Organisation, rote learning and direction/sequence
Dyslexia is so much more than just reading and spelling difficulties. While these are of course a struggle, a child with dyslexia can (and usually does) also struggle with:
- Rote memory
- Sense of direction
- Sequencing tasks
- Telling the time on an analogue clock
- Maths problem solving
- Organisation of belongings
You might find that you can relate to one/some or all of the issues listed above. I’ll talk about them in detail below and if your child does struggle with these common issues, don’t worry! There are many ways in which we can help and support our child to overcome or find a way round them.
Memorising non-meaningful facts by rote
Memorising facts that are essentially boring and that don’t appear relevant can be very difficult for a child with dyslexia. I know Ella will literally switch off if it doesn’t excite her. In school, problems often arise when memorising:
- Days of the week/months/years in order (for younger children)
- Times tables
- Scientific facts – such as temperatures, measurements etc
- Historic facts – you may find that your child does however love history especially when focus is on why events happened and the consequences rather than rote memorization of names and dates.
How to help
Some things have to be learnt and memorised and there is no way around that really, but by making learning fun, I found that Ella responded much better.
Using songs and music is one way to help with rote memory. There are numerous videos available on YouTube to help earn times tables, dates, times, facts and figures.
We’ve come across a program called Number Ninja’s. I’m really excited by this, but unfortunately the program isn’t quite ready yet. You’ll find an example of how it works here and as you’ll see, it makes learning your times tables fun and much easier. I’ll hopefully be able to update soon with a date of when the full program will be released. But from what I can see, it’s a must for any child with dyslexia when it comes to the dreaded times tables.
Another way to help with rote memory is through actions. Acting out the information can often help with the retention of information.
Whatever you do, remember that creative ways, images, colour and actions are usually the best way for any child with dyslexia to remember factual information. Ella always tells me she sees things in colour and pictures – so of course she’s going to struggle when she has to memorise boring old written facts!
It is very common for kids (and adults) with dyslexia to have directionality (left-right) confusion. Remembering your left from right is rarely automatic for anyone with dyslexia and this has repercussions throughout all aspects of learning – and life. Common confusions occur with:
- Writing b’s and d’s ( as well as b-p, d-q, n-u, m-w)
- Written maths problems (starting them on the wrong side, carrying a number the wrong way)
- Directional words such as first-last, before-after, over-under; North, South, East, West
- Time (yesterday, tomorrow)
How to help
These are issues that could follow your child throughout their life so coming up with ways to remember/work out direction such as rhymes and actions help. I find Ella constantly putting shoes on the wrong feet, setting the table back to front, confusing left and right so I give a little nudge and she tries again. She’s also left-handed so I try and remind her that she writes with her left hand – therefore that is her left side.
It can be especially difficult for children with dyslexia to learn a task that has a series of steps that must be completed in a specific order. Often the sequence isn’t logical and requires rote memory which is difficult. The following simple tasks can prove extremely difficult for any child with dyslexia:
- Tying shoelaces: this not only includes a sequence of steps, but also requires directional awareness. Double trouble! It’s not uncommon for this task not to be mastered until teenage years!
- Printing letters: Letters are often formed with unusual beginning and endpoints as it is common for the correct pencil strokes to be forgotten. Children with dyslexia will often start somewhere and keep going until it ‘looks about right’. Printing letters requires a correct formation – not an approximate one.
- Long division: In order to complete long division, you must do a series of five steps, in exactly the right sequence, over and over again. Kids with dyslexia will often know what to do in each of the five steps – but the key is getting these five steps in order, which is the tricky part!
How to help
Encouraging your child to help you with activities that involve sequencing is a great start. Things such as baking, planting, doing the laundry all require steps that have to be followed. Remember to talk through each activity as you do it.
Another helpful task is when reading or watching a film together, get your child to tell the story back to you when you’re finished. Help them to put the story in order if they are struggling.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. As mundane as it seems, practicing tasks such as tying shoelaces will eventually result in success. There is no magic potion to help – it is all about exposure to sequences and practicing.
Telling the time on an analogue clock
People with dyslexia have extreme difficulty telling time on a clock with hands. Whole and half hours may be easier to recognize, but anything in between is a challenge. It goes back to the directional issues of ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘past’, to etc. Time arithmetic is therefore incredibly difficult.
While you might think that getting your child a digital clock will help, it won’t solve the problem. They will only know what the time is in that moment – not in 20 minutes from now, or how long an hour is.
How to help
One way to help with time is to make up two separate clock faces. One with a minute hand and dashes (no numbers) and the other with the hour hand and numbers (no dashes). This way, you separate the minutes and hours clearly and remove all confusion between minutes and the numbers round the clock. Move both clock hands around the clock (while explaining that it is called clockwise) to signify time passing in relation to daily tasks they do.
For example, at 4 o’clock Ella has gymnastics which lasts for one hour and finishes at 5 o’clock or a piano lesson which lasts for 30 minutes. Go round both clocks filling up the time with tasks/stories related to the tasks.
With regards to minutes, once they understand that the dashes represent one minute, they will better understand five-past, ten-past etc. As you begin the teaching, don’t worry about using ‘quarter past’, ‘quarter to’ etc. This will simply confuse matters. Instead use ’15 minutes past’, ’45 minutes past’, etc.
Once you feel your child has a solid grasp of both clock faces, bring them together and practice! Once again, it will take time, but your child will get there.
Maths problem solving
People with dyslexia are often extremely gifted in certain areas of maths. Their ability to see three-dimensional enables them to see concepts quickly. However, other difficulties (listed above) make certain maths tasks very difficult indeed. Don’t be surprised if your child struggles with:
- Memorising addition and subtraction facts
- Times tables
- Long division sequencing
- Reading word problems
- Copying answers
- Starting problems on the wrong side
- Rapid maths such as timed tests
- Showing their work. They will often see the answer in their head but have no idea how to show how they’ve reached it
How to help
The key to succeeding with maths comes down to the teaching. Ella is now back at Montessori where maths learning is very visual – with physical objects. This suits her learning style. If your child’s teacher understands where your child struggles they will be able to work around these problematic areas. You can help your child with their homework/practice by relating the tasks to real life situations as well as including visual strategies such as pictures for addition/subtraction, using objects (toys, sticks, gemstones etc), finding simple maths games to play and as with all other areas, being patient.
Organisation of belongings
It’s really common for Ella to simply pile up her ‘mess’ and hide it behind her door or on her desk. It used to (and still does) drive me up the wall. It was almost as if she hid the mess, she’d forget about it and so would I. She’s got slightly better but I still have to nag her to properly tidy up. It’s difficult to remember sometimes that she’s not doing it just to be lazy, its just she doesn’t see mess in the same way I do and to be honest, it doesn’t bother her. It is very common for children with dyslexia to have messy bedrooms, school bags, drawers etc.
How to help
Organisational skills such as tidying away belongings can (and should) be taught. I don’t let Ella get away with shoving her mess into a pile and leaving it. She knows where things should go. By always ensuring they tidy up after themselves and helping to organize their space, your child should be able to overcome this challenge.
As a parent, one of the best things you can do is to remind yourself that with the right support, patience, the necessary tools and some hard work, dyslexia should not – and will not- stop your child from achieving anything they want to. Don’t let dyslexia become an excuse. It’s a different way of seeing the world which means a different approach is needed to learn about the world.