If you’ve ever read with a dyslexic child you’ve probably been curious, or maybe even frustrated with the fact that when reading aloud they read multi-syllabic words with relative ease but often stumble over smaller words, typically sight words, such as; for, any, if, they, her, etc.  So what the heck is going on?

Don’t be overly concerned because this phenomenon is common among dyslexic brains, as well visual-spatial learners; otherwise known as right-brained learners.  Perplexing as it may be I can’t stress enough that this is NOT due to laziness, nor is it a sign of some kind of regression from progress.

I like to call these little words, “Trigger Words”, taken from Ronald D. Davis’ book, The Gift of Dyslexia.  The reason why these smaller words are such a challenge to a visual-spatial reader is due mostly to the fact that they are difficult to make a visual picture for in the brain.  If I’m reading words such as; picnic, photograph, magically, environment, I can actually form a picture for those words in my mind’s eye but for words like; for, the, is, any, and which, it’s much more difficult.

It can be difficult to accurately assess reading levels for these kids because they so often misread or skip these trigger words on fluency and comprehension assessments but as comprehension questions go, they are typically able to demonstrate an understanding of what they read. These kids are much better silent readers; they most often skim the text but are still able to obtain meaning because their brains are processing very quickly and making visual pictures as they skim therefore meaning is easily constructed regardless of whether they read every single word.. think “speed reading”.

So… as a parent, what can you do?

Be patient… encourage your child to use the decoding skills they’ve (hopefully) mastered.  For example, a common error when a dyslexic/right-brained child reads the word “for” is to say “from” in its place.  I will stop the child and ask them to LOOK at the letters as we review the sounds.  F says /f/ and OR says /or/ like “corn for the horse”. We then compare it to “from” and note the differences then we read it correctly and move on.

The main concern is to be sure they’re getting the help and support they need in order to feel confident and successful, whether from an aware and understanding teacher/tutor or some other support person and secondly, are they making progress?  As long as progress is being made they’re on the right track.  It may not currently be at the exact rate of their peers but progress is progress and the gap will eventually close.

I highly recommend the book mentioned above called, The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D, Davis.  It does an excellent job of explaining why dyslexics and visual-spatial readers read the way they do.  It also has some great tips and strategies for supporting these readers.  Things like making words from playdough/clay to lock the sight words into memory, drawing pictures to go with words, or using something like Snapwords (example shown on pic above) from Child 1st publications to help kids remember the words.

And as always, I can’t stress enough how vitally important it is for these children to know their gifts… their own sense of brilliance and the purpose and potential they bring to the world.  We are all different, we were made for unique and special things, we DO NOT all learn in the same manner and children should be respected and supported via their own personal learning style.  I strive to empower children to KNOW the truth about how brilliant and amazing they are but they need this from their parents as well, it is CRUCIAL!  I encourage them to ASK for help when they need it and to NEVER be ashamed of their learning style.  Ultimately they will be their own greatest advocate so let’s work toward teaching them how to be and do that for themselves with healthy pride and dignity and for now, we will advocate for them.

If you know a child who needs support reach out to me, I’m here to help!


Davis, R. (1997) The Gift of Dyslexia.  San Francisco, CA: Perigee.