brain, but with feet that trip over themselves. These two boys may seem like an odd couple, but each has a secret that draws them together, and proves that the will to succeed is even more important than raw talent.”

Eleven by Patricia Riley Giff
(Age Level: 9 - 12, Grade Level: 4-7)

“Sam is almost 11 when he discovers a locked box in the attic above his grandfather Mack’s room, and a piece of paper that says he was kidnapped. There are lots of other words, but Sam has always had trouble reading. He’s desperate to find out who he is, and if his beloved Mack is really his grandfather. At night he’s haunted by dreams of a big castle and a terrifying escape on a boat. Who can he trust to help him read the documents that could unravel the mystery? Then he and the new girl, Caroline, are paired up to work on a school project, building a castle in Mack’s woodworking shop. Caroline loves to read, and she can help. But she’s moving soon, and the two must hurry to discover the truth about Sam.”

The Lightning Thief and others in the series by Rick Riordan
(Age Level: 10 - 14, Grade Level: 5 - UP)

From Myth & Mystery: The Official Blog for Author Rick Riordan...

On a more personal level, mythology was very helpful to me. Before I wrote The Lightning Thief, my son Haley was struggling in second grade, or Year 3. It turned out he was dyslexic and ADHD. These learning disabilities, by the way, are also a frontier, a way of seeing from the edge. ADHD and dyslexic people are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. They cannot do things traditionally, so they learn to improvise. Percy Jackson was a myth to help him make sense of who he is. Mythology is a way of explaining something that can’t be explained, except by allegory, and my son’s struggle in school definitely applied. He completely bought in to the idea that ADHD/dyslexia, taken together, was an almost sure sign that you have Olympian blood.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
(Age Level: 10 and up, Grade Level: 5 and up)

“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.”

Trapped. A Novel by Judy Spurr
(Upper elementary levels-teens)

"A short, empathetic novel for middle-schoolers that addresses learning disabilities and bullying...nicely executed fiction with a neatly resolved ending that will leave readers smiling." -Kirkus Reviews

School is difficult for Jamie--dyslexia not only makes coursework a challenge, but he is often bullied at school. Spurr, a former reading teacher, enters the real-life, day-to-day struggles of kids with dyslexia and shows how friendships and perseverance can change a life. The book is written appropriately for young people, but parents will learn something, too, of both the academic and social challenges kids face. The book offers lots of food for thoughtful discussion between parents and kids or kids in a classroom or book-club setting.

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Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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