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What Helped My Dyslexic Son Finally Learn To Read: Practical Help For Struggling Readers

Last week, I shared what I wanted you to know most about what helped my dyslexic son finally learn to read. Today, I am sharing all the details of what worked.

My youngest son is dyslexic and has struggled to read for as long as he has been trying.

Eight full years of flashcards and tears, educational therapists and sight words.

Last week, with joy and gratitude, I shared the progress he’s made and what I want you to know most about our journey. 

(Catch up HERE)

I promised to return this week and share the practical tips and tricks that made the biggest difference in his journey to becoming a reader. 

What Helped My Dyslexic Son Finally Learn To Read

What Helped My Dyslexic Son Finally Learn To Read: Practical Help For Struggling Readers

Before I share the details, I do want to stress one thing – 

Every child is different. Every single child has their own way of learning. I am convinced of this now more than ever, as I type this list of what worked for my boy.

Even more so, I am convinced that as your child’s parent, you know better than anyone else how to help. I hope, as you read these examples, you feel encouraged to try them. I also hope that if something is not working, you will not blame yourself or feel discouraged. Remember, it took eight years to figure out what my son needed, to compile this list, and we are still adding to it. 

What Helped My Dyslexic Son Finally Learn To Read

These are the top 5 things that I believe made the biggest difference in helping my son become a reader. 

1. Curriculum As A Guide Only

We have used All About Reading almost exclusively for the past five years. I absolutely think it helped my son learn to read, but with one caveat. I didn’t allow the curriculum to dictate how we practiced or assume that the reading program would be enough.

As I look back, I can see that I used All About Reading more for me, than for my son. It became my guide. It showed me the order in which to introduce and practice the concepts, the phonemes and the increasingly difficult words and sentences. We used all four levels of All About Reading all the way through, because it allowed us to modify as needed.

We went very, very slowly at first. I used the flashcards to encourage multi-sensory learning (think cards all over the house and my son using our office chair to roll to them and read). I took the sentence builders for practice and wrote them on the windows in chalk marker. 

This curriculum was my guide in helping my son learn to read.

2. Movement and Hands-On Learning

I learned pretty early on that in order for my son to actually retain what he was learning, he needed a 3-dimensional, multi-sensory approach. Again, using All About Reading as a guide, I created as many hands-on and movement oriented practice activities as possible. 

We used the trampoline, lots of sidewalk chalk, wooden letters and just about anything that would allow my son to physically engage in the learning. 

These two posts describe exactly what these activities looked like on a day to day basis. 

3. Stopping Educational Therapy

I am hesitant to share this, but it is the truth. My son stopped educational therapy last year, after three years of off and on attendance, massive meltdowns, increasing anxiety and decreasing confidence. 

His therapist was wonderful. The problem was not her. It was the weariness my son felt every time he read “baby words” again and had to practice the same phonemes he’d seen thousands of times over the course of several years. 

I do believe that educational therapy can help – but not at the expense of the whole child. 

When we stopped, he was 12 years old and absolutely done with all the rote memorization and practice. I had to make peace with the fact that he might never learn to really read and that educational therapy was not changing it any more than my daily practice with him. (Incidentally, this was one of the greatest benefits of our last year working with an ed therapist. I saw that she was making no more progress with him, and maybe less than I was, even though she was the well-trained expert. It was freeing and confidence building for me to see that it wasn’t something I was missing or failing in.)

4. Interest-Led Reading

When we stopped educational therapy, I asked my son how he thought he needed to learn. He told me. 

“I have been taught the same things over and over again. I know all of the things, but sometimes I just can’t do them. I want to try to read what I want to read and that’s it.”

So that’s what we did. It started with Harry Potter, a story he has listened to on audio book five times. He knows the strange names and even has some of the sentences memorized. It wasn’t easy, but slowly, he was able to work his way through a few sentences, then a paragraph or two and finally an entire chapter. 

Recently, he developed an interest in Edgar Allan Poe and has been reading his poetry. It’s easier for him because the cadence and rhyme serve as hints to words he cannot read on his own. On occasion, he asks me to read him a word, but for the most part, he is able to muddle through.  

5. Time

I know we hear other moms say this all the time. It used to make me crazy, but I know now that there is truth in it.

Sometimes, our kids just need some more time.

You will stress because they are not making progress and you will wonder if they will ever learn to read. And none of it will matter as much as time and maturity.

It’s maddening and encouraging, all at once. 

Please, let me encourage you, mom to mom, knowing how hard this journey can be – 

You can do this.

Your child can do this.

Of this, I am certain. 

For More Information About Helping Your Child Learn To Read

He is finally reading and this is what I want you to know!

Reading Delays and Daily Life

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I have 4 children who had (or have) a very difficult time learning to read. (Only one read easily at age 5!) I’ll try your strategies with my youngest, so thank you! I have found, though, that it’s mostly time and love, like you say. Knowing others are going through these challenges is very encouraging. Thank you so much.

  2. Great post! The four things that helped my daughter learn to read were 1. Stopping educational therapies- she hated it! 2. Stopped all forced reading for 6 months. This meant we stopped “school” 3. Using closed caption on the tv (I am hearing impaired, so we stumbled on that one, but it was a big one!) 4. She began reading books she wanted to read along with listening to the audio at the same time. She began with Percy Jackson and couldn’t put it down. I continued to buy audio for 6 months until she started to read without audio. These are the things that worked for her. That was 4 years ago, and she is a strong reader in middle school now. Phonics did not work for her. To this day if she runs into a big word she hasn’t seen before, she cannot sound it out. Hope this helps someone!

  3. Thanks so much for you post. I feel like I could have written it (Aside from the audio books which for some reason do not seem to resonate with my son). We just finished AAR 4 before the end of our last school year (5th grade) and my son started reading Harry Potter at the beginning of summer. He is going VERY slowly – like 2-4 pages a night- but he is picking up speed and most importantly sticking with it and enjoying it. With the tools he learned in AAR he can read most words eventually but is slow. I read aloud to him each day, on school days we read aloud together and he reads his Harry Potter most nights.

  4. Thank you for sharing about quitting Ed therapy. We too recently dropped this because it just was not worth the meltdowns and increased anxiety. But it feels so scary. There’s this unspoken expectation out there that if our kids are struggling, they need an “expert” to help them. But, like you, I’ve found he is making just as much progress with me alone. I don’t regret doing it initially because I learned a lot. (I sat in on all sessions) But there came a point where I was like, I can do this. It isn’t rocket science.
    Also wanted to add the huge disadvantage of Ed therapy is that it tends to be an hour long session of hard hard work with few breaks. And that just does not work. What does work is separating our reading practice into several short (like 5 minute!) sessions through out the day. That would be impossible to recreate with a therapist or tutor. We may play a phonemic awareness game in the car in the morning, then a flash cards game in the afternoon, then he plays a reading game on his tablet after dinner, and we close the day reading in bed and do some simple comprehension exercises. It’s not overwhelming to him. And over time, he makes progress!

  5. Teaching a child to read takes a lot of patience and love. I have been there and still there as my boys are all dyslexic. believe in your self and your child.

  6. Can I ask more about time? I know you probably meant length of time (over years) but I was wondering about daily amount of time spent on it at various ages/stages?

    1. Hi Gale,
      It has really varied over time. I would say usually, it’s averaged out to about 15 minutes a day.
      I hope this helps!

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