Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city


Family faced with dyslexia finds that it’s true: ‘Things go better with Coke’

Her son's dyslexia made this mom rethink her attitude toward learning disabilities: He is trying exceptionally hard, and a sweet, bubbly reward is in order.

We’ve done reading interventions. We’ve followed a multi-sensory, evidence-based curriculum. We’ve implemented specialized instruction at school and private tutoring outside of school.

All of this has helped tremendously with our son’s dyslexia. But none of it might be possible without the refreshing, thirst-quenching taste of Coca-Cola.

Every night, my husband or I enter our son’s bedroom armed with a leveled reader and a spill-proof sippy cup of Coke (Coke Zero actually – we have our standards). He’s allowed one long, courage-summoning gulp, and then nightly reading begins.

Initially, he had to stop reading every two pages for a Coke break. Then it was every four. Now he can go six before taking a swig. Every so often he forgets about the Coke altogether because he’s too engrossed in what he’s reading.

From the age of 2, when I presented my son with a copy of “Chika-Chika Boom Boom” and he ejected it across the room, I knew that reading would be a challenge for him. He loved being read to, but balked at the idea of trying it himself.

We started with Bob books. Each night I’d review the short vowel sounds in Mac and Matt and Jig and Pig. By the following night, he would have forgotten them all. We did this night after night … after night.

Understandably, he started to resist reading at all. He yelled, threw things and hid. Some nights he’d just ball up in his bed and become mute. Several times, I lost patience and accused him of not trying.

Even after he was diagnosed with dyslexia and we began private tutoring, reading continued to be a nightly battle.

It takes years to learn to read. My son couldn’t wait that long to be rewarded for his efforts. He required immediate reinforcement in the form of something wet, sweet and bubbly.

He had been begging to try Coke for some time. We’d never permitted soda in the house, so it had taken on the allure of the forbidden. One day, he made the mistake of saying he’d do anything to try Coke – anything!

That’s when I bought our first six-pack.

If you have a child with dyslexia, you’ve likely heard of the various interventions: Barton, Slingerland, Wired for Reading, the Wilson Reading System.

All of these programs have their merits, but none is likely to take effect if your child is unmotivated or too anxious to learn.

No parent likes the idea of having to bribe their child into learning. Reading is supposed to come naturally. It’s supposed to be fun and intrinsically rewarding without the extra inducement of high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweetener.

For some kids, though – more than we realize – it just doesn’t work that way. Reading does not come naturally. It requires tremendous work.

How many of us are willing to work that hard for free?

Before I had a child with dyslexia, it was easy to be dismissive of learning disabilities. I believed that if a child just applies herself, eventually she will learn. She might just need to try harder.

Having watched my son struggle, I now recognize that most of the time he’s trying exceptionally hard. If he gives up or acts out, it’s not because he’s lazy or intentionally seeking to aggravate me. It’s because what I’m asking him to do is too difficult – or he believes it’s too difficult, which amounts to the same thing.

I sincerely hope there comes a time when my son can pick up a book and read for pleasure without a sugary incentive every six pages.

Until then, reading goes better with Coke.


Lynn Dixon lives in Ballard with her husband and two engaging boys.  Her family’s favorite place is anywhere they can spread out, make noise and whack things.  She believes there’s no such thing as typical, that every child is gifted and our vulnerabilities are our biggest asset because they connect us to one another.

More Lynn Dixon in Seattle’s Child:

What this autism mom learned from Ferdinand’s mom

It’s my IEP meeting and I’ll cry if I want to

My son has multiple special needs; this year we’re prioritizing his happiness

Read more of her work at and visit her at

About the Author

Lynn Dixon

Lynn Dixon lives in Ballard with her husband and two engaging boys. Her family’s favorite place is anywhere they can spread out, make noise and whack things. She writes a blog, Somewhere Over The Spectrum, about raising a child on the autism spectrum and covers topics of interest to families with special needs.