By: Beth Blancher, M.A.
When the topic is dyslexia, many question the importance of discussing their Disney vacation. As it happens, there are many ways in which a Disney vacation can help with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. You may ask, “Why bother with school issues or therapy when on vacation?” What parent would not love to have a method that may easily motivate their child to read or help improve their school performance? Read along to find out more about the benefits of using Disney help combat dyslexia.
There are many reasons to work on your child’s dyslexia while on vacation. First, your child is very motivated by the fascination of Disney. That’s their nature. There are many new and fun things to see and do and most children are very receptive. Everyone is excited about their adventure, opening up time for quality family interaction outside the typical routine. You’re probably tired of the homework battle and same old struggles so playing at Disney and fighting dyslexia can be magical combination.
There are seven things that are recommended when dealing with dyslexia. (R. Langston, Psychology Today). Let’s discuss the recommendations and how we can apply these to your child and your Disney adventure.
· Full Disclosure
o “Children want answers as to what is happening. Learn more about dyslexia and help your child to understand they are not stupid or broken” (R. Langston, Psychology Today).
-Your vacation is a great time to discuss your child’s dyslexia away from the pressures of school and peers. Through the diversity of the other vacationers at a Disney park, you can show your child he is not alone with his disability. For example, not everyone enjoys the same rides such as ones that spin or go fast. People eat different things or like to stay at different resorts. Dyslexic children learn differently than the traditional style. They benefit from a multi-sensory approach. Dyslexia is not bad, just different.
· Reinforce Strengths
o “If a child has learning challenges, this time can become associated with struggle and defeat. It is critical that you find alternative ways for this child to experience success”. (R. Langston, Psychology Today).
-Disney is filled with opportunities to reinforce your child’s strengths. Disney is also filled with artistic inspiration and there are books and attractions where your child can learn to draw characters. Some children excel in sports. Disney has ESPN Club, Disney’s Wide World of Sports, and even a sports resort.
Some children are more visual-spatial and can enjoy the fascination of building whatever they desire at the Lego Store or learning about the forced perspective in through Disney architecture. Look for the strengths in your child.
· Make Reading interesting
o Dyslexic children might not like the reading process but they may really like the content. At Disney, a child can find a favorite character or age appropriate Disney book to help them learn to enjoy reading. It’s a time to encourage them to read the maps or signs at every ride. This helps to reinforce success since it’s easy to read with so many contextual clues and familiar characters.
· Provide Current Role Models
o “Everyone has seen the black and white picture of Albert Einstein with his hair standing on end that has been associated with dyslexia. I feel it is harder for children today to draw self-confidence from someone who died in the 1950's, even though he is a great role model” (R. Langston, Psychology Today).
-Some modern day dyslexic role models featured in Disney productions are Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly from the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Patrick Dempsey from Enchanted and the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy but the biggest dyslexic role model you can associate with Disney is Walt Disney himself. What child would not feel proud to know that these parks were created on the works of Walt Disney, a dyslexic just like them?
· Assistive Technology
o “Buying a child with dyslexia a computer is not giving them assistive technology” (R. Langston, Psychology Today).
-Dyslexics struggle with reading text on computers as well as print. Current technology can assist them with reading programs or transcribing programs. At Disney, you can use some of the Disney technology to help your child learn to love computers and technology. There are several quick service restaurants that have touch screen pictures with which to order food: Pecos Bill’s, Contempo Café and Roaring Forks just to name a few. If you try this, avoid peak times in the restaurant so you have time to work on the screen with your child. Located within Epcot, the Innoventions pavilions and Spaceship Earth are filled with the latest hands-on technology. Help your child learn to love technology on during your next vacation.
· Multi-Sensory Learning
o Often, dyslexic children are tactile or kinesthetic learners. They learn through experience and doing things. On vacation, a child learns so much about the world whether it’s history, architecture, adventure stories, or geography. Take Epcot for example. A child can learn about geography faster during a walk around World Showcase than with a book at school. A child can experience architecture and iconic land marks from the countries while experiencing the food and culture of those countries. Learning is not limited to World Showcase. Future World is filled with technology about so many topics. Pick what is age appropriate and fascinating for your child.
· Provide Accommodations
o “Early intervention provides the greatest chance of success in reading fluency. Remember that preserving a child's self esteem intact is the most important factor in his or her surviving and thriving in the classroom and life” (R. Langston, Psychology Today).
-Accommodations are not needed on a vacation, however, remember your child’s learning style and help them where needed. Use your next vacation as an opportunity to help build your child’s self-esteem.
Here are some easy methods to help your child with their dyslexia on your next vacation. Some of these techniques are so simple; it will feel like Disney magic.
Treasure Hunting Letters: This can be done anywhere and you can change the rules for variety. Finding letters can be fun whether you are in the car driving to Disney, waiting in an airport, riding a Disney bus or in the park waiting in line. It helps to pass the time playing letter games. You can make it as easy or as complex as you wish. With younger children, limit the number of letters or just go down the alphabet naming anything in site. With older children, you can make it more difficult by naming a character or finding a character or other Disney Icon with a specified letter. When standing in line, try coming up with different things Disney with a chosen letter like P, for example: popcorn, princess, pixie, park, Peter Pan, Pinocchio and more… It’s so much fun; you might find others in line helping you (or your child). Wait times will seem much shorter.
Easy Reading: Take every advantage out there to help build your child’s confidence. The Disney maps are great because they have so many symbols to read. Teach your child to read the map. It’s as easy as pulling out a map. Disney is great at using symbols as a universal language. Your child can build confidence learning that others are reading the symbols just like they are and that not everyone learns to read using our phonetic system. For older children, ride Spaceship Earth point out the Phoenicians in one of the earlier scenes where they discuss how phonetics came from Phoenician merchants. Phonetics can be difficult for dyslexics but not all languages are based on phonics.
Reading Out Loud: Reading signs out loud that they already know helps reinforce reading skills and builds confidence. Read signs at bus stops, menus, ride signs, and, of course, story books. Reinforcing reading skills is essential for remediation with dyslexic children.
Build Confidence: Children with learning disabilities like Dyslexia often feel different than others and even worse, they can feel as though they’re defective. Help by pointing out how everyone is different. Dyslexia is only a different learning style. Take the time to point out how some people are different because they don’t like spinning rides and others like different foods etc. The parks are filled with diversity whether in food, rides, clothes or more. Epcot, once again, is a great place for diversity.
Practice Left - Right: Many Dyslexic children have difficulty remembering their left from their right. One trick that will motivate them to remember is this: Fill them in on a belief that the left line is always shorter because more people tend to go to their right. So, when you are in a line that suddenly splits, tell your child it’s his job to remind you to go to the left. But, you do not want to yell this out because the whole line may shift in front of you. Ask your child the make the “L” by with the index finger and thumb. This will be your secret code to head to the shorter line. Also reinforcing the left with the “L” made with the fingers.
If you don’t think this will work for your child then take the vacation time to use different shoe laces, left one color, right another.
Reading One Word: One technique used to get children to learn to love to read is to have them read only one word while you read the book out loud. It keeps the child interested and they learn to enjoy books. Reading just this one word can be entertaining. If you incorporate this technique or did when your child was younger, make sure to point out the part of the show in Magic Kingdom’s Laugh Floor where the monster asks the audience to respond to word cues.
Writing without a Pencil: There are several places around the parks where your child can practice writing without a pencil. Many dyslexic children become frustrated with pencils because they have to erase so often. Take advantage of writing in the air or in the sand when possible. Many have difficulty with fine motor skills and any repetition is helpful. Of course, when it’s fun and Disney, it’s easy.
Practicing Sequencing: Many dyslexic or learning disabled kids have trouble with sequencing, or maintaining a beginning, middle, and end. Most families have a daily vacation plan, no matter how detailed or flexible. Help your child with sequencing when you talk about the day’s schedule. It’s as easy as saying “when we get to the Magic Kingdom, we will go down Main Street, have breakfast at the Main Street Bakery, then go to Fantasyland and ride It’s a Small World, then go to the Haunted Mansion, then Splash Mountain." Keep the series simple, 3 to 4 items for younger children ages 6-7 and increase the series with age. Check and see if they can recall the series when in the park. For example: “We are finished our breakfast at the bakery where do we go now?”
Finger Spelling: Common letter pairs that children struggle to keep straight are the B D pair or P Q pair. Have your child use their fingers to help them remember the way the letters are shaped. When in Disney, you can make it fun by using “B a D” with the fingers and point out the Disney villains with finger spelling to reinforce the direction of the letters that are often confused.
With the fingers bent down you can make the shape of a P and Q for things like Princess, popcorn, queen and more.
Blending sounds: Blending sounds can be very difficult for children with dyslexia to grasp. To help, build strength with repetition. Look for character names that start with a double consonant sounds like: Chip, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Prince or Princess, Tramp, Bre’r Bear or other br’er characters. Books to take home are great too.
Analogies: Look for analogies to use. Many children struggle to pronounce words and with a lack of confidence, many sound it out slowly and are hesitant to put these sounds together when reading. At Disney, visual analogies are available. For instance: Magic Kingdom roller coasters. In the beginning, you go slowly. Then, at the top (when you have the sounds blended together), you go fast. A roller coaster may seem scary at first, but when you are done, just like reading, it can be fun.
Math concepts: For kids with learning disabilities, math concepts are difficult, too. Try teaching multiplication with fun problems. For example: we (four people) are going to ride the pirates 3 times so how many seats will we use on that ride today? Or, the ride holds 12 people. How many people will they add to our boat after we get on? Make it fun and easy and it will help your child to think about math. Plus, you will take home more from your vacation than great memories.
As we discussed before, dyslexic children are often tactile or kinesthetic learners and they learn through experiencing and doing things. For this reason, tactile learners may become bored faster than other students in class while listening to a class lecture or even therapy. It’s difficult to get bored in a novel situation like a family vacation. While people frequently complain that they don’t want to think about therapy or work during a vacation. These techniques are so easy and because the situation is novel, the impact could be greater than hours of therapy. What could you do with the time and money you could save? How about take a trip to Disney? Have fun.
By Beth Blancher, MA