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Ten Tenets for Parents

By: Priscilla Vail

1. You are the first to note your child's individual flavor and you deserve the pleasure of enjoying it.

In turn, this enjoyment is the most treasured gift you can return to this person you love. This exchange is particularly vital to a dyslexic child whose struggles with academic challenges can be disheartening. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Sacks has said that sometimes parents need to mourn the child they were expecting before they can accept the child who has arrived. If you need help with this, seek it without embarrassment so you will be free to get a kick out of your kid. Sharing humor through kindly kidding and gentle joking confirms intactness, "If you weren't OK I wouldn't be joking around with you."

2. Remember that tried and true methods and materials for teaching dyslexics exist.

People don't "outgrow" dyslexia, it won't go away on its own, and will require monitoring and different kinds of help as your child matures and as academic demands shift. Whether through your child's school, or independently, find a pro you trust and then trust the pro. Don't hover. Give your child the privacy every learner deserves.

3. While arranging for necessary help, allow your child to own the dyslexia and the compensatory training it requires.

Why? If you own the problem, you will also own the ultimate victory. That prize belongs to your child. Don't steal it.

4. Find something the child does well.

Weave a need for that talent into the fabric of daily living. How proud and competent a child feels who hears you say "I need you to play the piano for fifteen minutes every night while I'm chopping the carrots for supper", or "I need you to draw a cartoon for me every evening showing something funny that happened in our family during the day. Well put them together and send them to Granny once a week."

5. Budget time, money and psychological/emotional energy for the exercise of talent as well as for the support of weakness.

Just as unsupported weaknesses ache; unexercised talents itch.

6. Remember that a life-line represents more than the school years.

First come infancy and early childhood, then come preschool followed by the 12 school years, which, for many dyslexics, are rough. But, that's not the end of the life-line! With any luck at all, there is a huge remaining line segment. If you want that time to be filled with joy, productivity, humor, warmth, satisfaction and pride, you, as a parent, must be sure that your child's talents and promise survive the school years.

7. Teach your child the skills of self-advocacy.

At an age-appropriate way, your child needs to understand what dyslexia is, how it works, what activities it can undermine and which it can enhance. Then your child needs to know what kinds of help are productive. An informed and hard-working child who can explain his or her own needs to a teacher will usually find a sympathetic, cooperative ear. This skill develops gradually as your child matures. You should help in the beginning, and withdraw as his or her eloquence matures.

8. If necessary, find someone to act as your child's ombudsperson.

This should be someone (a psychologist, tutor, diagnostician, pediatrician or social worker) who understands and can explain the particulars of your child's learning issues and how those ingredients mesh or conflict with existing academic protocol. Sometimes you, as a parent, can do this yourself, but it is often less stressful and more successful to have a professional run the interface.

9. Have a life of your own.

Let your child see you trying new things with varying degrees of success. Your example discovering a new interest or in dusting off your metaphoric knees and trying again speaks volumes. Moving beyond vicarious pain at your child's difficulties and expanding your own horizons and interests not only provides a model he or she needs, but it's fun for you, and you deserve to live your life too.

10. Self-esteem grows from the inside out, not the outside in.

Sixth grade James said to me "I'm not going to do this."

"No? Why?" I asked.

"Looks boring" he said.

"Maybe hard?" I asked.

"Maybe. Anyway, I'm not doing it it might hurt my 'self of steam' " he finished.

Self of steam is a vapor, vulnerable, transient and external. Self-esteem is solid, sturdy, reliable and internal. A worrisome aspect of the self-esteem movement implies that it can be pasted on from the outside or grown in a pot and transplanted into a person's psyche. Perhaps you, as a parent, have said to a friend, teacher, grandparent, coach or tutor "I want to raise his self-esteem." Let's remember that true self-esteem grows slowly, robustly, from the inside out, not from the outside in. Self-esteem is the natural flower of confidence, which, in turn, is the harvest of competence.

If you want to foster your children's genuine self-esteem, see to it that they learn the competencies of literacy so they can do what others in their class, on their team, or in their neighborhood can do. Competence will lead to confidence, which spawns motivation and culminates in genuine self-regard and self-trust. Go for the real thing. Leave vapor to aroma-therapists.

The International Dyslexia Association quarterly newletter, Perspectives, Volume 29, Number 3, Summer 2003, Page 22