Parenting Kids with Dyslexia Information - Lexercise

Broadcast 36: Creating High Quality Instruction in Teaching Reading

picture of Elisabeth LiptakElisabeth (Liz) Liptak is the Professional Services Director for the International Dyslexia Association, and joined us to discuss the IDA’s Knowledge & Practice Standards. She talked about how the IDA Standards can help teachers and parents recognize what to look for in high-quality reading instruction and how parents can get the help they need for their children who struggle with reading, spelling, and writing.

The IDA Standards serve as a guide to teachers and parents for selecting effective programs and methods for teaching children with dyslexia. Liz Liptak discussed how the Standards guide effective instruction, what teachers and clinicians need to know and be able to do to deliver effective intervention. The Standards provide guidance in the use of structured literacy in an intervention program. An effective program provides daily, structured practice in the following areas:

1. Phonology
2. Phonics and Word Study
3. Fluent, Automatic Reading of Text
4. Vocabulary
5. Text Comprehension
6. Handwriting, Spelling, Written Expression

Liz Liptak was formerly the Executive Director of the Washington Literacy Council, a community-based direct service program in Washington DC that served struggling adult readers and younger children. Liz also worked for two years on a reading research project at the Krasnow Institute, which was funded by the Department of Education. Liz has been a reading tutor since 1989, most recently in the DC Public Schools. Liz works closely with the IDA Board’s Standards and Practices Committee.

Click here to download the presentation for this Live Broadcast in pdf format.

Sports on our minds…and for our minds

kid playing sports

Did you know there is a connection between athletics and the ability to learn?

In her article for the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, “Sports: Strengthening Their Self Confidence and School Skills,” Nancy Hall makes the point that “physical activities like individual or team sports, important for any child, are especially beneficial for those with dyslexia.”

Hall goes on to offer helpful stories illustrating her point — examples in which youth who struggle with dyslexia offset some aspect of their difficulty with success in sports. Issues of self-esteem, frustration, motivation, relationships and even organization can be improved through athletics and such improvements can give students the confidence they need to continue making progress on the academic side.

When a child struggles to read, write or spell, it’s easy for life to fall out of balance — for the child and the family to turn a laser focus on “fixing” the problem at the expense of play, fun, and recreation.

Getting a professional evaluation and finding the right treatment is essential, but, as Nancy Hall demonstrates, sports can be a vital supplement to language therapy for children with dyslexia. 

Lexercise’s online, research-based services help struggling readers, writers, and spellers — no matter where they live! Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or contact us at or 1-919-747-4557.

Guest Post: Lexercise Customer Reads on Grade Level in Four Months

RandyRandy is a first-grader. He reads.

That’s a big change. Just four months ago, Randy was not able to read and his teacher was on the verge of recommending that Randy be held back in school.

Fortunately, Randy’s pediatric ophthalmologist urged Randy’s mom, Anitra Spencer, to get her son a comprehensive evaluation. The evaluation, which is always the essential first step toward successful treatment, confirmed Randy’s diagnosis and launched him into a Lexercise treatment program.

The results have been impressive.

I recently interviewed Antira Spencer about her experience — getting the evaluation, working with Lexercise online, the changes in Randy and her perspective and recommendations after four months.

Our online conversation is recorded in the short video segments that follow each of my questions.

1. Why did you initially seek an evaluation through Lexercise?

2. Did you have any concerns or reservations about this online, blended therapy model? If so, how did your perspective change?

3. After doing this therapeutic intervention for four months, what changes have you noticed?

4. What would you tell parents who are considering using Lexercise?

Thank you, Anitra, and keep up the good work, Randy!

If your child struggles with reading, writing or spelling, please have a look at the Lexercise Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page. It could turn your child into a confident reader!

Talking to Kids: In Praise of Effort

gold star used to praise childrens work

In my post on task persistence, I cited the work of Carol Dweck, her growth mindset approach (and book), and her Brainology curriculum. In this post, I’d like to talk a little more about how we offer praise and reinforcement to children.

By the time they get into school, many kids have well-established ideas about their abilities and “talents.” Whether the messages they’ve received are subtle or overt, some children have already come to accept that they are “smart” or “not very bright” or “lazy” — designations that seem as unchangeable as brown eyes.

What these messages suggest is that achievement is not based on personal effort, but on some fixed quality or character. The “smart” kids think they don’t really have to try because everything will come to them; the “not-so-smart” kids think they don’t have to try because they already know they’re going to fail.

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach helps children “understand that their intelligence can be developed. Instead of worrying about how smart they are, they work hard to learn more and get smarter.”

In his blog, Playdate Nation, Scott T. cites the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman and the authors’ conclusion that “too much praise actually weakens children’s defense mechanisms and reduces their ability to respond to failure.” (Be sure to read about Scott’s praise experiment with his 4-year-old daughter.)

So where does that leave parents who want to encourage their child’s efforts without loading on “dangerous” praise?

When it comes to praising, the biggest challenge for parents is resisting the easy, automatic phrases

that we heard as children and parrot back without thinking. As Scott recounts, in his experiment with Sophia he had to stop himself at each praising opportunity and consider another way to engage with his daughter — to show interest and appreciation without suggesting that she had achieved her results because she was smart or pretty or talented.

Do any of these less-than-ideal phrases sound familiar?

  • I knew you’d do a good job because you’re so smart/talented/pretty/graceful/handsome/etc. (Note that these are all attributes that may be true but required no effort or skill on the part of the child.)
  • That drawing (or another achievement) is beautiful (or other general praise). (Rather than finding something specific and meaningful to comment on, parents often praise even mediocre achievements with this kind of statement.)
  • Of course, it’s good – you’re an “A” student. (While good grades are definitely praiseworthy, without referring to the child’s specific efforts to achieve top grades, the “A student” description isn’t much different from talented/smart/pretty.)

How can parents praise instead?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Express appreciation for effort: I love watching you [fill in the task] because you’re so [fill in the descriptor – focused, careful, thoughtful, excited, energetic, etc.]
  • Express curiosity about complexity/novelty: Have you ever done [fill in the task] this way before? What made you decide to do it this way? Did you learn anything from doing it this way? Was it fun to try something new?
  • Express appreciation for specific positive achievements even when the overall results were less than hoped-for: I’m so impressed that you decided to do [fill in the task] without being asked. You worked really hard to understand the _____. The time you spent on _______ really paid off, didn’t it? It’s really terrific that you remembered ______ from the other day.
  • Express the belief that success and solutions are achievable: Let’s work together to see if we can figure out another way to do this. What would be a good thing to try to make this work better?

parent praising with a high fiveAt first, this way of thinking and these phrases might seem awkward, but, as Scott discovered in his experiment, children are ready to engage in conversation about what they do and to build success through effort and experience.



If your child is experiencing difficulty with reading, writing, or spelling, Lexercise can help. Our professional therapists offer individualized lessons and know how to encourage and praise your child as they work toward their goals. Take a look at our Professional Therapy page for more information or to schedule a free consultation. You can also contact us at or 1-919-747-4557.


What feedback phrases work best for you and your child?

I’d love to hear about your successes in the effort-versus-talent challenge below!

Task Persistence

good job!Children who struggle to read, write or spell are often criticized for being “lazy.” They’re “not trying,” the thinking goes, and so they get blamed for failing to measure up to their peers. On the flip side, children who excel at academics are often praised for being “smart” and “talented.” What we know about language-processing disorders, such as dyslexia, and what we’re learning about learning should call both of those approaches into question.

In a recent post, I talked about the significance of delayed gratification or strategic allocation of attention as components of effective learning. In this post, I’d like to talk about another tremendously important learning skill: task persistence.


What is Task Persistence?

Task persistence is simply the ability to stick with something in spite of distractions, physical or emotional discomfort, or lack of immediate success. We are familiar with the image of the Olympics-hopeful athlete, visualizing the goal and practicing without regard to weather, worries, or even injuries. That’s task persistence.

In a September 14, 2011, New York Times article, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” Paul Tough talks about how educators and psychologists are working to understand why some students succeed and some don’t and how the notion of character comes into that equation — things like self control (remember the allure of the marshmallow in the delayed gratification studies?), passion and task persistence. The author quotes Professor Angela Duckworth: “…learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

Still speaking of Duckworth, he goes on to say, “People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word ‘grit.’” Duckworth even developed a “Grit Scale” index — a quick self-assessment that could predict success.


Mindset and Task Persistence

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has spent most of her career studying what she calls Mindset and has written a book by that title. As the Mindset website explains,

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

Interestingly, Dweck draws a fine point on the hazards of “praising brains and talent” and emphasizes the importance of a growth mindset “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Her curriculum, called Brainology®, puts the growth mindset philosophy to work.

I’m going to talk more about praising effort/grit instead of brains/talent in another post, but here are a couple of examples. Parents can often be heard saying something like, “You’re so smart!” or “You must be really talented to be able to do that!” Instead, more character-building praise would be, “Good job! You worked really hard on that!” or “Wow! I can see that you put a whole lot of effort into that picture. It was worth it!” or “I like how you continued working until you finished the job. It would have been easier to just quit and go play games, but you stuck to it and worked hard.” In these examples, the child is being praised for effort — praise that helps the child see his or her own contribution to success — instead of for something that the child is “born with.”

Carol Dweck says, “When children have a growth mindset they believe in effort.” Effort, like “grit,” is just another name for task persistence. Duckworth’s studies, Dweck’s research and the Brainology curriculum are completely consistent with what we do here at Lexercise. We believe that with the right attitude (growth mindset, task persistence) and the right tools (Lexercise), children who struggle to read, write and spell can overcome their challenges and take their place alongside their peers.

If your child has difficulty reading, writing, or spelling, I invite you to have a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or to contact us at

Dyslexia Insight for Parents, from Parents

As an educator and a speech-language professional, I am continually dismayed at the lack of creditable information available to the parents of children who struggle to read, write and spell – children with dyslexia and other language-processing challenges. So it was extremely gratifying to read “Outsmarting Dyslexia” by Kelley King Heyworth in the December 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

Ms. Heyworth has obviously done her homework. Calling dyslexia “the most common learning disability,” she states clearly that many children “will never get diagnosed.” But, importantly, she goes on to say that “with early diagnosis and intensive instruction, they can become more capable readers than anyone might have imagined.”

The article turns to one of the most respected leaders in dyslexia research and education, Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at the Yale University School of Medicine and the co-director, with her husband, Bennett A. Shaywitz, of the newly formed Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Dr. Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, points out some of the common misconceptions about dyslexia, and the article correctly identifies dyslexia as a “real brain disorder,” explaining how researchers have used brain scans to see the affected brain circuitry. “Brain scans have also shown that when children with dyslexia start receiving specialized instruction by age 6 or 7, they are able to activate the part of their brain that helps them read words more accurately, says Dr. Shaywitz.”

Ms. Heyworth finishes her article by offering some key steps to help parents recognize and handle specific learning challenges such as dyslexia. Her suggestions are insightful and her article is a service to parents and children.

We are grateful to Kelley King Heyworth, Parents magazine, and Meredith Corporation for allowing us to post Outsmarting Dyslexia, which appears below for your information.

If your child is struggling with reading, writing, or spelling, you can learn more about online dyslexia testing and treatment, including the free Lexercise Screener. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact us at or 1-919-747-4557.

– – – – –

Written by Kelley King Heyworth. Used with permission from Parents® magazine. © 2011 Meredith Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Outsmarting Dyslexia

You can tell if your toddler will have this reading disability, years before he starts school.

By Kelley King Heyworth

“Bright” doesn’t begin to describe 10-year-old Olivia Mott. The artistic fifth-grader from Cheshire, Connecticut, has an amazing memory—she can recall details of a conversation she heard months ago or exactly what someone was wearing at the time. However, the thing that Olivia was most excited about last year was finishing Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Back in first grade, while her classmates were breezing through picture books she was stumped by even the most common sight words. She was diagnosed with dyslexia, the learning disability that prevents children from reading and spelling with ease and accuracy. With the help of daily lessons with reading specialists and twice-weekly sessions with a free tutor at a nearby Masonic Learning Center, “Olivia is now reading at grade level,” says her mom, Sarah. “I can’t believe how far she’s come.”

As many as one in five kids has some degree of dyslexia, making it the most common learning disability—and young children often show the first signs of it early on when they’re starting to speak. Sadly, though, many of these kids will never get diagnosed. In keeping with the recent trend of emphasizing learning “differences” rather than disabilities, school psychologists and trained testers often hesitate to use the label. “There are children who have all the signs of dyslexia but are identified by schools as simply ‘struggling’ or ‘impaired’ readers, and as a result, they don’t get the special help they need,” says Maryanne Wolf, Ed.D., director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts.

A decade or two ago, a child who had trouble reading might have been written off as slow and unmotivated. But today, experts know that kids with dyslexia are often gifted analytical thinkers—famous dyslexics include Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Charles Schwab—and that with early diagnosis and intensive instruction, they can become more capable readers than anyone might have imagined.


A Different Way of Thinking

To help a child who may have dyslexia, parents might first have to set aside some preconceived notions about the disorder. “Dyslexia is one of those problems that many people think they know a lot about, but their ideas are often based on notions that are no longer valid,” says Sally Shaywitz, M.D., codirector of The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity with her husband, Bennett Shaywitz, M.D. For instance, everyone’s heard that kids with dyslexia see letters in mirror image and confuse “b” and “d”—even though studies disproved this in the late 1990s. And people often think it’s a problem mostly for boys. In fact, girls are just as likely to have dyslexia, even though boys are diagnosed three or four times more often. (Boys may be more likely to act up in class and thus be scrutinized for “problems.”)

People with dyslexia actually view text the same way others do, but they have trouble activating the parts of the brain that retrieve the sounds in spoken words and synthesize letters and sounds. This difficulty processing language begins even before a child reaches reading age. When most toddlers hear a nursery rhyme like “Hey, Diddle Diddle,” they enjoy the repetition of sounds and may try to mimic them and come up with their own rendition. But when a child born with dyslexia listens to rhymes, she may not perceive the sound patterns at all. By kindergarten, the same children who picked up on rhymes will be able to pull apart the sounds in spoken words, known as phonemes, and match each to a letter. Soon, they’ll see a word like cat, and realize it can be decoded by breaking it into sounds (“k,” “aaaa,” and “t”). A dyslexic classmate will struggle to associate letters with sounds, much less be able to blend them together to read words.

Scientists have proven that dyslexia is a real brain disorder by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a scanning device that shows where blood flows through a person’s brain. When skilled readers look at words projected on a video screen, the left side of the back of their brain—the area where words’ letters, sounds, and meanings are integrated and rapidly recalled—is bright with activity. But in fMRIs of people with dyslexia, these typical reading circuits are mostly dark and other areas are activated. The fact that people who have dyslexia use alternative pathways on both sides of the brain in order to read may explain why they’re often also creative, out-of-the-box thinkers even though they struggle with some language-based tasks, says Dr. Wolf. “Their brain has the ability to look at problems in a different way.”

Brain scans have also shown that when children with dyslexia start receiving specialized instruction by age 6 or 7, they are able to activate the part of their brain that helps them read words more accurately, says Dr. Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia. This allows them to read the same books as their classmates, although they may always need more time to finish. While current programs can help a child become a more accurate and comfortable reader, they can’t “cure” his dyslexia.

Key Steps to Take

Acknowledging that your child has a chronic learning disability can be scary. “However, now that we know how to help children with dyslexia, we’ve found that getting a diagnosis actually empowers kids and parents,” says Dr. Shaywitz. Experts advise these strategies for every age.

Be on the lookout for early signs in your toddler or preschooler. Family history is a big predictor: Up to one half of kids with a parent or a sibling with dyslexia also have it. Early speech delays (such as not saying first words by 15 months) and difficulty pronouncing or getting words out once a child is talking may mean he’s having word-retrieval problems that might be associated with reading issues later. However, the inability to appreciate rhymes is a key early sign of dyslexia, says Dr. Shaywitz. If your toddler doesn’t seem to play with and repeat the rhyming sounds he hears in Mother Goose or Dr. Seuss, pay attention to whether he has problems learning letters and letter sounds as he moves into preschool.

When you suspect a problem, have her evaluated as soon as possible. In kindergarten, a child with dyslexia will have trouble recognizing the sounds within spoken words and associating letters with their sounds. She’ll also struggle to break words into phonemes; you might try testing this by giving her a simple word and asking her to identify the sounds within it. Kids who have dyslexia also fail to recognize common sight words, but not always. “Kids may memorize certain words but not know how to decode new ones,” says Dr. Shaywitz. If your kindergartner or first-grader is dealing with any of these issues, make a formal request (in writing, to the school principal) that she be tested for dyslexia. If your child is homeschooled or attends a private school that doesn’t offer special-education services, you can make the request of your local public school, which is legally responsible to provide evaluations for all children in its zoning area.

Early on, before a child is expected to read, language specialists can assess her spoken-language skills that are the foundation of learning to read. Later, a psychologist should give your child a comprehensive assessment that includes her medical and developmental history, oral language abilities, phonemic awareness, and, depending on her age, reading and writing skills. If you have trouble getting your child evaluated within a month or two, or you’re told that your child doesn’t qualify for services when you have a strong feeling that she does have dyslexia, contact your state’s branch of the Learning Disabilities Association of America ( for guidance.

If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia, start an intensive tutoring program right away. Public schools should provide an Individual Education Program (IEP) for children with dyslexia. Formulated by the evaluating psychologist, teachers, and parents, the IEP is a road map for providing extra help for a child. It should include individual or small-group sessions four to five times a week with a reading specialist. (Private schools don’t have to create IEPs, but many do.)

When your child is placed in a special reading program, ask what techniques the specialist uses. Most dyslexia experts prefer methods that have been scientifically studied, such as Orton-Gillingham ( Dr. Wolf has launched a program called Rave-O, which is based on a five-year National Institute for Child Health and Human Development intervention research project. Other programs, such as Wilson Fundations ( and Rowland Reading Foundation’s Superkids Reading Program (, are designed for kids around kindergarten age. All of these programs focus on the individual sounds that make up words, and often include tools that engage more than one sense (such as moveable letter tiles) to provide a child with multiple cues for learning.

Consider additional tutoring if your school’s special-education program falls short. There are many options to choose from, and also a lot of misleading information out there, says Dr. Shaywitz, so inquire about a program’s success rate. “It’s important to do your homework and find the program that best suits your child.” Ask your pediatrician for referrals, and ask potential tutors if they partner with insurance companies. Masonic Learning Centers (, like the one Olivia has gone to, provide free, high-quality tutoring to children with dyslexia in 15 states, although waiting lists can be long. Because dyslexia is a language disorder and not a visual problem, experts say there is no evidence that doing vision exercises or wearing special training glasses with colored lenses can benefit kids—even though there are companies that sell them.

Insist on accommodations for a child who reads very slowly or has trouble retrieving words when speaking. Even when they learn to decode words accurately, most children with dyslexia still have trouble with articulating their thoughts and reading quickly and easily. This can make oral presentations and written tests unnecessarily difficult—and embarrassing. Part of advocating for your child will be pressing the principal and teaching staff for accommodations that will be particularly helpful for your child, such as not being called upon to read aloud, having extra time on quizzes, and being allowed to dictate homework answers to you. When calling on her to answer a question, the teacher could also ask her to choose between two answers—so that she can show that she knows the right answer even if it’s tough for her to come up with the right words.

Keep your kid’s spirits up. Dr. Shaywitz strongly believes that parents should tell their child that he has dyslexia as soon as he’s been diagnosed. Letting him know that there’s an explanation for the problems he’s having in school will reduce his anxiety. For a young child, keep your explanation simple—you could say something like, “you have trouble hearing small sounds in words,” while also pointing out some of the things that he can do well. And tell him that dyslexia is something that lots of smart and cool people have. (Dr. Shaywitz says you might mention actor Orlando Bloom, Captain Underpants creator Dav Pikey, and Percy Jackson, the fictional hero of The Lightning Thief series, who was based on author Rick Riordan’s son, who has dyslexia.)

Sarah Mott has seen Olivia’s confidence improve tremendously since she found out she has dyslexia. “Before she was diagnosed, Olivia was an angel in the classroom but a terror at home,” she says. “It was as if she wanted to hold it together in front of other kids, but then at home she’d break down. After she started intervention, we saw a huge difference in how she felt about herself.” Once, when a classmate started teasing her that she had dyslexia and couldn’t read, Olivia put a hand on her hip and said proudly, “I have dyslexia, and I can read!”

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day!

As you’ve probably noted, I’m a huge fan of reading aloud. So I was delighted to discover that Saturday, December 3, 2011, is Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

It’s one of those ideas that started small – a mom wanting to share the pleasures of book-laden shelves with her children – and then caught on. You can learn more at the Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day website, which includes a map of participating stores (though any bookstore with a children’s section will do).

Children’s Book Recommendations

In anticipation of the holidays, here is a short list of some of my favorite books, especially for children who struggle with reading:

Beacon Street Girls by Annie Bryant (Aladdin). An extensive series of books targeted to girls 9 to 13 and one of the first for this age group to feature a main character with dyslexia, Maeve Kaplan-Taylor. Some titles are also available on CD.

book cover for hank zipzer, a book recommendation for dyslexia childrenHank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (Grosset & Dunlap). Now 17 in number, the Hank Zipzer series features a dyslexic main character, Hank, written by a dyslexic author, Henry Winkler. Ages 8 and up. Some titles are also available on CD.

Horatio Humble Beats the Big D by Margot E. Finke (Guardian Angel, 2010). This picture book with rhyming text explains dyslexia through its character, Horatio Humble. Ages 5 to 10.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (Hyperion Books). A series of books, videos and companion guidebooks starring characters mythological and contemporary for ages 10 and up. I often recommend the Percy Jackson series to boys when they have gained enough reading skills to manage the text and many of them have gotten hooked on reading through these books. Some titles are also available on CD.

Pony Pals series by Jeanne Betancourt (Scholastic). A book series for ages 7 and up about three girls and their ponies. One of the girls, Anna, is dyslexic, as is the author, who dedicates a page on her website to dyslexia.

The Sword of Darrow by Hal and Alex Malchow (BenBella Books, 2011). Children’s adventure fantasy fiction for ages 9 and up. The authors are father and son; son Alex was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8.

Although author Jim Trelease has retired, his wonderful book, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin) is still readily available. The back of the book includes a “Treasury of Read-Alouds” categorized by genre — picture books, short novels, novels, anthologies, fairy/folk tales, and poetry. A wonderful list of read-aloud books that were published before 2006.

I hope you enjoy reading together… and make it a year-round habit for the entire family. We’re never too old for reading aloud!

Meanwhile, if you have questions about language processing disorders, such as dyslexia, I’d be pleased to hear from you at or call us at 1-919-747-4557.

International Literacy Day – for readers of all abilities

Thursday, September 8, 2011, is United Nations International Literacy Day (ILD), which underlines the significance of literacy for healthy societies. The International Literacy Association says, “More than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education.”

Even in the United States, with ready access to education, people with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders struggle to read and write. Reading problems, including dyslexia, affect some 10 million children nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, almost 40% of 4th-grade students in the United States read below grade level.

But in 2007 the National Center for Education Statistics reported that “public school children identified as having a primary specific learning disability ranged from .5% in kindergarten to 6.5 % in 5th grade.” This means that only a very small percentage of struggling readers get individualized help through their school.

Finding the right tools and the right therapy is key to meeting those challenges. International Literacy Day focuses a spotlight on the importance of literacy for individuals and societies worldwide.

There are a variety of ways to observe International Literacy Day, from organizing themed readings in local schools and libraries to supporting national and international literacy programs. How will you celebrate?

  • Encourage your child’s school to observe ILD with special reading programs.
  • Visit your local library.
  • Read aloud with your children.
  • Use language and images to create your own books.
  • Become a literacy coach.
  • Start a family blog to encourage vocabulary and writing skills.
  • Play a word game.
  • Explore language/literacy-development tools, such as Lexercise.
  • Seek help for language-processing disorders.

I welcome your comments and questions below! 

Family Games and the Science of Reading

We have been hearing more and more about the science of reading and the “fight over how to teach reading”. (See the New York Times article, In the Fight Over How to Teach Reading, This Guru Makes a Major Retreat.)  

The science of reading tells us that reading comprehension is the product of understanding when listening and recognizing printed words.

the science of reading

While, as a parent, you may not think of yourself as a reading teacher, you may be curious about how family games and activities can support the two main components of reading comprehension: understanding when listening and recognizing printed words.  

In this article, we’ll list some family games that support the two main components that the science of reading has found to be foundations for reading comprehension. 

Listening Games

Word Reading Games

Simon Says

This is a classic listening game for young children. One player is chosen to be “Simon”. Simon gives directions to the players by either saying “Simon says, Do ____”, or just, “Do ____”. If Simon began by saying “Simon says…” then the players are supposed to do as requested. But, if the command didn’t begin with “Simon says”, the players are to ignore the request. If Simon catches a player performing an action that was made without “Simon says” that player is out.


This is a highly adjustable matching game. To prepare for this game you will need to make a set of cards with 5 to 10 matching pairs, adjusted to the child’s current skill level. For example, for a beginning reader the pairs might be:

  • letters (m-m)
  • words (mat-mat)
  • rhyming words (mat-bat)

If the child is a more advanced reader the pairs might be homophones, like:

  • laps-lapse
  • chute-shoot
  • knead-need

Or they could be words with the same base, like:

  • action-actor
  • viewer-viewing


Using 3×5 inch index cards make 5 to 10 pairs of words. Shuffle the cards and place them face down in straight rows. Take turns turning up two cards at a time and reading the words aloud. If the two cards match, the player keeps them and gets a second turn. If they do not match, the cards are turned back over and the next player takes a turn. Play continues until all the cards are matched. The player with the most pairs wins. 

20 Questions

This is an easy, entertaining game that adapts to players of every age and language skill. Player A thinks of an object and gives a single clue: animal, vegetable, or mineral. Players B, C, D, etc., take turns asking questions about the object, trying to guess what it is. After each question, Player A answers yes or no, but can’t give any more clues. If the group can’t guess after asking 20 questions, Player A names the object and gets another turn. If someone guesses correctly, that person is next up to name an object.


Scrabble Slam

This is a fast-paced word game played with cards. Player A gets to choose a four-letter word. Using the letter-cards in the deck, the word is spelled out face-up on the table. The remaining cards are shuffled and then the deck is dealt to the players. When play starts – “Go!” – everyone plays at once. The players choose one letter from their hand that will change the original word into a new word, for example, using a -k- to change WORD to WORK. The winner is the first person to use up all their cards. Then Player B chooses a word.

Apples to Apples

This popular card game works best for four or more players, though it can be played with three in a pinch. Red Apple cards are dealt to each player. Player A, the judge, chooses a Green Apple card and places it face up. The other players then choose the Red card in their hand that comes closest to describing the judge’s Green card. The judge selects the best match, the winner collects a point and then Player B gets to be judged. Note: Apples to Apples Junior is targeted to ages 9 and up.


This is a timed tile game in which each player uses his or her own tiles to create a linked (Scrabble-style) grid of words. It can be played by two to seven players, ages 7 (or so) and up. You can adjust this game by eliminating the timing component, working in teams instead of individually, and/or using only words from a single category, such as animals, colors, numbers, etc. The clever game-smiths at Bananagrams have now added a number of other terrific word/language tile games (Appletters, PAIRSinPEARS, ZIP-IT and Fruitominoes) to their collection.


Another terrific all-ages game that requires no equipment and works for large groups as well as small. This game works particularly well if everyone’s sitting in a circle. Player A names a category, for example, candies, colors, and flowers. Then, starting with Player B and moving around the circle as quickly as possible, each player names something that fits into that category (a type of candy, a color, the name of a flower). When you get back to Player A, then Player B gets to name a category. This game has no single winner, but can generate a lot of laughs and stimulate vocabulary.


This game can be adapted to focus on categories related to printed words. For example, name words that:

  • start with a -t-
  • have a short vowel sound
  • rhyme with “meet”
  • have double letters
  • have 2 syllables

Do you have a favorite family game? For more reading ideas, click here.

Happy playing!

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Talking with your Dyslexic Child

I was on the verge of writing about family word games when it occurred to me that there’s a more basic topic: conversation.

In today’s typical family (if there is such a thing), every hour of the day is scheduled. When we’re not running from activity to activity, we’re likely to be engaged with our electronic companions: computers, phones, televisions, games, and other devices. In school, our children are focused on skills and passing tests. After school, it’s more studying and sports.

What often gets left out of the picture is conversation. In less-scheduled decades, families sat down together at mealtimes and talked. Conversation often stretched into the evening, with families gathering on the porch or in the parlor. But even meal-time togetherness is uncertain today.

conversation at family dinnerA Gallup Poll found that “slightly more than a quarter (28%) of adults with children under the age of 18 report that their families eat dinner together at home seven nights a week — down from 37% in 1997. Almost half (47%) of parents say their families eat together between four and six times a week. Another quarter (24%) say they eat together three or fewer nights a week.”

The September 2010 report of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, The Importance of Family Dinners VI, reports that “60 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week.” The number has ranged between 51% and 61% for the 16 years that CASA has conducted the research.

Among those figures are a lot of children and adults eating meals alone, in front of the TV, or on the fly.

Talking and conversation play a critical role in a child’s intellectual, emotional and social development.

Supportive family conversations can encourage attention to words, expand vocabulary and provide a safe setting for children to practice using language to express their points of view.

The discussion that takes place in most classrooms is very different from the discussion in a family setting. Face-to-face family conversation can scaffold a child’s critical thinking, language development, cooperation, and creativity in a way that is hard to accomplish in a group of peers. As children learn to answer and ask increasingly complex questions, they gain valuable social skills that have life-long benefits. Research indicates that eating together has other benefits as well, from menu and portion management to improved grades, reduced tension, and a lower incidence of substance abuse.

It seems like one of the most important things a family can do is to create a context for interaction and conversation. The family meal is one place conversation can happen, but it’s certainly not the only one. What about a no-electronics hour before bed? A 30-minute walk before dinner? We’re able to find remarkable amounts of time to dedicate to our gadgets; with a little effort, couldn’t we re-route some of that time every day to simple conversation?

Once you’ve set aside the time, where do you start? The Family Education website offers a terrific list of “100 Questions to Ask Your Kids” excerpted from the book 201 Questions to Ask Your Kids by Pepper Schwartz. The site also offers some ideas about setting the right tone for conversation and how it’s valuable to both adults and kids. Have a look!

If you have concerns about language processing, dyslexia, or starting a conversation with your child, I welcome your questions and comments at or 1-919-747-4557.

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day

It’s World Read Aloud Day and that seems like a great time to talk about the enormous benefits of reading aloud to children with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders.

Children with dyslexia have difficulty reading words. But, interestingly, they have no problem with listening comprehension.

Such children experience tremendous frustration with reading and miss much of the age- and grade-appropriate language and vocabulary that is typically learned through reading books. Having books read aloud to them is not only skill-enhancing and enjoyable but also helps them develop a lifelong appreciation for books.

Here’s a wonderful quote from Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook:

“We start with the brain. As lumber is the primary support for building a house, words are the primary structure for learning. And there are really only two efficient ways to get words into a person’s brain: either through the eye or through the ear. Since it’ll be years before the eye is used for reading, the best source for ideas and brain building in a young child becomes the ear. What we send into that ear becomes the ‘sound’ foundation for the rest of the child’s ‘brain house.’ Those meaningful sounds in the ear now will help the child make sense of the words coming in through the eye later when learning to read.”

Learning Ally is an educational audiobook library for students of all ages who cannot read standard print effectively because of a learning disability, visual impairment, or other physical disability. Some parents don’t read aloud to their children because they themselves are not strong readers. With a catalog that includes more than 61,000 titles, both literature and textbooks from K to college and beyond, Learning Ally makes it possible for individuals and families to enjoy all of the pleasures and benefits of reading aloud.

If you have any doubts about the benefits of reading aloud, listen to a few of RFB&D’s success stories.

Learning Ally offers FREE individual membership for eligible people with dyslexia who experience difficulty in reading printed material. PLUS, they have an Audio App for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. So now reading aloud is educational, fun, and COOL!

parent and child reading aloudIn addition to language building and reading appreciation, reading aloud is a wonderful bonding opportunity for families – a time that can build closeness, improve communication and become a lifelong habit to share across the generations.

Why not take some time today, World Read Aloud Day, and every day, to read aloud with your child?

I welcome your comments and questions. To get answers to your questions about dyslexia or language-learning disorders or to learn more about Lexercise or reading aloud, call 1-919-747-4557 or e-mail

Your Child’s Skills and Interest in Reading: Attitude Counts!

This is the last of four newsletters with tips for measuring your child’s skills and interest in reading. Find links to all the previous ones below.

When measuring your child’s skills and interest in reading, attitude counts!

This article will look at your child’s attitude or emotional response to reading. You might not think that attitude is important—or certainly not as important as accuracy and vocabulary.

But in fact, people generally avoid things they find difficult or unpleasant and spend more time doing things they find easy and rewarding. We don’t have to force ourselves to do the things we enjoy.


Materials you will need for this activity:

  • The calendar or chart you started last week where you keep track of your child’s reading
  • Pen/pencil

What you will do:

  • As with the other exercises, reduce distractions. Turn off electronic media to reduce background noise and create a quiet space so that your child can read uninterrupted.
  • You may wish to set some rules, for instance, no TV, texting, talking on the phone, or games during certain hours that are set aside for studying and reading.
  • Make notes about your child’s attitude and mood when they are reading. Does he or she grumble about having to read? Get up repeatedly? Seem deeply engrossed in the reading material?


helping your child read with the right attitudeIf your child seems consistently unhappy, stressed, or inattentive, or if your child creates family fights or arguments that have to do with reading, you might want to seek a professional evaluation to find out what’s causing that attitude. With the help of a licensed clinician, reading disabilities can be corrected; getting help for a child who’s struggling to read is a gift that will yield benefits for the rest of the child’s life. To find a Lexercise clinician in your area, just email us at or give us a call at 919-747-4557.