Providing additional support to kids with dyslexia is important since dyslexic learners struggle more with writing, reading, spelling, and learning new words compared with those without the condition.
Given that dyslexic students have unique learning needs, depending on their age, a parent considering distance learning over face-to-face interactions should anticipate potential challenges, such as the lack of digital tools to assist their child’s reading and writing, and screen fatigue, among other things.
As parents and teachers, advocating for dyslexic students and making necessary accommodations helps them reach their full potential. This article describes the typical challenges a dyslexic learner goes through in an online setting and shares helpful strategies to increase their success.
Common Learning Challenges Faced By Children with Dyslexia
Although many dyslexic kids have high IQs and possess abilities — such as the ability to think outside the box and visualization skills — their language difficulties can make reading words, spelling, and developing new vocabulary much more demanding than they should be.
Here are some obstacles experienced by kids with dyslexia and what they might look like during remote learning:
Trouble with phonics
One of the hallmarks of dyslexia is impaired phonological awareness. This is when the child cannot link sounds to the letters they represent. Phonological awareness is an important foundation of reading and writing.
For dyslexia learners in an online setting, this phonological deficit can lead a child to feel hesitant or embarrassed to read out loud during virtual classes.
Slow reading speed
Most children with dyslexia are known to be struggling readers. Their slow reading can be attributed to issues in word recognition and decoding. Moreover, this speed can limit their reading practice, which then affects their progress long-term.
If a teacher is strict with deadlines, these struggling readers may not complete their online reading assignments on time, which limits their participation during discussions. Moreover, assignments that heavily rely on written text can make a dyslexic kid miss important details, which increases their risk of committing mistakes.
Reading comprehension issues
Dyslexia learners also struggle to understand the meaning behind text (otherwise known as reading comprehension) as a result of their phonological deficits. Research shows that effortful word reading puts significant demand on a student’s cognitive resources, which negatively impacts their vocabulary and knowledge acquisition .
Limited access to dyslexia-friendly formats during distance learning can exacerbate reading comprehension problems. Another possibility is that an online teacher may not be able to address such difficulty experienced by the child immediately due to reduced face to face interactions.
Spelling, even with common words, is another common obstacle for someone with dyslexia. This concern goes back to the child’s trouble in identifying sounds in words. As a result, they’re likely to inaccurately translate these sounds into the correct letters when spelling them out.
When shifting from in-person learning to online education, there’s limited time to practice, unless a parent or teacher provides personalized support. For example, a parent may incorporate tactile techniques, like writing on paper or in the sand to increase the child’s spelling memory.
How to Support Children with Dyslexia During Distant Learning
There are many things parents and teachers can do to work with dyslexic students in a way that helps them learn best. Even with online education, accommodations can be made, which include the use of assistive technology, learning in chunks, incorporating breaks, and other forms of additional support.
Specific techniques to help a child with dyslexia during distance learning include:
Take advantage of assistive technology (AT).
Assistive technology refers to apps that read digital text out loud (text-to-speech or TTS readers), convert spoken words into text (speech-to-text or STT), change fonts to reduce their reading effort, and do mind-mapping to organize their ideas. Some of these digital tools automatically sync with Google Docs.
Research shows that AT apps provide an alternative way to read and write, especially among those with severe disabilities. When teaching English, they also improve the child’s motivation to use the written language and complete schoolwork .
Besides using apps that offer remote reading support for kids with dyslexia, a parent may want to consider hiring a trained reading specialist or tutor for more personalized learning.
Chunk information to help them process it better.
Chunking or breaking information into smaller bits is especially helpful when introducing new tasks, words, or assignments to students with dyslexia.
An example would be a teacher using chunking when reading a new word by breaking it down into smaller syllables, such as “den” and “tist” for the word “dentist.” Another example is a parent helping their child complete just 1 task each day from a long assignment.
Provide short breaks during classes or while studying.
Not everyone realizes this, but students with dyslexia tend to work harder than everyone else to keep pace. Giving them microbreaks allows them to psychologically detach from an online lesson or homework. They can then return to the task feeling less stressed and more energized.
When you notice students losing interest in the middle of an online class, play a song and let them have a “dance break” or do some stretching in place. Brain breaks that have nothing to do with reading and writing are wonderful options for kids with dyslexia.
Letting dyslexic learners take short breaks away from their devices also helps reduce screen time and screen fatigue.
Record online lectures.
Another important way to support students with dyslexia is by recording video lectures. Whereas these kids struggle with words, many of them are visual learners, which makes recorded videos extremely helpful. Recorded videos also allow them to take all the time they need to understand lessons outside live lectures.
If you’re a teacher, let parents know that they’re free to record your lecture. Even better, give parents access to other visual aids you’ve used, such as mind maps and slide presentations with minimal, easy-to-read text.
Praise and encourage them.
A systematic review found that increased praise and encouragement led to better self-perceptions among children and young individuals with dyslexia . The best way for teachers and parents to offer praise is to focus on the child’s effort and hard work — not on their mistakes.
Identify the child’s specific achievement, no matter how small, and let them know why you think they did well. For example, you can say, “You’ve made progress in your spelling. You’ve come such a long way and I can see how you never give up, even when things get challenging!”
Create a dedicated space at home for focused learning.
Different noises and sounds at home can make paying attention and concentrating on important lessons a struggle. This is where the need to create a supportive home environment becomes extremely beneficial for students with dyslexia.
You can, for instance, choose a quiet and distraction-free corner at home with comfortable furniture (a desk and chair) and good lighting. Be sure to include dyslexia-friendly resources for your child to use outside their online classes, such as printed flashcards and guided reading strips.
Children with dyslexia experience many struggles in traditional classroom environments and the same can be said for those who do distance learning.
Even with a learning disability diagnosis, kids can thrive with the right digital tools and motivation strategies. To support students with dyslexia in the best possible way, educators and parents can start by understanding what dyslexia is and isn’t, and appreciating the strengths that are unique to these learning disabilities.