Can Children With Dyslexia Become Better Writers?
Takeaway: Children with dyslexia have strengths they can harness to become better writers. Specifically, they can use emotion and vivid imagery to make writing a more exciting and meaningful process. And they can use simple accommodations to help work around challenges like spelling, grammar, and handwriting.
We often think of dyslexia only in terms of its drawbacks.
Dyslexia is a learning difference where a child’s brain uses alternative pathways to process information. In terms of brain science, this new brain wiring changes how children process sounds and how well (and quickly) they can store/use information. In day-to-day life, this translates into reading, spelling, and listening difficulties. So, children with dyslexia read slowly, often forget what they’ve read, struggle to arrange their thoughts systematically, frequently make spelling mistakes, have a limited vocabulary, and often have poor handwriting.
But dyslexia is also a remarkable condition that helps children experience life more vividly.
When we focus only on its problems, we forget about dyslexia’s strengths. Yes, a dyslexic brain might misspell simple words and struggle to process what it reads. But that same brain mechanism makes it uniquely able to see new angles to a problem, brainstorm creative solutions and possibilities, and grasp (and combine) abstract concepts.
Dyslexia’s core challenge is in learning how to ‘sequence’ things.
Children with dyslexia are great at big-picture stuff and creativity. So, they see inventing and creating as exciting, intuitive challenges they can do effortlessly. But large parts of their lives are about ‘boring’ little steps and minor details – like spell-checking an essay, tidying their room, or following a parent’s instructions. And it’s these stepwise ‘sequences’ of tasks that frustrate them the most.
Writing, in particular, involves a lot of rigid structuring. And this can overwhelm children with dyslexia.
Think about everything that goes into writing an essay. We have to pick an idea worth expressing, break it down into component thoughts, arrange these in a logical sequence, and use vocabulary and grammar to construct the completed essay. That’s a lot of linear, stepwise thinking. So, while we can use imagination and creativity to develop the essay’s central themes, the rest of the process is systematic — like a computer algorithm. And this can be overwhelming for children with dyslexia.
The secret, though, is to focus on the story first – not on grammar and spelling.
A child with dyslexia can worry about grammar, spelling, and essay structure upfront. Instead, she should engage with the emotions and story behind her writing. These are what really matter for the essay’s first draft, and they’re also things she’ll find meaningful. Only after this should she focus on the mechanics of writing. So, encourage her to find interesting aspect to essay a topic and translate them into colourful mental images that move and talk and are full of life. This connects two-dimensional words on a page to the three-dimensional world she’s used to dealing with. (Note: she can do this with any topic. Writing about World War II? Pick a character from it and build the essay around her. Writing about physics? Use a real-life story/situation to bring the concept alive. The more abstract the topic, the more valuable it is to ground it in the specifics of day-to-day life.)
Also, try to make the process as multisensory as possible.
Your child doesn’t have to keep this vivid imagery locked in her brain. Instead, she can use colours and drawings to bring them to life. For younger children, this might mean finding pictures online connected to their topic. They could sequence the images to mirror the ideas/events they’ll be writing about. Or they could sketch/model their characters while listening to music that matches their characters’ personalities. Meanwhile, older children can draw colourful flowcharts to help sequence their thoughts, or sketch mind maps with pictures to show how the different ideas connect. Remember, dyslexia makes words on a page seem mysterious and confusing. So, we’re demystifying things by linking them to objects your child can see, hear, and touch.
Finally, we can use tools and techniques to help accommodate dyslexia’s weaknesses.
Rather than force your child to do the things that frustrate her, consider finding ways around the problem. For example, since reading is a challenge, she could listen to audio versions of the text she’s reading, so the narrator can guide her through the tough parts. And to tackle handwriting difficulties, she could use speech-to-text software to dictate her essays. Similarly, to catch errors in her writing, she can listen to recordings of herself reading it aloud (she’ll likely spot more errors if she listens and reads simultaneously). For spelling and grammar issues, she could use auto-correction apps like Grammarly. And for vocabulary issues, she can refer to a keyword chart with a list of high-frequency words to prime her memory.
It does get confusing, though. And here’s where a specialist can help.
When should you push your child, and when should you back off? It’s hard to know what to do and when. And here’s where a learning-difference specialist can help by assessing your child and creating a custom care plan. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, specialist teachers and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
- How to Improve Your Child’s Speech And Language Skills
- Why Is Dyspraxia So Emotionally Draining For Your Child?
- Developmental Milestones Your Toddler Shouldn’t Miss
- Dyslexia Vs. Dyscalculia: Differences & Similarities
- What To Do If Your Child Starts Trying to Avoid School
- Can eHealth & Technology Help Adolescents live Happier, Healthier Lives?
- Are Social Media & Technology Really That Bad for Teens?
- How the Pandemic Has Changed the World For Children
- The Sleep/Anxiety Link in Autism & ADHD
Image Source: People vector created by storyset – www.freepik.com