For a child coping with dyslexia, March is Reading Month might feel like more of a struggle than fun. In this article, 12-year old Zach shares his perspective and offers some suggestions on how to make the month more inclusive and fun for everyone.

March is Reading Month

Last year, during “March is Reading Month,” I received an email from the parent of a 12-year-old child with dyslexia. She wrote,

I’m curious what (in your experience) the dyslexia community’s perspective is on “March is Reading Month.”

This comes up every March in our house that our child feels bad (for all the reasons you can imagine). I hate “March is Reading Month” as a mother for all the same reasons.

It just feels like an oversimplification of a complex issue, and an attempt to celebrate something that is tough for some kids.

Maybe like field day might feel for a child in a wheelchair.

Yes. I could not have said this any better. Yes.

After receiving this email, I tried to locate some articles or postings from the dyslexia community on this issue, and I could find nothing (I still can’t). Turns out, neither could she. I immediately asked my partner, Dr. Joanne Pierson, and she knew of nothing, though she did find, "17 Easy and Enjoyable Ways to Celebrate National Reading Month"—I will return to this later.

So, it was decided—leading up to March 2020, DyslexiaHelp would publish a piece on this issue. This mother and her child (“Zach”) were happy to hear that.

Fast forward 11 months—I received an email that Zach was eagerly awaiting publication of this DyslexiaHelp article. Not only had he not forgotten about this piece, he was anticipating this dreadful month. He graciously agreed to an interview.

I started by asking Zach what he thought about “March is Reading Month.” He responded, “I don’t really like it. It’s kind of a stressful time because it feels like you’re pressured to do the stuff that other students are doing. At my elementary school, there was a piece of graph paper outside of each classroom, and if you read a certain amount of time, you could color a square or two squares. And I felt pressure to read, so I could color squares.” He added, “They also had a day where they would basically make us read all day.” Zach noted that that day worked out okay because he was able to use his audiobook. However, he recalled other required or highly encouraged activities that, “…in my experience, [were] very stressful. Like making us give up all screens for a night. When that happened, I didn’t know what to do. I heard a lot of people talking about like, ‘I’m going to do it.’ That made me feel like the weird one because I wasn’t doing this activity.” He told me he used his screen (to listen to books) anyway, but he knew others were not on their screens.

I asked Zach if he thought there would be a better way to do “March is Reading Month” (if it had to be done). His response was profound, “I would at least want them [the school] to bring up the idea of dyslexia.” Zach explained that he and his mother had given a presentation at his school about dyslexia so that both his teachers and peers would have a better understanding of what he might be experiencing on a daily basis. After that presentation, he felt a sense of relief—his friends were not fazed by his use of assistive technology, and he didn’t have to constantly explain himself. “I feel like a better way to do it [“March is Reading Month”] would be to find ways that aren’t as hard for kids who can’t read as much,” like encouraging them to consume audio books or use text-to-speech technology.

Despite the stress and pressure that Zach felt last year during “March is Reading Month,” he wanted other students who have dyslexia to know that he didn’t think that using assistive technology made peers look at him in “weird ways.” He added that he didn’t think people even noticed because they were focused on their own reading. This year, Zach is at a new school, and he has found it helpful to have an answer when his peers ask why he is using assistive technology to read, “I have special accommodations that let me use my iPad or device to listen to something.”

Back to the link above—while not specific to students with dyslexia or even struggling readers, there are some great suggestions that encourage the enjoyment and value in listening to books. In our practice, we emphasize the value of reading, but not just by eye—reading by ear also has tremendous value. Audiobooks ensure continued exposure to grade-level vocabulary, complex syntactic and literate language forms, and information about the world. And, for children with dyslexia, reading then becomes a joyful activity.

So, if we have to do “March is Reading Month,” here are my 5 recommendations (many suggested by or inspired by my conversation with Zach):

  1. Share this article with your child’s teacher(s) and school. Teachers’ intentions are inherently good; they just may not be aware of how something so seemingly innocuous, like “March is Reading Month,” may actually be hurtful to students who struggle with reading.
  2. With your child’s approval (and assistance), take this opportunity to teach your child’s class/school about dyslexia. In our practice, we often hear that a weight is lifted when children don’t have to worry about hiding their dyslexia anymore.
  3. Read by ear. Learning Ally is a wonderful resource for individuals with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, and audiobooks from the library and other sources, like Audible, are also great options.
  4. Parents, read to (and with) your children. One of the activities I love most about working with school-age students is having the opportunity to read so many fabulous books.
  5. Share Zach’s story with your children. Let them know that they are not alone and that what they are feeling is valid. Help and encourage them to problem-solve this challenge so that they can feel better equipped to handle this and other obstacles that come their way.

An enormous thank-you to Zach and his mother for motivating this article and for sharing their perspectives.

Dr. Lauren Katz is co-founder of the Literacy, Language, and Learning Institute (3LI) in Ann Arbor where she works with Dr. Pierson. She is an expert in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of language-based learning disorders, including dyslexia.