Pencils, crayons, glue sticks and audiobooks. . . it's back to school time! For children with dyslexia, preparation (or lack thereof) before school begins can make or break the entire year. Dr. Chester Goad, a Tennessee-based disability advocate, university administrator and former school principal, maintains that "part of getting your child ready for school is also getting the school ready for your child." Here are his top tips for making this transition as smooth as possible.
1.) OPEN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION.
Reach out and introduce yourself, your child, and your circumstances to your child's new teachers and administrators early on. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt that his love for teaching is genuine. This goes a long way to build trust. It’s crucial that you have these conversations early and that your child is present when possible. So, what should you cover in this early meeting?
- Discuss with the teacher anticipated accommodation needs in advance. If no IEP or formal plan is in place yet, simply discuss “helpful tips” or “concerns."
- Ask for a list of readings in advance, if possible.
- Set a plan for open communication and discuss their preferences for discussing your child’s needs. Do they prefer email, phone calls or after school meetings? When you ask these things in advance, it demonstrates that you respect their professionalism and their time.
- Ask the teachers about the upcoming standards or objectives that will be covered this year and whether there are any links or resources to help parents get a handle on the learning expectations for the particular grade level.
- Discuss how reading aloud is handled in the classroom and make a plan in advance for those situations.
- You might even discuss volunteering in different ways. Volunteerism on school wide projects is an act of good faith that shows you care about the school and goes a long way toward establishing positive relationships.
Opening the lines of communication means including everyone, including your daughter or your son, and establishes trusting school relationships and a sense of team. The best thing you can communicate as a “team” is a commitment to high expectations and a commitment to a successful school year! Be positive!
2.) BRING CURRENT EVALUATIONS, UPDATES, & INFO
Be sure that all documentation and evaluations on your child's school records are current and up-to-date. If evaluating, updating or testing is necessary, then go ahead and set the plan in motion. You will need to keep everyone in the loop regarding updates or testing needs, as well as concerns.
Don’t shy away from involving your child in discussions of testing results or the diagnosis. Some parents shy away from this because they worry about labels. The best approach is the one that includes your child understanding his or her own diagnosis and what it means. Just remember to consider age appropriate explanations. Try not to make your child’s questions more complex than they are, simply answer each question for what it is. There’s no need to contemplate or pontificate about the future. Focus on the now. These discussions are vital to building self-identity, confidence, and self-determination. Just remember that having dyslexia is only one very, miniscule part of your child’s life. It should be a comfortable reality, and not a personal identifier. Be positive!
3.) PLAN OUTLETS FOR DE-STRESSING.
Research actually shows that dyslexia is mentally and physically taxing. The brain is busy firing and making necessary new connections in different ways from non-dyslexic ones —learning differently takes brain power!
Consider finding ways to relax and relieve stress. It's not just a good idea, it is crucial to a positive beginning to the school year and should be maintained. Sports, dance, clubs, church or religious activities, play-dates, or even a simple daily walk or bike ride can make a huge difference. Parents should be just as committed to rest, relaxation, and de-stressing, as to academic success. Be positive!
4.) BUILD YOUR DYSLEXIA TECHNOLOGY TOOLBOX
Consider all the technology that exists and think about incorporating those tools into your child’s learning repertoire. Many helpful dyslexia, reading, and speech-to-text tools help enhance and improve the learning process. Think about all the apps, software, smart pens, and more that might be helpful, just remember that every child learns differently.
Once you have identified some options that work for you and fit your budget, consider playing with those or practice in advance of the beginning of school. You want the use of helpful technology to come naturally by the time the first day rolls around.
Hint: You might also consider suggesting that the school system incorporate technology like screen readers, speech to text, and books in audio format for all students. Learning Ally is definitely a powerful resource when it comes to making school readings accessible. Be positive!
5.) INSTILL CONFIDENCE
Remember that new opportunities await! Encourage your child to enjoy all things “back-to-school” -- like the shopping, new backpacks or school clothes, the pencils, pens, shoes, haircuts, new friends, new teachers and more. It should be an exciting and fun time, with more emphasis placed on the experience and less on dyslexia. Remind your child that school can be fun, and do your best as a parent to help them believe it will be. Every new school year offers a fresh start, and kids will often follow your cues! Be confident, mom or dad! Be positive!
Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator, a former high school teacher, former principal, and former US Congressional staffer. He is co-author of Tennessee's Dyslexia Is Real" bill, that recently passed unanimously and was signed into law in the spring. He is author of the forthcoming book, “Purple People Leader: How to Protect Unity, Release Politics, & Lead Everyone: Inspiration, Wisdom, & Tips for Leading Purple.” (August 2014 Release). You can learn more about him at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com. He is an adult living with attention deficit and spends much of his time advocating for children and individuals with disabilities and learning differences like dyslexia. He is a licensed special educator, and a former US Congressional staffer. He also maintains an educational blog at www.chestergoad.com.
Find out how to get started with audiobooks for struggling readers in your classroom by visiting LearningAlly.org/Educators.
Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization that provides over 80,000 human-narrated audiobooks to students who have learning or visual disabilities. Not a member? Find out how to sign up your school or your individual student today.