Dyslexia Got You Down? Here’s How To Make Reading Magical Again

Reading can be a frustrating experience for anyone with dyslexia. Here are some tips and recommendations for diffusing the tension, and bringing joy to the reading experience.

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Two whales flying through the night sky.

Learning to read looks different for every child, parent, sibling, teacher, or friend. From the basic variables, like choosing which books to read, to the more complex ones — such as identifying when to seek intervention — being supportive simply isn’t… simple. That’s why we’re sharing some helpful resources for our neurodivergent bookworms-in-the-making!

Defining Dyslexia

According to the Child Mind Institute’s Complete Guide to Dyslexia, dyslexia doesn’t really have a definition. Dyslexia is the presence of unexpected struggles while learning to read. This “unexpected” parameter makes diagnosing dyslexia difficult, because children learn to read at different paces with different types of support. The effects of dyslexia occur somewhere in how the brain processes information from visual media. For example, it could be that breaking down words into their roots and parts sometimes feels impossible, or it could be consistently struggling with word recall. Dyslexia could also be a combination of issues.

Roughly one in five are affected by dyslexia, making it the most common learning disorder. For those of us who have little ones in our lives, here’s what you need to pay attention to: how long and how often they struggle. Some earlier signs of dyslexia include beginning to talk later than their peers, struggling to remember simple rhymes, and consistently mixing opposite terms (left and right, for example). The time for formal testing should be when a child has entered first grade or so. This allows children to acclimate to elementary school culture for at least a year, which minimizes the impact of a drastic lifestyle change on top of potentially stressful learning disorder testing. Dyslexia often occurs with comorbidities — existing medical conditions that co-exist alongside one another. These frequently documented comorbidities tend to be another neurodiverse condition, such as ADHD or Autism. Check out the infographic below to learn more!

Infographic with descriptions of neurodiverse disorders, including: ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and SPD.

For a complete list of early signs and potential comorbidities, kindly refer to the Complete Guide to Dyslexia published by the Child Mind Institute.

Making Reading Magical

The erratic expression of dyslexia can be frustrating for many reasons, but they essentially boil down to the child’s intelligence being greater than their inherent processing skills. Most (if not all) educational institutions recognize the very real struggles that living with dyslexia presents, and have created a variety of support systems families can take advantage of. However, children also need proper support at home to develop literacy, comprehension, and other cognitive processing skills.

Furthermore, children get frustrated over many things in general, even without the pretense of a learning disorder diagnosis. From a developmental perspective, it is important to let children resolve these frustrations and self-soothe when possible. Sometimes a caretaker or teacher needs to step in to demonstrate a different strategy to try. It’s part of how they learn to interact with the world around them. Even adults get frustrated with challenges.

Frustrated child with head on the desk holding a sign that says "HELP!"

Learning to read looks very different for every child, but may be particularly frustrating for those with learning disorders (diagnosed or otherwise). These obstacles often lead to embarrassment, and navigating them adds another layer of complexity to developing reading and comprehension skills. This shame and frustration can also bleed into the personal lives of people with dyslexia and negatively impact social and emotional experiences. Does it always turn someone into a self-isolating hermit? Not necessarily, but it does help to provide additional support and every opportunity for professional and personal success. 

This support may include:

– Consistent review of learned skills
– Repetition of new skills/words
– Scaling intensity of lessons (End on a high note!)
– Reinforcing decoding skills
– Slowly building a sight word deck (use words relevant to school and home!)
– Teaching comprehension strategies (Not all strategies are created equal — find two to three that work best)

Although helpful, these activities can easily become overwhelming. Once a child begins to express negative emotions towards reading, find a way to wrap it up on a high note, praise the effort, and move on. Dwelling on ways to improve can lead to further anger and shame. Moving onto another activity, especially something creative or unstructured, helps children understand that they are so much more than their diagnosis — they are whole people who can laugh and play just like everyone else. 

Picture Book Recs

Representation in books children read may also help ease the negative feelings a child may harbor due to their dyslexia, or any other perceived learning disorder. Since people don’t simply “outgrow” dyslexia, it’s important to have a catalog of learning disorder representation for all ages. 

Picture books are enchanting. The harmony between illustration and verse sets the tone for the story ahead. The following picture books take a gentle approach to recognizing differences between us and our peers. Reading picture books together in early childhood can promote a fondness for reading by demonstrating there is no shame in learning at your own pace, and that creative problem-solving has its strengths too. 

A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott

"A Walk in the Words" by Hudson Talbott book cover, featuring a boy walking through woods, with words written on tree trunks and branches.

This autobiographical picture book is pure perfection. Hudson Talbott was a creative child; drawing and painting came naturally to him. But reading? No way! Luckily, Hudson LOVED stories, and because he loved stories, he refused to give up on them. He began by permitting himself to read at his own pace and to use the words he did know as steppingstones into words he didn’t. This “walk” through the woods is Hudson’s learning process personified, providing an example of perseverance for other children who need to read at their own pace.

Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty

"Aaron Slater, Illustrator" by Andrea Beaty book cover, depicting a boy drawing creatively on graph paper.

Aaron loves stories and one day wants to write and illustrate his masterpiece, but his writing just looks like a bunch of squiggles. Finally, Aaron gets the chance to write his story! Struggling to get a single word on the page, Aaron realizes he needs to pivot. By thinking outside the box, Aaron creates a wonderful story using all of his talents — not just reading and writing.

Early Elementary Book Recs

Representation in early elementary is critical. This is the time when classroom routines and expectations have been established. Most children generally know what to expect in their daily lives, which makes this time an invisible cocoon of cognitive safety that is ideal for seeking further evaluation. 

The Soggy, Foggy Campout by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

"The Soggy, Foggy Campout" by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver book cover, showing a boy trying to keep a tent from blowing away.

Hank’s class is getting ready for Nature Day! The students’ assignment is to write and perform a poem about nature. But Hank has no clue where to start. So, for inspirational purposes, the family goes camping! But, when a strong rainstorm threatens to ruin their family camping trip, Hank must step up to save his family.

In this story, Hank’s family makes an excellent decision to go camping in their efforts to help him write his poem. They do not force him to sit at the table until he’s done. They do not shame him for having zero writing ideas. Hank’s parents understand that Hank needs real experiences to assist and organize his thoughts and words about nature.

Middle Grade Book Recs

Similar to early elementary, if signs of a potential learning disability consistently present themselves, then this would be a good developmental stage to pursue further testing if needed. When learning new comprehension strategies or using another reading skill, the emotional security of established routines provides a solid foundation to continue growing. 

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

"Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt book cover, featuring a teal background, multicolored title letters, and a tree with a fish silhouette on its leaves.

Ally is smart. She moves frequently and has sneakily succeeded in hiding her horrible reading skills since forever. She’s the queen of diversions and distractions, but her new teacher, Mr. Daniels, sees right through Ally’s armor. In fact, he knows Ally is dyslexic before she does! With Mr. Daniels’ patience and support, Ally learns that she isn’t dumb and that a dyslexia diagnosis is nothing to be ashamed of. Ally’s confidence grows as she embraces who she is beyond her learning disorder, and finally sees a world full of possibilities.

Goodreads review about "Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, on a beige background with pink, yellow, green, and coral shapes.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

"Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan book cover, featuring a trident overlaid on the empire state building.

Percy Jackson is a good kid but barely an average student. While at his new boarding school, Percy’s sea-monster-teacher attacks him, which forces his mom to tell him the truth. Percy is the son of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Seas, and the only place he will be safe is at Camp Half Blood. There he meets the daughter of Athena, and a satyr. Together, they venture across America to stop a devastating war between the Gods.  

Riordan purposefully transforms Percy’s dyslexia into an affinity for Greek by making the character struggle with reading and writing in English (even though he’s an American kid). Percy’s adventure also mimics the paradox that dyslexic people often struggle with — while they may underperform in one arena, they excel in another.

Young Adult Book Recs

Cigar background with a quote attributed to Sigmund Freud.

Learning disability representation becomes difficult to identify in books written for older children because they (and adults) are expected to read between the lines to discover a character’s traits. For example, if the main character avoids bodies of water, it may be safe to infer they can’t swim. However, this leaves room for interpretation. For example, the main character could avoid bodies of water because their childhood dog drowned in a city pool. Who knows for sure?! What should be done is identifying and sharing authentic stories or experiences that do have this representation present. 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

"Six of Crows" by Leigh Bardugo book cover, depicting a crow flying with its wings forming a cityscape.

Criminal prodigy Kaz knows everything about Ketterdam, the bustling international district where anything can be had. For the right price, that is. To get what he wants, Kaz enlists the help of other dangerous outcasts. Together, a thief, a spy, a sharpshooter, a runaway, a convict, and a Heartrender must learn to trust one another, or lose everything.

One of the main characters is greatly undervalued by their family due to exhibiting signs of a learning disability. Though not explicitly stated, it is understood that this character is disinherited because they cannot read or take over the family business. While this is not initially positive representation, the story does present opportunities for discussion about how the diagnosis makes someone feel. An emotional springboard, so to speak. It also presents the afflicted character overcoming this obstacle in a non-traditional way, which can be extraordinarily inspirational for any reader.

Loveboat Reunion by Abigail Hing Wen

"Loveboat Reunion" by Abigail Hing Wen book cover, featuring an Asian boy and girl with their backs together, on a black background with red floating lanterns.

Sophie and Xavier have a past filled with heartbreak and revenge, but that’s behind them now. Sophie is determined to be the best student Dartmouth has ever seen. Meanwhile, Xavier struggles to remain in his father’s good graces long enough to earn his trust. Unfortunately, their plans begin falling apart, and Sophie and Xavier find themselves wrapped up in the Loveboat drama they thought they left behind. They hatch a plan to take control of their futures, but can they trust each other enough to succeed?

Xavier and Sophie are the same age, but Xavier has yet to pass high school due to his learning disabilities. Furthermore, his father pushes him to “just try harder,” instead of pursuing alternative solutions or offering encouragement. Again, while the dyslexic character’s circumstances seem grim, they give Xavier the chance to prove himself by using his strengths and his ideas. Adversity gives those who face it confidence and ownership of their identity, which is generally lacking in children and teens with learning disorders.

Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid — same goes for humans. We each have preferred methods of learning information. These modalities influence how we interact with the world. Someone who has excellent auditory comprehension — and is possibly able to memorize TTPD lyrics on the first listen — will not learn by using the same techniques and examples as someone who has excellent kinetic comprehension, (e.g., someone who can learn Taylor Swift’s dance routines just from watching her tour on TV). The key is to identify how each individual person retains and recalls information best.

Looking for more neurodiverse support? Check out these recommendations!

Don’t forget to find all our book recs on Bookstr’s Mindscapes: Diverse Narratives of Neurodiversity in Literature bookshelf on Bookshop.org!