Nobody can fully appreciate what it’s like to be a student with dyslexia as well as another student with dyslexia. Here are some strategies we compiled from conversations with the real experts — dyslexic kids with papers due, tests next week and books to read.
Use Time Wisely | Embrace Simple Tools | Make the Most of Technology | Ask for Help | Embrace the Power of Dyslexia
Use Time Wisely
If you’re dyslexic, you already know that extra time on tests is critical to demonstrating your actual knowledge of a subject. But don’t stop there. If you need extra time for tests, there’s a good chance you need extra time on homework assignments as well. These tips should help:
- Break up big projects into smaller, less intimidating pieces. Have a three-page paper due in a week? Set dates for working on little tasks related to the paper, like picking a topic, doing research and writing a first draft. Don’t be afraid to ask a teacher, parent or tutor to assist you.
- Give yourself enough time to work slowly and carefully. You don’t want to rush or end up skipping part of a task.
- Do what’s due first. If you’re faced with a long list of short assignments, it’s easy to just grab them all at once and start working in random order. But that’s not the most effective approach. Take a minute to prioritize your work according to what’s due first and what is likely to take you the most or least time to complete. Study tonight for the French test you have tomorrow, not the vocabulary test that’s coming up next week.
- Don’t fall into the “no homework tonight” trap. If your calendar is clear, look ahead to see what’s coming up: an earth-science quiz at the end of the week or a math worksheet due Thursday? Use this free time to get a head start on the work you need to turn in later.
- Outline a task before you start. For a science project on plant growth, what materials will you need to gather? How many days will you have to allow for the beans to sprout? How long will it take you to write up your results? Think it through in your head and figure out what steps you’ll have to take so you know what you’ll need — and how much time to allow — to get it done.
- Don’t do more than you have to. For instance, you don’t have to research everything on the Civil War to write a few paragraphs on the second Battle of Bull Run.
- Preview reading to identify words you can’t pronounce and talk through the material with your teacher or tutor on a one-to-one basis. Avoid multiple choice-tests; instead request tests that are based on short essays.
Embrace Simple Tools
- Make flash cards to help you remember everything from math formulas to historic facts to vocabulary words. Breaking down content into these smaller chunks rather than trying to tackle everything on an entire sheet or in a book chapter will make studying far less overwhelming. And you can use your flash cards as a portable study guide to keep on hand and quiz yourself whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
- Work in a quiet place with few distractions. Ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones can help to block out noises that compete for your attention.
- Give yourself visuals and models to work from. Examples: Use diagrams for capturing the structure of a story or for remembering the animal kingdom; use highlighters or color-coding to bring out the main ideas in your notes, drafts or worksheets; create symbols, initials or doodles to help you remember concepts.
Make the Most of Technology
- Create a PowerPoint presentation of the material you’ll need to know for a test. (Think of it as a high-tech version of flash cards.) Some computers, like Macs, also have a computerized voice that can read your PowerPoint slides back to you.
- Compose written work on a computer, which can be more efficient and easier to read than messy handwriting. Using a computer allows you to focus on the content rather than your handwriting so you can get your thoughts out in the first draft. And when you make edits, you won’t need to write the entire essay over again.
- Consider using dictation programs like Dragon dictatation software. Alternatively, on many newer computers with a microphone, you can enable the “start dictation” feature directly in Microsoft Word. Some students find that dictation allows them to be more creative and capture the details all at once.
- After you complete a writing assignment, whether it’s a paragraph or a longer paper, read it aloud and record it on your cell phone. (You can also have a member of your family read it to you.) Several free apps make recording easy and convenient. Listening to what you wrote as you read it over several times can help you spot errors and identify edits you’d like to make. Listening as you read your notes also helps you understand and remember what you’ve learned.
- Listen to assigned books in audio form, reading along in the hard copy. As an added bonus, you’ll feel much better prepared if you know you’re going to be called on to read out loud in class the next day.
- Ask your parents or a teacher to help you sign up for access to recorded books and other written materials. Bookshare, Audible and Learning Ally are just a few companies that make tens of thousands of audio recordings from text. Each service offers different types of literature, textbooks and reference materials, so if you can’t find what you need on one site, chances are it will be available through another service. Additionally, Amazon has teamed up with Audible to link up audio recordings with Kindle books, so you can read along with the text. The program is called Whispersync.
- If you have access to a newer computer, tablet or other electronic device, set it up to read your papers, notes and a range of other materials back to you. Macs do this within their accessibility settings, but there are many other options for software and apps that read text for both Macs and PCs. One of the oldest and most popular is Read & Write Gold.
- Consider investing in a Livescribe SmartPen if you take a lot of notes in class and are stressed about not getting it all down on paper. The device can eliminate note-taking anxiety because it captures everything the student hears and writes. You can transfer notes and recordings to a computer, and easily search and organize them for homework study. The audio recording can be slowed down or speeded up as needed, and a specific section of any recording can be played back simply by tapping that part of your written notes.
Ask for Help
- If you’re a college student struggling with a paper, take advantage of your campus writing center. If you’re not in college, ask your peers, teachers or parents to help you talk through your ideas and get them on paper. If you already have a draft written, the extra pair of eyes is helpful to catch typos, spelling mistakes, or incomplete details and ideas.
- Your teachers and peers can be great resources for solidifying topics you are learning. Talk with your teachers to be sure you understood the material, and talk through the main ideas of the lectures with your peers to help form your own thoughts and understanding.
- Request extra time on tests. Extra time on examinations is a necessity. The amount of extra time cannot be determined from testing but should be based on your own experiences. The first time you request this accommodation, you might want to request double time.
Embrace the Power of Dyslexia
- Believe in yourself. Dyslexia teaches you to budget your time and work hard, and that work ethic will help you no matter what you decide to do in life.
- Talk to others who are dyslexic and listen to success stories from other dyslexic individuals. They will inspire and encourage you. If they did it, you can, too!
- Remember that just because something takes you longer to do, doesn’t mean you can’t do it well. And sometimes because it takes you longer, you remember it better.
- While it’s hard to feel different or singled out if you need extra help or tutoring, try to remember that you’re learning the skills to overcome dyslexia—and that you are smart and have abilities no one else does!