5 Ways to Help Students with Dyslexia Succeed in Online School

6 min to read
An elementary student wearing an orange and blue shirt working with their learning coach mom on an online assignment together.

Students with a learning disorder can find it difficult to keep up with their peers in the classroom. Some parents make the choice to enroll their child in online school as a way of providing them added flexibility and support with their individual needs. If dyslexia has been identified in your student—or you suspect it could be the cause of learning struggles—there are ways to help them adapt and succeed in online school.  

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that primarily impairs a person’s ability to read, write, and spell. Exact numbers are hard to pin down, but it’s estimated that as many as one in five people have dyslexia. It’s the most common language-based neuro-cognitive condition—found in 80-90% of individuals who have a learning disorder. 

What Does Dyslexia Affect?

Dyslexia affects each person uniquely depending on its severity and which symptoms they experience. According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the common effects of dyslexia include:

  • Difficulties with reading and spelling words
  • Problems with processing and manipulating sounds
  • Struggles with grammar, comprehension, and complex writing

People with dyslexia may also experience struggles with spoken language that can make it hard for them to clearly communicate and fully understand the speech of others. It can also impact functioning in social situations, self-esteem, and memory. 

Signs of Dyslexia

The signs of dyslexia show themselves both in and out of the classroom. The Child Mind Institute developed a list of signs that includes:

  • Delayed speech; for example, not understanding words like “stop” by 18 months or the ability to talk in short sentences by age 3
  • Leaving out or repeating short words such as “and,” “the,” and “but”
  • Trouble sounding out new words or spelling out familiar ones
  • Struggling to remember multi-step directions
  • Having emotional outbursts brought on by frustration

What Causes Dyslexia?

Researchers use two categories to differentiate types of dyslexia based on potential causes.

The first category is developmental. Developmental dyslexia is present from birth and is separated into two sub-categories: primary and secondary.

  • Primary dyslexia has been linked to certain inherited genes that contribute to reading and language functions in the brain. Chances are high that a person with dyslexia has one or more close relatives who also have it.
  • Secondary dyslexia is attributed to brain development issues that happen in the early stages of pregnancy.

The second category of dyslexia is acquired. Secondary dyslexia results from a traumatic brain injuries, serious illnesses, or strokes. It can develop at any time in a person's life. 

Dyslexia is typically diagnosed by a licensed educational psychologist, neurologist or any other medical professional that may be qualified to provide a formal diagnosis. 

A student wearing a turquoise shirt  sitting at a laptop working on an online assignment for Connections Academy with their learning coach.

How to Help a Student with Dyslexia

Helping students with dyslexia succeed in online school takes time, patience, and good old-fashioned persistence. If dyslexia hasn’t been identified yet, the first step is to talk to teachers about the issues you see. It’s also a good idea to talk to the child’s health care provider to rule out medical causes like vision or hearing impairments.

While dyslexia is typically identified under one of the 13 IDEA special educational eligibility categories, called Specific Learning Disability (SLD), some states have specific guidance on dyslexia screenings and intervention. Regardless, any student with this medical diagnosis can be supported through direct research-based instruction and intervention.  

5 Strategies for Students with Dyslexia

There are many ways to support educational growth in students with dyslexia—both in class and at home. Below are five strategies Learning Coaches can use to help a child manage the condition. 

Ask for in-class accommodations

It’s common for students with any learning disability to receive accommodations at school, such as through accommodations that become part of a student’s individualized education plan.

The IDC separates dyslexia accommodations into four basic types: presentation, response, setting, and timing/scheduling. They are useful in all learning settings, but online students tend to have more flexibility in adopting them. Examples include:

  • Verbal instructions instead of written ones
  • Text-to-speech software
  • Fewer test items per page
  • A distraction-free environment
  • Extended time or frequent breaks

Incorporate research-based instructional strategies

Since research educators understand how students learn to process language, children with dyslexia can learn to read effectively with the proper instruction. Here are some teaching methods that experts recommend:

  • Multi-sensory instruction
    As the name suggests, multi-sensory instruction incorporates all the senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and movement) in teaching. Instead of simply counting oranges on a worksheet, students might touch, smell, and even taste one while using math skills to add them up. The technique helps students develop the connections needed in their brain.
  • Sight word practice
    Sight words are words that break the spelling rules and need to be memorized by sight. Practicing sight words in ways such as by using flash cards, tracing words on flash cards with two fingers, and writing words in a notebook or on a keyboard can be helpful.
  • Decoding strategies
    Readers use decoding to sound out words they don’t recognize. To decode a word, the reader first needs to be able to hear and say all the sounds within the word and recognize the sound or sounds each letter or letter combination make. When learning to decode, students typically first learn to name all the letters in the alphabet and the sounds the letters make. Then, students learn to build and read three-letter words, followed by more complicated spelling patterns and in the upper grades, students begin to learn to decode large words.

Help Students with Dyslexia at Home

Making the effort to help a child with dyslexia at home can make a big difference. Learning Coaches will never replace a student’s teacher, but they can help online students grow outside of class. Here are some things you can do:

  • Read together
    Experts recommend reading with a child with dyslexia every day to help build learning abilities over time. Take turns reading aloud and talk about the stories. 
  • Get and stay organized
    Students with dyslexia often have a hard time keeping track of homework. Create an organizational system that works for them using calendars, color-coded folders, smartphone alarms, or other technology. 
  • Create a calm space for study
    Students with dyslexia can benefit from a calming and distraction-free space to learn and study. Establish a quiet, comfortable room in a home for your student to learn or a clutter-free desk space with noise-canceling headphones. 

Be Emotionally Supportive

Little things can mean a lot when it comes to nurturing self-confidence and supporting a student with dyslexia’s wellbeing. Ways to be emotionally supportive include:

  • Letting your student know what dyslexia is and that learning struggles aren’t their fault
  • Focusing positive feedback on other strengths such as dance or gaming
  • Having enjoyable outings “just because” that aren’t tied to academic success

Bring in the Experts

From reading tutors to certified academic language therapists, adding in professional expertise in developing individual learning plans for students with dyslexia is an option that works for some.  

The most important thing to do for a student with dyslexia is to act now. Without proper instruction, dyslexia can continue to have a negative  effect into adulthood. 

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