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


Solutions for Dyslexic Children Learning Measurements

Children with dyslexic issues can be taught abstract concepts like measurements but they need to experience them with some sort of real world connection.  As well, most begin to develop the ability to understand abstracts when they get to about 12 to 14 years of age. Here is a simple way to introduce measurements in a way that can make sense to these kids.

Introduce the idea of measurements by having them measure an object, like a door or window, with a 3 foot ruler or met stick. Before you start this process though, you have to explain what to do first but even more importantly you need to explain to them why they need to know how to do this. When will they ever need to know how to measure anything at all? You could explain that you are going to build a new play house and need to know how big the new door or window will need to be or maybe they will build a tree house or a fort and they might need to know these things too. Keep the measurements simple, there is no need to break the measures into inches or centimeters yet,  just a whole ruler or meter stick.



Now is a good time to explain that the longest side of the door or window is the length and the shorter measurement is the width. The reason we use a door or window is because these are real world items and they make more sense to the dyslexic child than just a picture of a square or rectangular box.

There are lots of things to measure and once the child gets the idea that these are concrete, real items that are being measured, the abstract concept of measurement starts to make sense to the child.

From here you can start to introduce inches or centimeters on the measuring stick. Use a shorter measuring stick to measure a book and let the student know the object is to figure out how big a box needs to be to mail the book to a friend or to wrap it up as a present.

The really important concept here is to help the child understand that there is a purpose to measuring things and learning how to do it. Once they start to understand what measurement is all about they will be much better prepared to learn about other mathematical concepts like: weights, fractions, estimating size, etc.

Karey Hope deGraaf
Co founder Dyslexia Victoria Online

Dyslexics have Difficulties with Time Management

Time management is very difficult, if not impossible for many Dyslexics.   This is not due to them being lazy, thoughtless or uncaring. Dyslexics are right-brain dominant thinkers and live in the present. The past and future belong to the left-brainers.

A Dyslexic tends not to look at their life in any kind of a systematic way. They are often called “free spirits”, “flighty” , “unfocused” or “easily distracted” .

Dyslexics however are solidly planted in the moment and if they are spending time with you, that is where they are mentally – 100% with you. They may seem distracted as their minds may drift or catapult to a stimulating tangent or many tangents as you chat due to the conversation sparking new and exciting thoughts for them, but they are with you. They can even have difficulty pulling themselves away to another obligation or are willing to cancel everything to spend time with you.

Dyslexics are also intuitive, very empathetic and enjoy counseling others.  They have a passionate desire to problem solve along with an often overwhelming need to help others feel balanced and happy.  They tend to “feel” another person’s emotions and they can and will drop everything to help if they think it is important.

As a Dyslexic in a large family of right-brainers I often find myself in wonderful conversations filled with a wide variety of ideas and laughter with the “righties” in my life and we hate to move on or go somewhere else. Our dinner conversations can easily turn into stimulating all nighters. Dyslexics love to ponder a subject and sometimes have to be metaphorically “dragged away, kicking and screaming”.

Dyslexics will become immersed in problem-solving an issue and have difficulty stopping. I always know I am talking to a right-brained person when they go way overboard helping me when I am at a store, organization, government office, etc. They will keep coming up with other ideas and want to be sure I know all aspects of the “big picture” – people to contact, companies to check out, phone numbers, information that they don’t necessarily need to tell me but can make a huge difference, other options – they can’t stop! – even if they need to get on with their own work .

Dyslexics tend to be perfectionists and will get stuck on some part of their work or project.  They can’t move on till their project is what they imagined and will usually continue to improve it as they go.  The time and schedule will get away from them and they are not finished for their deadline.  This Dyslexic individual is then viewed as a time waster,  not organized,  can’t prioritize or able to stay focused.  One of the problems with getting their work done is they are extremely focused. It is also very hard to stop when a Dyslexic’s imagination and creative juices are flowing. The result of their work however, will generally be well thought out, innovative and more than what was expected of them.

If they are working on a task or project they are totally engaged, being creative, problem solving, excited and having a terrible time pulling themselves away, let alone being aware of “the clock”.  Many of the Dyslexics I have come to know will despair over people not understanding they are getting their job done, they just need more time. Dyslexics live in the “now” and not aware of their schedule or anyone else which often makes them seem as if they are in their “own world”.  My sister gave me a t-shirt once that said “People say I live in my own little world but that’s okay because they all know me there!

I should finish by saying we do tell the people we work with who have a typical Dyslexic’s issue with time management that it is important to try to improve it.  There are a couple of techniques that I have found can work can work quite well:

Using a timer to stay on track with the amount of time spent on a task or a reminder to wrap it up and get ready to leave or move onto another task. This can really help – it’s made a big difference to my personal and work life. But I struggle with the part about stopping what I’m doing.

Dyslexics tend to think of the time for their next obligation or appointment only when that time comes so they will usually be late. My friends used to tell me to show up at 5:00pm for dinner knowing that I would show up at 6:00pm.  I wouldn’t start to think about leaving until the time I was supposed to be somewhere.  I finally figured this one out. If I have to be there at 5:00 I subtract the amount of time I need to get ready and drive or walk there. Then I set my timer and agree with myself that I will stop. I am usually able to stop with in 5 to 10 minutes of the timer going off.

Here are a couple of links for time management info for Dyslexics that you might find useful:

So be patient with the Dyslexics and right-brainers in your life, give them a hug and tell them it’s okay because you know they are trying really hard with their lists, schedules, deadlines and keeping track of their “stuff”.  Also noticing and remarking on all the wonderful things that can occur from how they spend their time would also be very supportive.

Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Dyslexia Victoria Online Update

Finally starting to get recognized.

One of the most difficult things about what Karey and I do is getting recognized as a valuable resource. I know many of you who read our blogs find our methods and opinions to be helpful. Karey and I also know that the many, many individuals we have helped in the last few years also know that our service has been extremely helpful as well. We get emails and phone calls from parents of children we have assessed and made teaching programs for all the time. Every single one of them has told us how grateful they are that their child is now on a learning path that is right for them. These kids are happier with themselves as their school work gets easier to understand.

Teachers at the Pro D day events tell us that our methods are easy to understand and also simple to implement in their classrooms.

What has been difficult though is getting recognized by officials, school officials, literacy group officials, learning disability associations officials, government service providers and lots of others too. If only we could get the parents and teachers and students together to tell their stories to the public. We are sure that more educators, care givers, parents and Dyslexic adults would get a chance to learn that there are new, different methods available to help with Dyslexic learning issues. Well, it looks like that might be happening a little bit right now.

I have been contacting  local newspapers, reporters and TV stations in the general area around where Karey and I live. Last week I actually got a call back. In the city of Victoria, BC  Canada there is a TV news station called CHEK NEWS. Within their  broadcast they have a segment called ISLAND 30. It’s a 30 minute news show dedicated to news events and community events on Vancouver Island, BC. The reporter asked me if we would be interested in being interviewed with one of the parents and child who we helped late last year.

The interview was last Tuesday and was aired on February 4 at 7 pm and again at 10:30pm. You can see the interview on the TV station archives their ISLAND 30 shows for 2 weeks on their website. Go to” CHEK NEWS Victoria British Columbia” Then click on the ISLAND 30 link on the left side of the page. A series of big blue buttons will appear on the bottom of the page, click on the Feb 4 button. The very beginning of the segment shows that interview. It’s short but fun.

For anyone who has read our blogs or emailed us or phoned us or knows anything about us at all you know that our goal is not to drum up business for the sake of getting rich. Our goal is and always will be to educate the public about Dyslexia, teaching strategies and accommodations that work . Dyslexia has a lot of positive attributes, there are lots of ways to teach Dyslexic individuals to read and write and spell, etc.

Maybe this TV coverage will start to get the word out. I sure hope so because we know how easy it is to help individuals with Dyslexic learning issues, we just need to let everybody know as well.

Happy trails
Howie deGraaf
Editor and Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Dyslexia Then and Now

I just read Karey’s recent blog titled “Rant of a Parent Supporting a Dyslexic Child” and I just wonder when things are going to change. I mentioned it before that acceptance of Dyslexia in schools hasn’t really been at the forefront of school administrators.  I think it is worth repeating a couple of facts at this point.

The fear and confusion and desperation that Karey felt while trying to get help for her daughter was a very powerful and overpowering event in her life. For people not familiar with Karey’s story you should realize that this fight for her daughter’s right to get appropriate support in school was about 25 years ago. It also occurred in Northern California.

The reason I mention these facts is that we witness the same anguish in parents today, here in Western Canada. At one time I actually believed that the overall schooling in Canada was pretty good. Maybe for the average children it is, just like it might be good enough for the majority of kids in all of North America. What I truly don’t understand though is how the school systems in both countries have so consistently diminished the issues surrounding Dyslexia for so long. In both countries you can find school administrators spouting all kinds of “feel good” statements about “no child left behind” or some other version of this ideal. The problem is the more they say these things it seems the less is actually being done.

Now, Karey and I specialize in helping children and adults with Dyslexic learning issues and we are not familiar with other Learning Disabilities and the schools’ position on them but I suspect they are no better. I invite other professionals to let us know what is being done in the schools for children with issues other than Dyslexia. I would like to know if any progress is being made pertaining to Learning Disabilities at all in North America.

We don’t know how to get superintendants,  principals, school boards or school districts to change their perspectives so Karey and I will continue to help families one at a time. If anybody out there has come up with some magic formula for making vast changes that will quickly help children and adults please let us know.

I hope this was of value to you and we wish you good luck on your journey to further enlightenment about all things Dyslexic.

Howie deGraaf
Editor and Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online