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Helping Your Dyslexic Learner: An Interview with Faith Berens

November 23–27, 2015   |   Vol. 125, Week 5

Homeschooling provides great opportunities for all students—especially dyslexic ones. Today on Homeschool Heartbeat, HSLDA special needs consultant Faith Berens shares tips on how to use homeschooling to help your dyslexic student reach his or her full potential.

“In general, dyslexic people are very bright, creative, or artistic. … So it’s important for parents to recognize their children’s strengths and teach to those strengths.”—Faith Berens

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Are you having trouble understanding your child’s struggle with dyslexia? Today on Homeschool Heartbeat, Faith Berens explains the challenges that your student is facing, and you can help your child to work through those challenges.

Mike Smith: Faith Berens, one of HSLDA’s special needs consultants, joins us this week. Welcome to the program, Faith!

Faith Berens: Thank you, Mike. I’m glad to be here.

Mike: Well Faith, as you are aware, dyslexia is a topic of concern for some of our homeschool families. Now, would you explain what dyslexia is and what some of its indications are?

Faith: Sure. The word ‘dyslexia’ literally means “difficulty with words,” and it’s actually neurological in its origin. Dyslexia is not uncommon—it’s very common. It impacts 15 to 20 percent of the population. Dyslexic people are average to above average intelligence; they’re often very, very bright and even gifted.

Dyslexia is generally characterized by difficulty with accurate and fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and poor decoding abilities. And these typically result from very weak phonological processing skills. Now all that means is simply the ability to notice, remember, pronounce, identify, and manipulate the sounds of language, or the sounds within words. And you may see children with poor reading comprehension, very slow reading. And as a result of that, they often have a reduced reading experience and feel very badly about themselves and their ability to read.

Mike: Faith, would you tell us what challenges dyslexia can present for homeschooling families? And what are some strategies for homeschooling a student who actually has dyslexia?

Faith: Absolutely. One huge challenge for dyslexic students is output, or simply, the ability to get out what they know. Many dyslexic students struggle particularly with writing, spelling, or math computation. So I suggest that parents allow the student to either dictate or keyboard writing assignments and take some exams orally. Students with dyscalculia, which is actually the math version of dyslexia, may be allowed to use a calculator.

Parents can provide and train students to use tech tools such as Ginger Spell, or Cowriter, or Dragon Naturally Speaking, which is a voice recognition software program that types as children dictate. Also, a Smart Pulse pen is excellent for older students, for note–taking skills. So tapping into assistive technology gives students a way to work around their challenges and then they’re freed up to express themselves and get down all their wonderful ideas on paper.

Mike: Faith, what can a homeschool parent do to tailor the homeschool experience for the needs of a child who has dyslexia?

Faith: Well Mike, as you know, homeschooling really is optimal because it truly is an IEP, an individualized education plan. And in fact, the International Dyslexia Association has a great article which I highly recommend titled “Why Homeschool the Dyslexic Child.” We know that a loving parent can provide one–on–one reading lessons daily. And those should be systematic and explicit, meaning there’s no room for guessing, and students don’t have to deduce and come to conclusions about spelling and phonetic patterns.

Parents can find a solid reading curriculum and provide consistent review and large chunks of time for practicing reading of connective texts, which are key components for high quality reading intervention. They can also give their children the gift of extra time and that’s the biggest accommodation that we can give to dyslexic students. They need extra time to read, write, process, think, and organize themselves and their thoughts.

Mike: Faith, do you find that children who have dyslexia often have compensating strengths in other areas?

Faith: Absolutely. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind there are different types of dyslexia, and root causes for these specific reading disabilities. But in general, dyslexic people are very bright, creative, or artistic. They’re observant. They think in pictures. They’re often mechanical, athletic, or musical. Many are very strong auditory learners, good at remembering what they hear. Others have a really strong photographic memory. So it’s important for parents to recognize their children’s strengths and teach to those strengths. Play them up!

My good friend Dianne Craft always encourages parents to help children tap into their smart part. So if you have a student who’s musical or rhythmic, then you can use raps, chants, poems or funny ditties to help them learn, memorize and recite and recall information. Or an artistic student could storyboard or draw the sequence of events from a novel they’ve read, or create a flowchart of events from a history lesson using a software program like Inspiration.

Mike: Faith, can you recommend any resources for homeschool parents of children with dyslexia?

Faith: You bet! Parents should definitely check out Daphne Hurford’s book, To Read or Not to Read. And also the Dyslexia Empowerment program by Dr. Ben Foss. I would encourage them to visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities website. There’s also a parent–led organization called Decoding Dyslexia, and an organization for mentoring called Eye to Eye.

Now I know one of the burning questions in parents’ minds is, “Well what about curriculum?” So we suggest an Orton–Gillingham method of instruction. This is the most effective and research–based for children with dyslexia. There’s some good curricula, including All About Reading and All About Spelling, the Barton system for reading and spelling, Lexercise, Tracy Tutor, or Verticy Learning. And I also love Dianne Craft’s materials and her right–brain phonics.

Mike: Faith, thank you so much for joining us on the program this week. Your advice and insight are going to help a ton of families. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Faith BerensFaith Berens

Faith Berens holds a master’s degree in reading from Shenandoah University. She has 13 years of teaching experience in both public and private Christian schools, serving as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery® teacher, reading specialist, and educational therapist. Her areas of expertise are early childhood literacy, reading assessment, and the identification and remediation of reading difficulties. Faith joined the HSLDA team of Special Needs Coordinators in 2008 and homeschools her own children, as well as works as a private educational consultant, evaluator, and tutor. Some of her passions include reading for pleasure, singing, traveling, nature/science, leading Bible studies, and teaching reading to primary age children. Faith lives in Stephens City with her husband, Matthew, daughter, Hailey, and son Hayden.

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