How Dyslexia Can Boost Your Child’s Communication Skills
Takeaway: We usually associate dyslexia with a long list of weaknesses, but this is only half the story. That’s because dyslexia is a brain ‘difference,’ not a brain ‘deficit,’ and it also brings many strengths – especially to do with communication and storytelling. So, as parents, we can help nurture and harness these skills, either at home or with guidance from a specialist.
We usually think of dyslexia in terms of its weaknesses.
The quickest way of defining dyslexia is to label it as a ‘reading difficulty.’ That’s because children with dyslexia most notably struggle to recognise words when written down (but not when spoken) and take time to sound out the words they read. Practically, this means they have trouble with things like learning simple rhymes, following directions, taking notes in class, and getting through long study sessions.
But really, dyslexia is a brain ‘difference,’ not a brain ‘deficit.’
Science doesn’t focus only on the deficits we just described. Rather, it explores the larger picture of how and why dyslexic brains are different from typical brains. For instance, dyslexic brains are structurally different in their ratio of grey matter to white matter. (Grey matter consists of nerve cells that process information, while white matter consists of all the connecting nerve fibres.) These structural differences then lead to functional changes picked up by fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) studies. For instance, while some parts of a dyslexic brain are ‘underactive,’ this is balanced out by other parts being ‘overactive.’
So, dyslexic deficits are only one part of the story because dyslexia also has many strengths.
Sure, children with dyslexia might have reading difficulties that can potentially hold them back. But they also have an array of strengths that give them a competitive advantage. For instance, they’re often very curious and creative, tending to think outside the box. They can visualise novel solutions to old problems and use rigorous logical reasoning to back up their decisions. And they often become compelling speakers who can ‘read the room’ and express their ideas clearly. (Learn more about dyslexia’s strengths.)
Importantly, these strengths have real-world value in a range of disciplines like art, sports, and business.
We’ve all heard of famous people with dyslexia who became path-breakers in their respective fields. For instance, there’s the artist Pablo Picasso, film director Steven Spielberg, physicist Albert Einstein, gold medalist rower Sir Steven Redgrave, and business tycoon Richard Branson. British perfumer Jo Malone is the perfect example of the powers of a dyslexic brain. In particular, she explains how dyslexia gives her an edge with multi-sensory experiences, letting her recognise and remember subtle differences in smell the same way a painter can identify and remember subtle colour differences. And just as a painter can recreate a scenic landscape from memory, she can recreate new scent combinations for her trademark perfumes.
Dyslexic brains seem to thrive the most with storytelling and communication, though.
The dyslexic brain seems to be an imaginative, idea-generating machine filled with vivid images, storylines, and characters. So, although children with dyslexia have trouble writing words down, with a bit of coaching they can start to share these stories and communicate their ideas. For instance, scientists talk about how dyslexia helps them bypass technical jargon and simplify even the most complex concepts. And this is specifically because it forces them to slow down their thinking and choose the right words. Similarly, news anchors explain how dyslexic thinking patterns help them appreciate the larger picture of whatever they’re reporting and select the best storyline to captivate viewers’ attention. Finally, dyslexia might be linked to higher empathy and emotional intelligence levels, making it easier to engage in healing conversations.
This is why, as parents, we need to remind our children about all their untapped potential.
Adults with dyslexia often recognise how unusually gifted they are, but they didn’t know this as children. It took them time to learn that their perceived weaknesses could become their greatest strengths. And this is why it’s so important to remind children with dyslexia that they’re not ‘stupid’ for struggling in some areas and that they have so many strengths waiting to be harnessed.
Luckily, there are simple games and exercises that help strengthen communication skills in a dyslexic brain. For starters, we can work on ‘sound decoding’ skills.
Dyslexia makes it harder for your child to connect her ideas with corresponding speech sounds. So, you can practise elements of this using simple exercises. For example, she could play ‘Spot the Sound‘ by listening to and naming all the sounds she hears – e.g., the muffled fall of footsteps, the hum of a refrigerator, the clanging of pots and pans, etc. Or she could play the rhyming game to focus specifically on speech sounds. Here, you’d list word pairs and ask her whether or not they rhyme (e.g., ‘Does pen rhyme with men?’). Or you’d choose a word and ask her to come up with its rhyming companion (e.g., ‘What does clap rhyme with?’). And finally, you could play games like ‘Odd One Out’ where you’ll list a few words that rhyme or are alliterations and ask her to spot those that don’t belong. For instance, which is the odd one out amongst ‘bat,’ ‘sit,’ ‘big,’ and ‘black’? (It’s ‘sit’ because it doesn’t start with ‘b’ like the other words.)
Similarly, you can help develop your child’s speech and language skills.
You’ll want to give your child a lot of speech practice, but with targeted feedback. For instance, discuss her day, the games she played, or the shows she watched. But instead of just making conversation, give her your undivided attention and add to the experience. If she tells you about an encounter at school, encourage her to describe it vividly, perhaps even suggesting new words to add context and meaning. You could do the same thing while watching shows together – an easier challenge because the images are right there in front of you both, making it easier to collaborate and find the right descriptive words.
However, this isn’t to imply the journey is easy, because it can be long, trying, and frustratingly slow.
Regardless of how hard she tries, your child will likely fall short of people’s expectations. They’ll recognise that she’s intelligent and then feel confused when she makes seemingly simple reading and writing mistakes. And she might struggle socially, too. Some scientists suggest that just as children with dyslexia struggle to remember word/letter sequences, they struggle to remember event sequences. So, their version of a playground incident might be different from their friends, making it seem like they’re lying or purposely misremembering things. It’s these sorts of challenges that can make your child’s journey of self-discovery so frustratingly slow.
And this is why many parents prefer asking a specialist to help.
Specialists have an entire dyslexia communication toolkit to dip into. For instance, they can work on your child’s phonological awareness (i.e., her skills with speech sounds), improve her verbal short-term memory (i.e., finding the right words to express herself), and develop a customised reading program. 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, paediatricians, 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 / (0) 79 9053 8654
- Email: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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- How to Make Writing Fun: Practical Tips for Children With Dyslexia
- Can Children With Dyslexia Become Better Writers?
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