How to talk about dyslexia with friends and family to whom it is new can be
challenging, but I have noticed it is well worth the effort. This month’s main article
gives you some sample scripts for both a short explanation and for a much longer one.
I included some PDF’s you can download or print to guide your longer explanation as
the freebie this month. Let me know how you used these ideas with your family and
friends this holiday season. I am interested in how it goes for you.
It is holiday season. You are likely to be spending time with family members whom you
may see only at this time of year. If you parent a child with dyslexia, observations
about that child’s progress from aunties and grandmas may feel unsettling because
you are not quite sure how to explain dyslexia to family members. Sharing information
about dyslexia, or any area of struggle with family members can result in some new
cheerleaders for your child. It is well worth thinking thorough your short version,
“elevator talk,” as well as a bit more in-depth explanation for the Uncle Jims in the
crowd who want all the details.
Teacher, this is for you too! If you teach dyslexic children, your family may be
wondering exactly what that means. Here is a way to explain it to them. Teachers, you
are welcome to use these tools when explaining your suspicions of dyslexia to parents
in a parent/teacher conference.
The very short version can go something like this:
Dyslexia is learning difference which results in children struggling with language tasks
such as reading, spelling and writing. Dyslexia is not an intelligence issue, since the
very definition of dyslexia states that the person is of average or above average IQ.
Dyslexia runs in families, and the problem originates in the way a dyslexic person’s
brain is arranged. In a non-dyslexic person, the brain cells that process language are
in a small area about the size of your thumb, over the left ear. In a dyslexic person,
there is a glitch in the circuitry resulting in a less efficient brain pathway to process
language tasks. People with dyslexia can still learn to read and spell, but it is harder
and requires a different approach, called the Orton-Gillingham approach. We have a
tutor who gives private lessons using that approach, and have seem good results
That answer hits most of the questions, and will satisfy most folks who have a casual
interest. If you have someone who genuinely wants a deeper dive into dyslexia, the
freebie this month is a short, 9 slide presentation about dyslexia that you can walk
through. Download the PDF’s and look at them as you read a suggested explanation
for each one. Here are some short talking points for each slide, so you will sound like a
I list the five myths about dyslexia that I hear the most often.
Dyslexia is not an intelligence deficit. The definition of dyslexia states that the individual
is of “average or above average intelligence.”
Not reading backwards. Dyslexic people cannot read backwards any more than you
can. They struggle with directionality, so sometimes struggle to correctly orient letters,
resulting in confusing b and d, or perhaps “was” and “saw.”
Not one symptom that points to dyslexia for every dyslexic person. Dyslexia happens
on a continuum, and there are many different signs of dyslexia. No one person would
have all the signs.
Can’t be cured, because dyslexia is not an illness. Like being color blind or tone deaf,
it is a characteristic of that person, and is with them for life. Strategies to learn despite
dyslexia abound, and a dyslexic person can certainly learn to read and spell.
Don’t abandon all hope of a bright future. Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity has
an exhaustive list of accomplished people with dyslexia. Given the help they need, as
early as possible, the outcome is bright for dyslexic children.
Dyslexia runs in families, but it is not always directly from mom or dad. There may be
an uncle or grandma on one side or another who “hated school” or “couldn’t wait to be
allowed to quit school.” Since dyslexia testing’s availability is a fairly new, it is unlikely
that grandparents or older generations were identified as dyslexic, and more likely they
were known as school haters.
Language tasks are the main area of struggle for individuals with dyslexia. Oral
speaking is frequently a strong suit, as is math, spatial thinking, sports, music, art or
showing empathy. Reading, spelling and expressing one’s self in writing can be really
Brain architecture is the culprit. In the fourth month of gestation, when the brain is forming, rather that a close area of brain cells to perform language tasks as non-
dyslexic individuals have, the language processing area is broken up and somewhat
scattered in islands. This inefficient brain wiring system is the cause of dyslexia.
Multi-sensory instruction helps, because it uses more of the brain, and makes the
information “stickier” and easier to remember. Simultaneous multi-sensory techniques
are the most helpful of all.
School challenges for a dyslexic child slide.
Let’s just list the school struggles and get it out of the way. This slide certainly explains
why dyslexic Uncle Harry quit school in third grade to work in the transcontinental
railroad, doesn’t it? No wonder dyslexic kids are not thrilled to go to school.
Writing simulation slide
Let’s build some empathy with a simulation of how it feels to try and write even a short
paragraph under rules that lay out a different set of writing conventions from the ones
we are accustomed to. The reason this simulates writing for a dyslexic person is that
they struggle mightily with remembering the standard writing conventions of
capitalization, punctuation, spelling and letter formation. This is the one slide that will
make a believer out of doubters because it allows them to feel how the dyslexic child
feels when he or she tries to write.
What helps dyslexia slide
Get the child tested. Knowing for sure what the problem is will give a set of steps
toward a solution. Rather than expending energy wondering what is wrong and putting
bandaid accommodation fixes on issues, put a name to the trouble, and follow the
steps to remediation. Children as young as four can be identified as having tendencies
toward dyslexia and start tutoring. It does take a tester with specialized training to test
Time is not on your child’s side when we are talking about dyslexia. The sooner
remediations begin, the better the outcome and the sooner that child can be learning
easily with the rest of his or her classmates. Waiting to see if a child will “outgrow
dyslexia” is not a good idea.
Multi-sensory instruction will help. That means techniques such as practicing spelling
words by categorizing them by spelling pattern, and finger tracing the letters in a sand
tray or shaving cream as the letters are said aloud and the word pronounced after it is
Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the gold standard approach for tutoring students with
dyslexia. It is multi-sensory, systematic, cumulative and individualized. It works best in
very small groups or one-on-one.
Realize improvement takes time. It is common for one to three years to be the
timeframe for completing Orton-Gillingham (O-G) tutoring. All 44 phonemes and 250
spelling variations are taught, along with lots of practice in how to divide longer words
into syllables, and what the vowel sound will be in each of those syllables. It is a lot,
but is worth the investment.
Orton and Gillingham info slide
Just so you know these pioneers were real.
The surface is scratched with a few places to start looking for more information. You
can always email me (Grandma Betty can email me too.) and ask specific questions.
You can book an hour of my consulting time if you want a dedicated sit-down
consultation, either in person or via Zoom.
Cindy’s marketing slide
I gave you a presentation and walked you through talking points. This is the tax for my
Did you forget to download a copy of the slides that were discussed in this blog? If so, you can still download your FREE copy!