Supporting a person with dyslexia to read aloud.

How you can support a person with dyslexia with reading aloud…

On Saturday, in front of 500 people, I was suddenly given a list of thankyous to read there and then. No preparation, no time to pre-read. What made it worse was I hadn’t seen the list prior to the event, it wasn’t written in my handwriting and I had no idea what was written on it. Having dyslexia, I can’t scan read, so I just had to go for it and hope for the best. It was ok, it was fluent… ish, I only stumbled a few times, I don’t think I made any errors. On the surface it looked OK, but inside I felt sick, and memories of having to read in front of the class came gushing back. Sweaty palms, palpitations and feelings of not being clever or good enough drowned out the positive thoughts. Embarrassed blushed cheeks, held up my smile. I’m lucky I am rarely in this vulnerable position now, and even when I am I have the skills to be able to deal with it, (just!) but what about all those children in class who are asked to read aloud, often? This post explains why reading out loud is hard for a person with dyslexia and what you can do to help them.

1.) Reading aloud makes you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable because you can’t read It fluently, and you are generally unable to read first time with correct intonation.

Even as an adult, who is aware of her dyslexia, I will do anything I can to avoid reading aloud in front of people. I avoid it as it makes me feel anxious and bad about myself because it exposes my weaknesses, seeing me stumbling over relatively easy common words and unable to read with correct intonation and expression because my brain can’t decode the words and make sense of what I am reading quickly enough. My brain is working so hard at decoding and working out what the words say that I am not necessarily able to concentrate on what the words are or the meaning of what I am reading. This often results in bumpy reading with incorrect expression.

2.) People with dyslexia are often accomplished at hiding their difficulties

Even when a person with dyslexia becomes an accomplished reader, it is not necessarily natural for them. In my experience as an assessor and specialist teacher, reading rarely ever becomes automatic or enjoyable as decoding the words and trying to derive meaning at the same time as trying to work out the context and decide how the expression should go overwhelms the working memory and results in a bumpy ride for everyone to see. When reading in our heads no one is aware of the bumpy journey, the speed we read or the amount of times we read and reread text to try to get it to make sense. When reading aloud there is nowhere to hide this strategy and it is there for everyone to see, causing embarrassment and frustration.

3.) Reading Aloud makes you anxious because you can’t answer questions about what you have read because you have been too busy decoding the letters to make any sense of what you have read.

The anxiety and nerves created by even the thought of having to read aloud can impact further on being able to read fluently. It’s a bit like a catch 22 situation, the more you try to read, the more anxious you become the more mistakes you make the more hot and bothered you become, the less you are able to think.

Whilst people with dyslexia can develop reading and comprehension skill to a good level, it is not something we find easy. It can also be affected by our anxiety levels and our tiredness levels. Having to do the thing we find most difficult in public, for others to see and to judge heightens anxiety and will cause us to make errors we may not usually make.

What can help?

Reading aloud is an important part of learning to read and in the right situation at the right time it can be really helpful and beneficial. However here are a few things which can help lessen anxiety and make reading aloud a more positive experience.

Where possible give a person with dyslexia warning that they will be required to read aloud and give them time to practice.

If you can’t give warning then try to scan read and pre teach or point out any words which may be difficult for them to pronounce.

Only ask them to read aloud in front of people they are confident and comfortable with.

Try not to to interfere when they are decoding as sometimes it just takes us longer to think and this interrupts or stops the thinking process and will result in it taking longer to read but also in us making the connections we need to make.

As a teacher I used to spend hours memorising what I needed to read to my children. I need time to rehearse anything that needs to be read. I still now where possible will avoid reading aloud without preparation!

Reading is an essential life skill and we have to foster it in the right way. Practise is essential, getting the balance right can be challenging but can also result in students feeling even worse about something they find difficult and unnatural! It’s important to remember that even as an adult with dyslexia aware of their needs, confidence to read in public can be fragile and result in a terrifying experience!


Author of ‘Don’t forget to smile… A memoir of uncovering the hidden difficulties of dyslexia’ Available from Amazon

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