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10 Ways to Raise Dyslexia Awareness

Author: admin

Over the past years, I have given many talks about dyslexia and language learning, both online and in person. After every talk, English teachers approach me to ask me what is the minimum they can do to make their lessons better for their students with dyslexia. 

In those conversations with teachers, I always say that we can certainly help our dyslexic students in their learning journey and the first step towards that is having and promoting awareness. Awareness of what dyslexia is, of how it feels and how dyslexia affects language learning. 

Dyslexia awareness can have a very powerful ripple effect. It is all about making other people in your community aware of the facts and the issues related to dyslexia. It is a way of making dyslexia visible in society, which is extremely important for both fostering a more inclusive learning environment and promoting empathy and understanding among individuals of all abilities.

It is also important to let your students know that you really understand their challenges in learning English, that you empathize with their frustration, and that you believe in their capabilities, acknowledging that – while you’re not perfect – you’re committed to doing whatever you can to help them learn English in a different and dyslexia-friendly way. 

Go ahead and download my free guide on Teaching English to Students with Dyslexia to help you confidently take these first steps.

My talk on dyslexia and teaching English at the IHWO YL Conference – November 2023

Making Dyslexia Visible

Dyslexia is often referred to as an invisible issue. You can’t easily discern whether a person is dyslexic or not. And many times, they don’t see their dyslexia themselves either, which is probably the main challenge. They will know that something is different with them when it comes to learning, reading, and writing, but they don’t know what. 

Over the years, I have encountered many adult language learners who have only recently realized they have dyslexia. To be honest, I’m one of them. Dyslexia has never been a significant problem in my life, but if I had known about it earlier, I could have adjusted my school learning to my particular style. This change could have made a significant difference and instead of just getting by with 6’s and 7’s in my exams, I’m sure I could have consistently scored 9’s and 10’s.

So, dyslexia awareness goes far beyond you. It includes the educational community as a whole with students, teachers, parents and it is crucial to fight the many stereotypes that still surround dyslexia. 

Among other things, it’s important that everyone understands that dyslexia is NOT a disability or a disease. It’s an issue or a fact, just like being tall or being blond.  Dyslexia is also not about being less intelligent or even bad at learning. I have seen that many students with dyslexia are actually very good at learning English or other languages. 

Provided, of course, they are taught with the right strategies. 

But, unlike some want us to believe, dyslexia is also NOT a superpower. Let’s not make students with dyslexia believe that they are better than other – neurotypical – students. Doing so could put unnecessary pressure on them and create even higher levels of stress than before. 

One thing is raising the awareness that nothing is “wrong” with you. Something different is having to perform towards the standards of your supposed “superpower”.

Ways to Increase Dyslexia Awareness

1. Fight stereotypes

One of the first things that needs to be done is to combat the many stereotypes that exist around dyslexia. When you encounter a stereotype, whether in class, in the teachers’ room, or at a parents’ meeting, stay calm and ask where that idea (or stereotype) comes from.

Then, explain the real facts about dyslexia and what it means in traditional language learning. Also, emphasize that, with the right tools and strategies, students with dyslexia can thrive in their English course.

Parents and teachers freely talking about dyslexia
Parents and teachers freely talking about dyslexia

2. Don’t avoid the “D” word

Use the word ‘dyslexia’ in your conversations, and don’t try to substitute it for other terms or names. Just as we freely discuss being blond or tall, intelligent or athletic, we can similarly talk about dyslexia.

3. Choose your words right

Just as it’s crucial to talk about dyslexia openly, it’s also important to choose your words carefully when speaking to students who have (or might have) dyslexia. It’s not the same to say, ‘So, you have reading problems, right?’ as it is to ask, ‘What kind of books do you like to read?’ or ‘What happens to you when you read a text?

4. Talk about other people with dyslexia

You could talk about famous actors with dyslexia like Whoopi Goldberg, Salma Hayek, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Radcliffe or Jennifer Anniston, or film directors like Steven Spielberg. You can even tell them the stories of famous inventors with dyslexia, like Richard Branson, Leonardo Da Vinci or Steve Jobs. Or what about the link between dyslexia and Nobel prize winners? 

If you look it up on Google, you will find many of them, as well as singers, sports people, politicians, writers (yes, them also), etc. But, remember you shouldn’t take the awareness to the super power side. It’s not that you have to become famous when you have dyslexia, the same that you don’t have to end up in the NBA because you’re over 2 meters tall.

Talking about other people with dyslexia who have achieved amazing things in life shows your student with dyslexia that there are other ways of learning and getting as far as possible. On the other hand, it shows the others, teachers, students and parents that having dyslexia might not be so bad at all. We just have to accept dyslexia for what it is, be supportive to the student with dyslexia and adapt our teaching to their learning style.

5. Share your story

If you’re dyslexic, share your story. I do it all the time. At every workshop or conference that I give. And, every time, I have people coming up to me thanking me for sharing and for making them understand dyslexia. 

And if you’re not dyslexic yourself, you are sure to have had other students with dyslexia in your English classes in the past. Although maybe you can’t think of any previous student right now. In that case, use the stories of others. If not a fellow student or teacher, look for some dyslexia stories online. You will find hundreds, if not thousands, of them. 

All average people, like me and you.

Woman sharing her story with dyslexia to a group
Woman sharing her story with dyslexia to a group

6. Share their story

Once your student with dyslexia is ready for it, maybe they would like to share their story with their peers. If done well and in a completely empathic environment, this could mean a major turning point for many students with dyslexia, as well as for the awareness in the classroom.

7. Focus on the strengths

Without falling into the “superpower trap”, focus on the strengths that your student with dyslexia has. Are they creative? Can they draw well? Are they amazing problem solvers? Are they good communicators?

Personally, whenever I speak to language students with dyslexia, either being teens or adults, I always finish my interview by asking what they are brutally good at. I don’t just ask what they’re good at or even very good at. I really focus on the “brutally” here. 

So far, after over 100 interviews, each one of them has had an immediate response. They all know what they’re good at, although, unfortunately, focus in schoosl is mainly put on what they’re not good at. 

By focusing on their individual strengths, you acknowledge their value and that dyslexia has different impacts on how the brain works.

8. Empathy and rapport

These are two basic principles when it comes to creating awareness of dyslexia. You have to make sure to create powerful rapport with all your students, as well as teachers and parents before raising the issue of dyslexia and trying to create awareness. 

Creating dyslexia awareness is not about imposing your ideas onto the other person, it’s about sharing your ideas with them and giving them the space to process. To be able to do that you need to create an environment of trust and empathy. 

9. Dyslexia awareness month

October is dyslexia awareness month. Many local, regional, and national dyslexia organizations organize special events during this month. 

You can get in touch with them and ask them to collaborate in your school.

10. Dyslexia Awareness Training

Maybe the most important thing that a teacher can do to raise awareness about dyslexia is to train themselves first. I have created a 6-hour dyslexia awareness training for English language teachers that focuses on 4 main items:

  • What is dyslexia and how to screen for it?
  • Dyslexia-friendly teaching strategies
  • Adapting & creating dyslexia-friendly materials
  • Motivating and engaging your students with dyslexia

If you want to know more about dyslexia and my dyslexia awareness training, click here: DYSLEXIA AWARENESS TRAINING

And, please don’t forget that DYSLEXIA SHOULD NEVER BE THE REASON FOR NOT LEARNING ENGLISH.

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