Helping a dyslexic write an essay - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 03:27 PM Thread Starter
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Helping a dyslexic write an essay

HELP! My dyslexic son needs to write a few short essays for school. Grade 11, but very short: only about a page. He has the knowledge, but just can't get it down in an essay and is soooo frustrated.

We have tried drawing mindmaps, jotting down points in whatever order they come up and then rearranging them, just writing down as he talks (either directly or into a recorder). None of these methods have worked. I think that just the stress of knowing he has to write an essay is causing problems, but he really wants to be able to do this. We are taking a break right now. When we return to it, my next idea was to just sit down at the table and talk about it and I would make notes as we talked. Hopefully from that we could then highlight and rearrange things into an essay.

Does anyone have any other ideas about how to help him?
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post #2 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 03:49 PM
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computer normaly helps. He is likely getting frustrated because he cant write it down himself. Pop him in front of a computer as typeing allows a lot of dyslexics to express themselves without having to rely on others.

I'm dyslexic and my brother is extremely dyslexic, I've been there, done that and got the tshirt! I even went to a boarding school specialy for dyslexics

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post #3 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 03:58 PM
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I've hear that electronic note pads help dyslexic people read, might help them write too.
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post #4 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 06:08 PM Thread Starter
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He can't spell. At all. Even using spell check is too difficult as it assumes a grade level of spelling that he hasn't achieved. I type at the computer for him.

So we have tried it with him dictating to me. It works for short answers, but not for essays. I've tried to break it down into sections for him, but I think he has so much going on in his head that trying to narrow the focus is difficult.

It seems to be related to the process of organizing it into an essay format. He can debate a point with another person or a group of people, but he can't get it down on paper or dictate it. Without it being conversational, he is lost. :(
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post #5 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 07:04 PM
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Tell him to put it on paper. Tell him not to worry about what it looks like, once he gets it down, he should be able to figure out what he scribbled down. Then you can help rewrite it. Mine is in the 5th grade and we really have a lot of trouble. He can get it on paper but none of it is spelled correctly, the words get jumbled but he has great ideas and knowledge.... Just no patience...

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post #6 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 07:09 PM
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I know this might not be helpful for right now, but does he have a tutor?

My bf is dyslexic and wishes he had more help in school, it can be so hard. I hope his essay turns out, sounds like he's smart.
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post #7 of 16 Old 10-12-2013, 09:47 PM
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Poor guy, I know what he's going through. Beating that 'mind block' is the hardest part of being dyslexic, because we KNOW so much, but we just can't build the bridge between writing and thinking.

I wish I knew you and your son in person. Its very hard for me to unravel my mind enough to lay it out onto paper for someone else to understand, and its hard to know what kind of extra 'sense' he might have for English that might be usable. Does color help him at all? For me, don't ask me why, color is the difference between literacy and illiteracy. I do not write with pencils, I don't even own one. I write in neon, green, and pink the most. My computer screen changes letters to colors for me. And it helps. Its almost my safety blanket I guess. But then again, I believe I'm synesthetic (many dyslexics/dyscalculates are) and so my use of color may have nothing to do with dyslexia.

Still, try it. Can he read at all? Go to Office Max, and ask them to make you a yellow, green, red, and blue transparent sheet. This may not help him right now with the essay he must write, but maybe it will help him in the long run. Have him pick the one that he is drawn to the most (as a junior, he might think you're insane. Tell him a senior girl told him to do it, and if he doesn't I'll come hunt him down! ) and put it over something he needs to read. I even put transparencies (my chosen color is blue) over my OWN handwriting when I'm trying to re-translate, and it helps me. Let him write with bright colors if he wants to try that as well. Sometimes even the TYPE of pen makes a difference for me. For example, I love gel and fountain ink. I can't stand needlepoint pens and ballpoint, and its just another aggravation to deal with.

That 'weirdness' out of the way, here is what I do when I write a paper, and maybe it will help you guys.

1. Listen to or read the instructions (type of paper, how long, etc., I suggest having him try to read it first, and only if he gets too frustrated should you read it to him.)
2. Verbally tell someone what the instructions are in your own words.
3. Come up with one strong word that has to do with the subject. This word should be fairly broad. For example if I was asked to write a paper on what America means to me, the first strong, broad word that comes to my mind is "Freedom." That is going to be my 'main topic' and it is what I will base my paper on. It is also the word my thesis will be based on.
4. Think of two or three words that have to do with the first word. They can be narrower, but should leave room for explanation. Using my example of freedom, I might think to myself..."Ok. What do I think about American Freedom?" and my mind will answer me that the freedom is 'privilege', 'hard-earned' and 'important.'

So by this point, you will have an outline of sorts...but it will only be four words long. Why? Because for us, less is more. Our mind needs 'room' to process things, and using long sentences and big words restricts that room, because thinking about those sentences uses up space in our mind that we need to have in order to be creative. Sounds silly, but its true. At least for me, anyways.

And I'm left with this.

Q:What does America mean to you?

1. Freedom.
a. privilege
b. hard earned
c. important.

it seems so small that it couldn't possibly be a paper, but it is. It answers the question and gives three reasons why American makes me think of 'freedom.' This is a VERY simple thing that keeps me on track when I try to actually write the paper.

Again, color comes in to play for me here.

assign a color for each point. For me, 'privileges' is green, 'hard work' is purple and important is orange.

5. Write the thesis statement with each point in its designated color. It can be simple. For my America paper, I might write 'To me, America means freedom because freedom brings privileges, takes hard work, and is important.'

Now let his mind roam 'free.' (haha...and my subject is freedom...I see what I did there!!!)

Let him talk about freedom, and about America, but as he makes points, make HIM sit there and go "so which of my main topics would this point go under?" and write it in the color of that main point. You are the one writing it right now most likely, but hopefully maybe he will feel brave enough to do some of it on his own. Spelling doesn't matter yet as long as he recognizes it.

Once he has 10 or so points, rearrange them into the outline under the points. So you now have what a normal student would have in an outline.


Main Idea:




And...if he's anything like me, the color will have let him think of all of these ides himself, connect them to each other, and plan them out. All that has to be done now is filling in the 'fluff' of the essay that makes it sound good together. That, for now, you will probably have to help him with.

I don't know if that will help at all, or if I just wasted your time, but tell him not to give up! There IS a technique out there that will help him, but only if he will allow it to. I've heard of dyslexics who learned to write upside down, on computers, from right to left...there are so many techniques out there to try. He'll find his, and the bridge will be built. Its an amazing thing when language suddenly 'clicks' for you. For me it was like an entire world has just been unlocked.

That being said, have you ever read any of the 'theological' books on dyslexia NM? My mom did and she said they helped her at least partially understand where I came from. No two dyslexics are the same, so she couldn't just pick up a "how to" book from the book store and know how to teach me. In a way she had to be a scientist and an engineer...crafting a mechanism for me to deal with and use my dyslexia based on what she found out FROM me about how I learned. It is no easy feat and I admire her SO much for doing it.

So before I end this lengthy post (don't be mistaken, I'm no perfect writer. I 'hide' behind my proofreaders and spell checks. When I'm tired, my screen has so much red underlining under it that it looks like a massacre has taken place! LOL.) I just want to give you a pat on the back. Being the parent of a dyslexic is no easier than being a dyslexic. It takes guts, patience, and ingenuity. I'm not even sure I could teach me! haha.
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post #8 of 16 Old 10-13-2013, 04:27 AM
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Northern mama it doesn't matter if he can spell or not sod the wiggly red lines let him get his thoughts on the screen and then sort the from there!
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post #9 of 16 Old 10-13-2013, 05:40 AM
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I don't really know if any of this advice would help but from helping my friends this is start at the most simple you can. An essay is based on a statement, often a response to a questions. In the most simple form, the statement is the essay.

Once you have the statement you expand on it, writing the reasons you are going to use to show that your statement is true. With those things you can write the introduction.

Then break it down again, an essay is a collection of those reasons, so for each of those reasons, write a statement to what it is and why. Then back it up. Then that's the essay.

I use colours when I can't focus. Not just colour pens but also post it notes that I can write quotes, statements, questions or notes on and I can stick them on printed resources, on books, rearrange them to make a draft of the essay. Sometimes I just write a word to remind me of something.

Again, I always tell people to break things down, and if it's still too hard, break them down again.
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post #10 of 16 Old 10-13-2013, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the input! My son says dyslexics are crazy! LOL

I wish I could just merge into his mind for even just a few hours to try to see what he sees, to understand how he understands... All I know is that his mind is COMPLETELY different than mine! I am aware of the multi-sensory perception and joining (synesthesia), but so far what we have tried doesn't work for him. The course we tried used only touch and shapes. I don't know why we didn't think of colours.

Endiku, nothing posted by a fellow dyslexic could ever waste my time! I like your way of getting the concepts down to one word each. It has been difficult for me to have him simplify his thoughts. He tends to go with everything at once. The colour coding might help him to categorize. Plus this can be used on the computer when we get to the point of actually writing the paragraphs. On Tuesday, I can get some transparencies and see what that does for him.

Faydesmom -- his spelling is so bad that after he writes something even he doesn't know what he meant. I've had this discussion so many times with teachers, academics and computer techs. Any idea what the word "louile" is supposed to be? My son doesn't know either, but he wrote it down as an answer on a test. Believe me, we have tried the computer. What would help him is dragon naturally speaking but first he has to be able to form the sentences. If he could form the sentences and paragraphs in the first place, I don't mind typing for him. When he gets to the point where he is ready to compose short sentences independently (whether they are complete and correct or not), then the computer will help and then I will buy one for him and ensure it has voice recognition on it. To spend money now is useless because we need to get to a more advanced skill set first. For now, we still have to get to forming the essay. Asking him to form the sentences, paragraphs AND type it out, regardless of the spelling is just too much.

I think my task today is to try to encourage him to see that just one word can be a start. I think that reading these posts has helped him to see that it's OK to start with what looks like very little.

He reads reasonably well. Not perfect, but much better than most kids his age these days. He loves to read, so that's a great thing. He also learns well from videos. He's picture oriented in a way. We have tried using line drawings in his learning, but I'm not sure how to relate that to essay writing.

Oh, and someone asked if he has a tutor. No, there is no one in the area that is qualified to teach dyslexics. The closest is over 3 hours away and if the cost of $10,000 is scary, then don't even bother to ask. I don't have that kind of money :( We did work with a tutor remotely for about 8 months but Sam was fully and truly frustrated by it. Although he did learn, it was based solely on spelling and that, at this point, is not the area we need to focus on. That would have been helpful before grade 6; unfortunately we didn't have that help then.

Okay -- here we go. Thanks everyone! Wish us luck!
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