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Why reading is so hard for dyslexic readers


Let’s talk about reading.



What does learning to read really involve and what can a parent do to help a dyslexic son or daughter become a reader?


Drs Fernette and Brock Eide of the Dyslexic Advantage explain that good reading needs three components decoding, fluency and comprehension


Decoding - Just how hard is it to read?


Decoding is the skill of making sense of unfamiliar words by identifying the different sounds in the word and applying the rules of how to combine those sounds (phonetics).


To read the word ‘thread’ I need to correctly identify each letter, but also understand how the ‘t’ and the ‘h’ change when together, and how the ‘e+a’ combine in this case to make one short sound. Then I need to combine the sounds in order to decode the word ‘thread’.


It’s a miracle anyone manages to read.


Dyslexic readers find decoding extra hard because they struggle with the ability to make sense of phonemes (the sounds that are the building blocks of each word).


This is hard not only in reading but in hearing and processing too: all incoming words need to be understood by:


1. Splitting the incoming words into their component sounds (that’s sound segmentation).

2. Distinguish the sounds from each other. (That’s sound discrimination).


You may have been told, or have noticed that your child with dyslexia struggles with one or both of these skills.

  • When segmentation is a problem, your child struggles to split the word dog into soundbites, your daughter says d-og instead of d-o-g.

  • When discrimination is tough you will see words mispronounced and miss heard. I know I’m not the first mother who’s had her son’s hearing tested.


But the very good news is that the abilities of our brains are not fixed and can be retrained and developed.


As soon as possible ( but it’s never too late) your son or daughter needs to be involved in a structured literacy program that coaches him to grow his ability to decode.


The Eide’s recommend the Orton Gillingham approach.


Judah benefited tremendously from a program called Toe-by-Toe. We spent ten minutes everyday segmenting and discriminating between the sounds of increasingly complex ‘nonsense’ words. Judah couldn’t guess the words in context, which is his usual go to dyslexic superpower, and he was forced to decode each word.


It was HARD WORK for both of us but the progress was impressive.


Fluency - how much reading practice does it take to get good at it?

Once a child is able to decode he has to learn to do so accurately and quickly. There is no shortcut: Only practice brings fluency.


But you might have a secret weapon you’re not using to motivate your struggling reader: Don’t make it easy; make it interesting.


The Eides explain that, “A book, magazine, website, comic strip, or anything else that truly engages the student’s interest will always be better—even if it seems a little advanced for the student’s current skill level—than something that seems more appropriate in difficulty but fails to capture the student’s attention.”


This is the crazy contradiction of unlocking a dyslexic reader: They do better with something hard to read!


Teachers make the mistake of giving easier readers and below age level material for struggling readers - it seems logical. But when we remove extra information two things happen:

  1. We remove contextual clues that help a dyslexic reader get the gist and thereby process the content better.

  2. We tend to give them material that is young for them and therefore boring and even offensive.


“They do well with big ideas,” Fernette says on this month’s episode of Wonderfully Wired.


When Judah was younger, homeschooling gave us the advantage of choosing what Judah read and ruthlessly eliminating what he would find boring. This is harder for you if your child is in school but this is a BATTLE I WOULD CHOOSE to fight with your teacher.


Ask whether you can replace some of the prescribed reading, failing that, suggest that you help your daughter or son with extra practice in reading with alternative content.


You can use the MIND strengths of your dyslexic child to choose material that engages them most.



Kids who are M-Strong love building and constructing, inventing and designing. Reading material can include:


  • Lego websites

  • Instruction manuals

  • Non fiction books on science and technology

  • Books and biographies on inventors, architects, fashion designers

  • Recipes (preferably while actually cooking them)




Kids who are I-Strong love books with interesting word pictures, humour or metaphors such as:


  • Poetry

  • Mythology and fables: Perhaps in Graphic Novels

  • Joke books and riddles

  • Field guides (best read outside)

TOP TIP: series are especially attractive to dyslexic readers between 8-12 years old because all the work to meet new characters and settings is done in book one!



Kids with N-strengths like big stories like fables, myths, histories or biographies.

TOP TIP: You can find the movie scripts of loved stories on www.imsdb.com It helps to know the story already.


D-strong dyslexics love science fiction and crime novels, fantasy and mythology.

  • For older kids, historical fiction

  • Magazines about entrepreneurship

  • Magazines or websites about design.



TOP TIP: The way we help with harder texts is by giving big picture frameworks for example plot summaries, character descriptions and movie previews.



Judah and I used to read together, I read a page to give him rest and keep the story momentum going and then he read a page with the benefit of context and the desire to know what happens next!


Comprehension - do you understand, process and enjoy what you read?


I’m convinced that all children need to learn the skill of reading (decoding) separately from learning to love the written word.


Judah helped me see this as a dyslexic reader but I quickly realised that this is true for all kids: Learning to read is hard work and kids must not be expected to get the enjoyment out of a story while wrestling with such effort. Your dyslexic son and daughter won’t want to do the hard work of reading without the understanding that reading is a desirable thing.


And the good news here is that you can profoundly affect how even struggling readers feel about reading: Kids must always be exposed to ideas, language and stories beyond their reading ability.


From the youngest of ages but for much later than we think, we need to be reading aloud to our kids.


Here is a link to an older resource I created on the value of reading aloud and the critical skills and values our children develop when being read to.


Of course Audio books are your very best friend! In our home we call it ‘reading with your ears’ and no one can outlisten Judah.


Yes it counts!



The fundamental point of reading is to gain access to written information. Fortunately, with advances in technology that allow verbal information to be stored and transmitted in many ways, there’s no longer any reason why individuals with dyslexia should lack access to information of any kind.
Eide, Brock. The Dyslexic Advantage

Assistive technology continues to improve in text to speech software. You don’t have to buy expensive apps or programs anymore.

  • Find out from your local library about audio versions of books available, you’d be amazed how much of a reader a dyslexic child with access to good books becomes.

  • Depending on your region, resources like Bookshare and Learning Ally give access to fiction and nonfiction audiobook resources for readers with Dyslexia.

  • Use an app like Microsoft Lens to scan texts and even hand written notes to convert it to text files.

  • Then use the Immersive Reader function on Microsoft applications to have text read aloud.

  • If you are interested in speech to text applications I recommend VoiceDream.


The Dyslexic Advantage is compulsory reading for parents who want to understand both the challenges and the strengths of their dyslexic kids. I've also found that adults who never knew they were dyslexic found the book life changing. You can catch a summary of the book here to see how it would similarly benefit your family.



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Samantha Webster
Samantha Webster
26. Jan. 2023

I really enjoyed your YouTube video on reading, thanks Elle

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