How I'm Dealing With My Dyslexia To Enjoy Storytime With My Daughter

Being a parent with dyslexia isn't easy. But one mom has found ways to make reading with her child a pleasant experience despite the learning disorder.

Mother reading a book to her daughter.

As an adult with dyslexia, it's almost painful to try and sit down to read a physical book. I confuse words, glaze over long paragraphs, and find it nearly impossible to concentrate. To escape the frustration, I've avoided reading as much as I could.

That all changed since my daughter was born last June. I've had a strong desire to read with my baby to help her reap the benefits and so we can bond even deeper. But it hasn't been easy. And listening to how smoothly my husband reads to our daughter, I have been forced to acknowledge my dyslexia even more.

But I've learned there are ways to make this challenge a bit easier. Here's how I've been navigating my dyslexia to better support my daughter in her budding storytime journey—and what I've learned along the way.

Think Beyond Traditional Storytime

Shifting my idea of what storytime should look like and making my own rules has made all the difference in my experience.

"When the kiddos are really young and not reading yet, a parent can 'read' books without actually reading the words on the page," says Elisabeth A. Mlawski, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, clinical assistant professor for speech language pathology at Yeshiva University. In fact, she suggests that parents can "read" wordless picture books and make up stories on the spot based on the images on the page. "Ultimately, what's most important is the child is being positively exposed to reading and the parent is still supporting literacy and learning this way," adds Dr. Mlawski.

As your child's interests, attention, and abilities grow, Rachel Mashtare, M.S., CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist at Expressable, says to add in books with more text, but give yourself flexibility. "Remember, just because there's text on the page, your story doesn't have to follow it. Turn the stories into 'fractured fairy tales,' where the book sets the scene, but you and your child explore making different choices than the story does." For example, what if Snow White doesn't eat the apple? What if the wolf doesn't climb down the pig's chimney? These alternative ways of reading allow for creativity to flourish in your child.

Get Animated

Adults who struggled to learn to read as children often end up avoiding reading in the present or continue associating it with negative emotions, explains Mashtare. One way to rekindle a love of books is to be creative with them. "Being animated, imitating character voices, and acting out the story helps engage your child and is fun for you, too," says Mashtare.

I used to sigh and groan in frustration whenever I found myself stuttering or mixing up words in a sentence, but now instead of beating myself up over it, I switch gears. I imitate and bring Sandra Boynton's Little Pookie characters to life (mama and little Pookie) with a motherly voice and squeaky baby pig voice. In the end, this not only allows my baby to laugh at Mommy's silly noises and manner of talking, but I am able to redirect focus on my child's happiness.

Don't Just Stick to Books

I'm guilty of praising certain reading material and dismissing others. However, instead of thinking that a supermarket flier or billboard isn't of value or "doesn't count as reading," I need to instead be open to the fact that all of it can help foster a love of reading. It's also important to know that literature can be appreciated in its diverse forms.

Mashtare says that an open-minded mentality should be adopted in adults on their own time. "In order to rekindle a love of reading, you also have to follow your own interests. Don't be harsh or judgmental about what they might be. Reading a graphic novel or an article about your favorite car is still reading," says Mashtare.

And on days where it's just too difficult to read with your kid, you can opt for audiobooks, which also have a bunch of benefits, including expanding vocabulary and imagination.

Focus On Yourself, Too

As parents, we tend to neglect our needs and prioritize our children. When it comes to reading, it's important to strike a compassionate balance. "While it's important to follow your child's lead and interests when reading to them, often kiddos will want to read the same book over and over," says Mashtare. "This is great for them, but it can re-instill negative associations with reading for adults."

Children may also want a parent to read a completely new book, which can be difficult to do. Instead, Mashtare suggests to try elaborating on a current story they're enamored with, pointing out details in pictures, and letting your child take the lead by reading (and/or babbling/pointing) the book to you to get through these sometimes challenging reading moments.

Get Help From Local Resources

Your local community can offer a wealth of diverse literacy opportunities (most of which are free to take advantage of). "Taking trips to a local library puts you in the mindset for storytime," says Dr. Mlawski. "Get a library card (which is a memorable experience for your little one in and of itself) and let the child pick out books."

Libraries are also accommodating to different learning needs. "Many of them have audiobooks that can be downloaded to help supplement," Dr. Mlawski adds. You can also find a local bookstore (big box or small business) that has storytime programming you can join in on.

Have Fun With Words Together

While it is important to be consistent with the reading, writing, and language skills you're targeting to increase your overall literacy confidence, remember that at the heart of it, practicing with your child can be a fun and fulfilling endeavor! Sarah Baldwin, MA, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist and literacy specialist with Expressable, offers a few of the following multisensory activities you can do together:

  • Play games to build your knowledge of letter sounds and rhyming words, such as Memory, Go Fish, puzzles, and scavenger hunts.
  • Make reading and spelling kinesthetic, which means using the sense of touch. Use letter cards with sand and sandpaper, stamp out letters in Play-Doh to make words, or outline letters/words with dried glue to make them three-dimensional.
  • Sing songs. "They help increase awareness of rhyming words, syllables, letter sounds, reading comprehension, and expressive/receptive language skills," says Baldwin.
  • Use some color, too. Write words and sentences using colored pencils or markers for a rainbow writing activity. Draw pictures of words, stories, and language concepts.
  • Read recipes for baking and cooking—a fun family activity with a tasty outcome!

Lean On Professional Help

Despite your best efforts, you may still need a little extra help and there's no shame in that. Here's how experts recommend parents find support for their dyslexia:

  • Speak with professionals trained in learning and reading disabilities. This comprehensive list from the University of Michigan can help in your search for one.
  • Use various assistive technology tools to support your reading and writing like a dictionary, highlighters, and spell-check software (think Grammarly). Or try speech-to-text software, like Google Docs voice typing and other tools, depending on the type of device you're using.
  • Try "shared reading" activities (an interactive reading experience via the guidance of an expert, parent, proficient reader) to increase your intrinsic motivation and multi-sensory learning of phonemic knowledge, reading, and language skills.

Give Yourself Grace

A big fear I've had about being a parent with dyslexia is how it would affect storytime with my baby girl. But my daughter doesn't seem to notice my stuttering, mispronunciations, and re-reading of sentences for comprehension. Instead, all I hear from her are giggles and what I experience is loving gazes and cuddles. That's helped me shift my perspective. It's also helped me become more proactive in taking my own baby steps toward reigniting a passion for reading. I'm doing it to not only model and reinforce positive behaviors to my baby, but also because I know it's healthy for me too—studies have shown that reading can lead to mental health benefits—so it's a win all around.

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