Helping Dyslexics do their Homework

School is starting and for parents of Dyslexic students all the worries for their children’s education become a daily concern again. Homework is always a big one.

Dyslexic children use more areas of the brain to process language tasks than the average reader therefore they expend more energy – 5 times more! 

“…according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of University of Washington researchers…to explore the metabolic brain activity of six dyslexic and seven non-dyslexic boys during oral language tasks..
~The dyslexics were using 4.6 times as much area of the brain to do the same language task as the controls,” said Richards, a professor of radiology. “This means their brains were working a lot harder and using more energy than the normal children.”~  ScienceDaily (Oct. 6, 1999)

So when a Dyslexic child comes home from school the last thing they want to do is homework. They are mentally and physically exhausted from 5 times the exertion as a other students, frustrated with not understanding what they are learning and humiliated by impatient teachers and cruel classmates. If they have Irlen Syndrome which is common with Dyslexics (see info on our website: Irlen Syndrome and Dyslexia – Dyslexia Victoria Online) they can be further drained  experiencing stomach and head aches, dizziness, irritated eyes and other physical ailments of Irlen. Dyslexics can also experience a lot of discomfort from sitting in a desk all day and other issues that torment Dyslexics.

Parents of Dyslexic students will often set up a homework environment that they believe will help their child focus on their homework. Their good intentions however can actually make it more difficult for their child to get their homework done. Some considerations to think about to create a “dyslexia friendly” atmosphere:

        • Let them have a break before starting homework after school – exercise is a great relaxer and way to de-stress rather than sitting down in front of the TV. They could ride a bike, go for a walk, play some kind of sport, play with their friends, etc. before settling down to their homework. The break can work wonders.
        • Give them a protein snack after school to give them energy – protein bar or drink, raw nuts, peanut butter crackers, boiled eggs for example. No sugar as it can make them over-stimulated and then they crash when the sugar wears off.
        • Make sure they have all their homework. Dyslexics tend to have difficulty organizing themselves. They will forget to bring their homework home. Ask the teacher if they could have a handout with the assignments listed and remind the student before school is out to gather their work to take home. Dyslexics often forget even with the best of intentions. This is not deliberate or lazy.
        • Make an arrangement with the teacher to let you know about big projects and their dates for completion. Dyslexics often have a terrible time keeping this information together also. My Dyslexic son had great difficulty remembering his homework. The teachers and I tried everything. Finally I got one teacher to communicate with my son’s other teachers and send home a list of all his homework for me. It worked and eventually as he grew up he got better at organizing his work. Of course this was a very thoughtful teacher. Teachers generally don’t have time for helping a student this way but it can’t hurt to try to get cooperation.
        • Help them with a list of what they have to do. Remind them what to do next. As I mentioned before – organization is tough for Dyslexics and needs to be understood, tolerated and supported. Write the list on a whiteboard or big piece of paper.
        • Create star charts for homework assignments, chores and tasks that need to be done such as getting ready for school. Rewards for completing these charts is a great incentive for a reluctant, disorganized child. You can even take photos of them doing the chore or task and adding them to the poster. A picture is always “worth a thousand words” – which is the Dyslexic way. Here are a couple of examples – one you can purchase from amazon – the other is a free download.

Homework Chart

          • Another reason to have the teacher make a homework handout for the Dyslexic student is they often cannot copy notes from the whiteboard easily and cannot get it all written down.
          • Establish their learning style (auditory, visual or kinesthetic). Everyone generally has a dominant sense for learning and processing new information but Dyslexics especially respond well to teaching approaches and environments that take their best learning sense into consideration.
          • A multi-sensory teaching program strongly based on physical  hands-on demonstrations for all lessons is effective for all children  but especially Dyslexics. They think in images first and then words therefore they need a concrete example of what they are learning to understand and process new information.  They do not learn sequential step by step methods easily if at all so everything should make sense to them first.                                                                  If they are visual learners you also want to use movies, posters, painting, drawing, etc. Auditory students like to be read to along with a demonstration and kinesthetics do best using movement.
          • To go along with learning style consider the physical environment.
            • Do they need the room dead quiet or music, TV or white noise (beach or jungle noises for example)? A set of headphones with the right background music or white noise works great at home or school. I have parents get teachers permission for this accommodation and usually they get their approval.
            • Do they need no one including animals in the room or do they prefer the activity?
            • Do they need to stand a lot, walk around and work on a white board or lay down and roll around on the floor while doing their school work?
            • Do they need something in their hand(s) like a worry ball or  playdoh? Some kids do well with tossing beanbags around while practicing spelling words or facts for tests.
            • Keep their working area clear of objects. Dyslexics tend to get distracted by stuff on the table or desk they are working on.

The way to determine what the best working environment is talking to your child about what feels right for them and observe when they are on task and when they are not. Everybody learns differently so the conditions that compliments their thinking style is going to be much more beneficial than just sitting at a table in total quiet – unless of course that works for your child.

I often work with a Dyslexic students moving or playing with objects in their hands. The parent wants them to stop. The student however will be understanding and remembering everything we are talking about. The parent  generally says they have noticed that despite this behavior their child has been learning in the past. The parent thought however they should be sitting at a table or desk and still.

Think about your own situation when learning, concentrating or doing work – what is your best scenario? I bet it is different from other family members.

If you have found any great ideas for doing homework with a Dyslexic child, let me know. Much of what we have learned about Dyslexics is not just from the experts but from adult Dyslexics, parents of Dyslexics and of course Dyslexic children. Dyslexics are after all incredible problem solvers and always have amazing solutions or observations.

Karey Hope
Founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

How to Teach Dyslexic Students Fractions

My husband, Howie and I were tutoring a Dyslexic 9 year old girl a few months ago. She was having difficulty understanding fractions.  The method her teacher was using confused her. The exercises our student was working with set problems up this way:

The problem with these two dimensional diagrams is they are as abstract as the numerical image 1/4. For a Dyslexic student including the little girl we were working with these both meant nothing to her. They are symbols for something real – portions or parts but the child does not know that.

My husband, Howie is the math person between the two of us and went to work showing her physically what these two dimensional abstract images meant. He started with oranges. When demonstrating math concepts with real objects always make sure you have one whole of the object being used as you show the parts. If there is no complete object in view a Dyslexic child tends to lose the concept being taught.

Use several examples of fractions of things until they start to understand what the concept of a fraction is. They need to connect the abstract language of math with the concrete ideas it represents.

Now let’s go back to the exercise with the squares. Once Howie had our student understanding he was talking about parts he took two pieces of paper and drew a four part  rectangle on both of them. One piece of paper was coloured yellow. He cut this rectangle into four pieces. The first piece of paper was blue ( she had Irlen Syndrome and blue was the best colour for paper and acetates for her – see our website for informationIRLEN SYNDROME & DYSLEXICS ) so that her ability to see the paper clearly was not an issue – text on white paper is hard to see for those with Irlen compounding problems with learning fractions. Then he started to put one or more of the yellow pieces on the blue squares talking about whether they were one, two, three or four quarters. She got it immediately and actually moved onto adding fractions that session. She left with a smile on her face and her mom felt relieved. She was also able to do the exercises using  two dimensional squares for school and understand what she was doing so her answers were correct and not guesses.

What was accomplished with this process was filling the needs of a Dyslexic requiring meaning and connection to what is real. Dyslexics don’t easily follow sequences well and anything they learn has to be fully understood. They will generally not follow how a square divided up in portions on a flat piece of paper means because it doesn’t connect to anything real to them. Provide physical demonstrations, connect them to the diagram and now you have meaning.

So when you are having difficulty teaching Dyslexics to connect the dots of a concept make it real and then connect it to abstract written languages such as words, arithmetic and math. We have also found this helps kids who do not have Dyslexia.

Karey Hope
Dyslexia Victoria Online


Teaching Letters to Dyslexics

Rants & Raves by Dyslexia Victoria Online

Recently I was blogging about how using an image of a “person, place, thing or animal”  to represent a letter of the alphabet was confusing for a dyslexic child trying to memorize and print letters.

Often you will notice in classrooms or workbooks that a picture of an animal or object is used to help the child learn what a letter stands for.  This can create a problem for a student because they can end up thinking  the picture with the letter representswhat  the letteris.  Then when they are  trying to put the letters in a word together they are seeing a jumble of animals or objects in their minds connected to the letters.  This can completely confuse them when trying to understand that letters are symbols and when placed in a specific order represent a word in our language.

I came across this clipart above…

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Dyslexic Communication in “Pearls before Swine” Cartoon

“Pearls before Swine” is one of my favourite cartoons. I saw this one and I was really tickled about what a truly Dyslexic moment this is for communication. I have had many conversations with my husband like this. As a Dyslexic I am talking about my mental “big picture” that I am thinking at any given moment. The words I verbalize can get confused because I am picking things in the middle, side, or maybe the many extra images that get added to the first one. That can bring me to a completely different topic while I am in the middle of talking about the first one. Hard to talk about two things at once or maybe three!

So my husband will ask me will I be ready to leave by a certain time and I will respond with I have to dress, make a phone call, clean the bathroom…  you know – the big picture and he will interrupt and say “I don’t care how you will get ready but will you?”

This can be a common problem for women in general when talking to  left brain dominant men as we process  information from the right brain more easily than men do. A wonderful book to read about this difference between men and women is: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (Compass) by Leonard Shlain.

You can watch a group of women talk this way and they all understand and follow each other without additional explanation. However, if a woman is also Dyslexic this can really compound right brain communication issues. For a boy or man who is Dyslexic which means his right hemisphere is more dominant and his brain is wired a little differently, it must be painful talking to his friends who are lefties. I have often noticed Dyslexic boys will be able to talk to women more easily and relate to male or female teachers who are more right brain oriented in their teaching style. I would suggest you read my “How Teachers can Accommodate the Dyslexic Student” for ideas on how to teach Dyslexics their way.

Have a great day! – it’s the only one you have at this moment.

Karey Hope deGraaf
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

How Dyslexics Keep Track of their “Stuff”

I was talking to a friend recently who is Dyslexic like me and shares many of the same behaviors and traits common to many Dyslexics. We chatted about needing a “box” that held current projects, work from the office, “to do”  lists, bills to pay, books to read, pictures, cards to mail for special occasions, letters to write, warranties to mail, personal journals, drawings, events to go to and the box often substitutes for a daily planner. There are limitless versions of the “box”,  each designed to fit the owner’s needs and interests. The box can be portable so it can be carried everywhere and even on trips. Some people prefer a larger place to put their stuff and it will stay in one location.  Moveable boxes needs to be sturdy, a good size and light – my friend and I favor banker boxes. Perfect size, weight and has a lid!

When I worked for our family business my box came home with me every night and back to the office every morning.  Sometimes I would work on what was in the box or not.  I have often taken the contents of my box and spread it through my luggage on the off chance I might need to do something with it. My ex-husband found my attachment to my box odd and sometimes insisted I leave it at work. I would feel uncomfortable all night concerned I might need it and maybe even drive out secretly to get it.

Okay, so it is a little weird but all people are a bit weird in one way or another. My box keeps my mind calm. My friend says that she and her husband were painting the house and he put her box out in the shed temporarily along with other stuff in the rooms of their house. She had to know its location so she could at least visualize where it was so she could be calm and feel safe.

What I have learned over the years is that many of the Dyslexic children and adults I have met have the their own “box”. What is in the box varies widely but the main similarity is their need to keep their currently important stuff with them or somewhere they think is safe. They generally know all the contents and where it is located in their box. They can also tell if someone has been through the box.

So the question is why do some Dyslexics have a box that holds so much importance for them? We are visual people that think in images – whole pictures of everything. What  currently is of concern to us can cause us worry because we have to keep those pictures of our responsibilities together somewhere. Dyslexics have a tendency to lose things or forget about them and obligations, deadlines, events, important dates, things to pay or file can create a nightmare for them to keep under control.  We are not great at remembering or seeing the details of our pictures of our daily, monthly and god forbid, yearly responsibilities so we fret about keeping them somewhere we can find them easily and sift through regularly.

Daily planners are so frustrating because we plan to write in them or use a computer diary but after a day or so we never look at them again. Dyslexics are right brain dominant thinkers and the right hemisphere focuses on the present and the left hemisphere keeps track of the past and future. We can think about the past and the future but tend to be living in the present so keeping track of what we are supposed to be doing in a diary is quickly forgotten and is not that important until we have to do it. Also daily planners are about being sequential and many Dyslexics have a terrible time with a sequence of any description. So we get a box to hold it all!

A  silly personal example was trying to remember my wedding anniversary with my ex-husband. We are both Dyslexic and terrible at keeping track of special dates. We were married for twenty-six years and almost never remembered our anniversary. Days or a month later one of us would suddenly realize it had passed again. One year my sister tried to help. She called me in the morning to remind me – I thanked her because I had forgotten and then told my ex-husband. We planned to go out to dinner and then forgot to go!! We even made a reservation. My sister phoned me the next day to ask how the dinner went and I said, “What dinner?”.

When we are working with Dyslexic spouses and children we often talk about how many Dyslexics have a box for their stuff. They love to say, “See, I am not being lazy!” to their family members who have been annoyed with their “box” and forgetfulness. We suggest tolerance, understanding and a sense of humor from the family.

What I would love to see is other people’s version of the “Box”. If you would like to email us pictures of yours we will post them in a later blog. As I said before, the box can take many shapes and sizes. Doesn’t have to be portable. Maybe it’s a filing cabinet, closet, cupboard, plastic tote, whatever. Tell us your story about your “box” so we can share with others. Maybe your idea of a box will appeal to other Dyslexics looking for ideas to contain their stuff.

Karey Hope deGraaf
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Dyslexics are 10 Second People in a One Second World

When talking about Dyslexia most people are focused on problems with reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic. As a Dyslexic I find this very narrow thinking and not really the point. These are issues that arise from being a right brain dominant thinker. Dyslexics are strong right brain thinkers who are neurologically wired differently from the left brain dominant person. Functional MRI’s over the last twenty years have proven this.

Left brain dominant thinkers who make up the larger part of the western world population think in words and then images. Right brain dominant thinkers start with images and then find their words, hopefully. This is a huge difference. Left brain thinkers look for a path to find where they are going and start at the beginning taking one step at a time until they arrive at a specific location. They are not as concerned with their surroundings and concentrate on staying on the path.

“Righties”  and Dyslexics start at the end with the big picture of a subject and immediately start adding to this first picture or begin to create worlds that relate to the first or are inspired by this picture to go in totally different directions. As the “leftie” proceeds down the path, focused on their mission, the rightie is building a world around this path much like the picture above. Their focus is always on the horizon and beyond. For righties the possibilities are endless, enthralling and all consuming. Their eyes glaze over and they are lost in their imagination or what people often refer to as daydreaming, preoccupied, unfocused, lazy, rude, or as my family always said, “in my own little world”. My sister gave me a shirt that says “I may live in my own little world but everyone knows me there”.

The reality is Dyslexics are extremely focused, just elsewhere. This can be an overwhelming problem in life such as the classroom, talking to other people and at work. I am going to talk about this more in other blogs but right now I want to concentrate on this one frustrating aspect of a Dyslexic’s thinking style.

When a left brain dominant person asks or answers a question they are generally fairly straight forward and their answers are based on what they believe the other person wants to hear. They will mentally go down one path and stick to it. This is where the one second versus ten seconds comes in.  When a Dyslexic or strong right brain dominant person is asked a question, answering is never simple for them. They need to create images in their minds to understand the question and then they are pondering all the possible answers. Then they need the person asking the question to clarify and to help narrow the potential replies.  They also prefer to answer with a story where their answer or point is wrapped up in it somewhere.   A simple straight forward response is almost impossible.

This can drive lefties crazy. Righties will make statements like ” do you mean this or that?” and “well, you could do it this way or that way”. Yes/no answers are very difficult without complete understanding of the question so there is less confusion and possible answers for the Dyslexic person.

So when you ask a Dyslexic a question there is no answer given in a second. Dyslexics need time to consider your question and their answer. And then they need to ask questions to make sure they understand your question and finally telling you a story to cozily wrap their answer in. Ten seconds gives them time to ponder.

This becomes very sad for Dyslexics and righties because teachers, parents, other people and fellow workmates can get very impatient and rude about this lag replying and the response of asking questions about the question. Many Dyslexics become momentarily speechless with fear and desperation to give the right answer in a timely manner after years of humiliation when dealing with questions . This delay is often mistaken for stupidity or slow thinking and this can be very demoralizing for a Dyslexic.

If you recognize this trait in someone you know, let them know they can take all the time in the world and to ask their questions. You could also listen closely to the story they weave to explain themselves. The stories are often very creative and illuminating and they will then give you the best answer they can think of or many answers. One way to structure questions is to be specific. My husband, Howie will say to me, “Do you want to go out for Chinese tonight, yes or no”. The “yes” or “no” removes any doubt about what he wants to know and helps me focus on saying yes or no without a story.

If you are the Dyslexic telling the story as an answer, try to understand that you do things differently; you are not wrong or stupid, just different. Your type of thinking has been critical for new innovations, ideas, science, story telling, counseling, artistic endeavors, etc. and is always important.

The two thinking styles, sequential and linear (left-brained) and spatial (right-brained) compliment each other and can provide a complete view and method of action for any task. I have a friend who is very right-brained who works with a leftie. Recently they did a project together, respecting each other’s viewpoint. The result was creative and innovative with the big picture and details provided. Their boss was very happy with the result of their collaboration. You might want to find your opposite style thinker and work towards understanding each other, working together and see what magical project you can come up with pictures and words.

Karey Hope deGraaf
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Right Brain vs Left Brain in the Work Place

Have you ever noticed that some of your employees or fellow workers are easier to work and communicate with than others?  Have you found that some colleagues are easy to understand and you can follow their directions when they are explaining work-related issues?  Have you been confused by a supervisor’s description of a new job task and don’t really know what you are supposed to do or how?

The problem might be as simple as a difference in communication and learning styles.  With all the interest in dyslexia and being right-brained you might have come to the conclusion that you identify with some or many of the problems, qualities and traits of the right-brain thinking style.  Everybody has use of both sides of the brain unless there is some medical issue but most people tend to be inclined to process and function more from one side than the other.  There is nothing wrong with this but it can make your job a frustrating and stressful place to be.

Let me give you an example.  Joan is an accountant and is managing the accounting and production department of a entertainment industry business.  She was moving on and had hired Anne, a potential replacement for her.   There was going to be a lengthy training period of several months.

During this time Joan started to notice that she was having a difficult time trying to teach Anne her accounting system and office procedures.  Joan definitely thinks in a right-brain fashion.  She thinks about the “whole picture” of the company’s business system and then breaks it down into its individual components when she is discussing and strategizing work related issues.  She hates details.  She is intuitive, extremely creative,  problem-solving and sees everything from many directions all at once.  She is able to move from one task and quickly refocus on a completely unrelated issue such as  working out a budget and then shifting effortlessly to an expected emergency phone call from a client or vendor.   When she conveys her views to Anne she starts with the global or “big picture” and then discusses the details in a general fashion expecting Joan to intuitively fill in the blanks like she does. Everything starts with the “complete image” of the business and accounting department and then divides down into its main components.  Joan however,  puts less emphasis or time on the details.

Anne processes information and works in a completely different thinking style.  She was confused by Joan’s initial approach to teach Anne her job by starting with a description of the whole business and accounting system.  She was overwhelmed and confused and not able to handle the “big picture” with its multi-layered departments.  Anne was baffled by Joan’s daily list of seemingly unrelated tasks.  She didn’t know where to start and tended to not get more than one or two items finished in a day.  Anne was very detail oriented and fretted over small issues or the order that the jobs were supposed to be done in.

Joan got frustrated with her trainee’s concerns and quite frankly could not comprehend what her problems were about.    The two of them could not relate or communicate with each other on any level and Joan was getting nowhere training her replacement.  Months into the job  Anne was not any further ahead understanding her job.

Joan talked to me about the  problems she was facing and was desperate to find some solutions.  I suggested to her that Anne seemed to be working from a more left-brain learning style and Joan, of course, was operating more from the right which put them at cross purposes with each other.

We worked out a plan where she would start to describe the accounting system from the most basic details moving forward in a sequential ascending hierarchical order.  Her approach should  be completely logical.  Anne would therefore be working towards understanding the accounting picture through a step by step process moving towards an over all understanding of the whole system.  Also Joan broke her tasks down to shorter more organized lists and gave Anne a time frame for finishing them.  Joan presented every aspect of the accounting system from the first step and ending at the over all picture.

Anne started to respond to Joan’s new approach and began to feel more successful which opened her up emotionally and helped her to have better self-esteem.  She started to understand the business’s structure and how everything was inter-related.  Anne would always need to work out a task or a problem in a sequential order but she could now handle her job.

So the next time you find yourself butting heads with a fellow worker, supervisor or employee you might want to think about how you are approaching the job with them.  Consider how you might improve your communication with them by recognizing their learning style and yours and how you can come to “a meeting of the minds”.

Karey Hope deGraaf
Dyslexia Victoria Online