Dilemma Emma gives her advice on child dyslexia

Dear Readers,

Many an email has zoomed in and compliments for Tim Haynes – I’m starting to wonder if he might like to take over the mantle as Dilemma Emma, bearing in mind the praise that has been lavished upon him.  A lot of questions about life with teenagers, requests for more recipes and a specific plea for help with a diagnosis of dyslexia. We shall return to teenagers and the conundrum that is the working of their brains but let us hear from David from Central London.


Dear Dilemma Emma,

I have a son of 14 and we have just received a diagnosis from an educational psychologist of dyslexia. She has said it is not severe but I can see that he needs help.  Any wise words or hints and tips would be really appreciated. Many thanks, David G.


I have no doubt in my mind that we will return to this complex subject throughout the year, delving much deeper, but for now here are 11 tips. I have distilled the swathes of advice, discredited the nonsense that regularly does the rounds and my aim is to make sure each tip has impact.

  1. Give only one instruction at a time.
  1. Give clear instructions. Repeat that one, clear instruction if needs be. Don’t change it, just gently repeat it.
  1. Help and support in all academic work; don’t set them up to fail. Clearly don’t do the work, as that is cheating, but be the scribe, be the reader.
  1. Find the thing that they love, at every opportunity pursue the harp playing, the cookie baking, the origami…. one of those things will be their life choice and you need to help find it. Someone has got to design origami packs…
  1. Do puzzles, old-fashioned puzzles, age appropriate obviously. There is no intellect problem here, your teenager doesn’t need to be smacking out a 60 piece Frozen jigsaw! All ages can gather around, chatting and puzzling.. (not sure you can ‘puzzle’ but hey ho.. ).
  1. Focus on helping them to achieve life skills; start with doing up buttons, whizz onto telling the time, zoom through answering the phone and end on a flourish with learning to drive. All of these will be a challenge for the dyslexic and you will need patience reserves that you didn’t think you have, but you do, you really do. Educators will obviously touch your child’s life but be aware you will need to be the main teacher here; repetition and practice are what is needed in a dyslexic’s life.
  1. Tell your dyslexic that you love them. Simple as that, they need a secure base. Supply that unconditional love and that secure base.
  1. Try out coloured paper, coloured film, every ‘thing’ that your educationalist suggests. Some have flimsy research, some are founded on robust research but if it helps, it helps!
  1. Keep the interest in reading up…. strip your library bare of CDs and books.  You can gain an encyclopaedic literary knowledge off the back of car journeys and library CDs… trust me on this, I have a walking, breathing example of this… not too far from my keyboard… walking, breathing and muttering about The Hobbit…
  1. Give them their childhood… They may need constant reading practice, relentless literacy practice but they do need to play.
  1. As the primary carer you would do well to not listen to the endless twaddle, that starts with the well worn line of…. well… Richard Branson is dyslexic… Well, he might be but he also had loving supportive parents, a formidable education, blinding charisma and a crazy work ethic. I would like to suggest that his dyslexia is not the thing that made him Richard Branson with an island but it is part of him. Remind yourself in a calm, realistic way that for every Ricky B there are thousands, thousands of illiterate struggling dyslexics unable to function in a world of words. And to that end, most probably advisable to shield your dyslexic from it too. However, if there is some inspiration to be found in a figure your teenager looks up to, go for it, but be realistic.

Remember that if you have a dyslexic in the house, you have an absolutely normal child/grunting teenager but with a lifelong challenge, that it is your duty to help him manage, embrace and cope with. It may be the reason he forgets one thing off the shopping list but it is not the excuse. These are two very different things, my dear reader.  Yes, he will have dyslexia but he will have to function in a non-dyslexic world and it is your duty to facilitate that with, as I have mentioned before, compassion and understanding. There is little to be gained by teaching him to use his diagnosis as an excuse to get out of everything from spelling tests to map reading for a friend.

Good luck – just as all children are, they are adorable even with all their testing ways.

Happy days

Dilemma Emma


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