Your child is having trouble learning to read.
But you aren’t sure if (s)he is just lagging behind and will catch up, or if it is a problem that needs intervention.
So how do you know?
Before I get to that question, let’s talk about how a child learns to read.
Reading – unlike learning to speak – is not “naturally” acquired just by being immersed in it. It needs to be directly taught.
But before reading instruction even begins, children need to have certain pre-reading skills. These readiness skills are usually learned at home, at daycare, and into Kindergarten through play and experiences with books, stories, and language.
Four important pre-reading skills for children to have are:
- language skills – the ability to carry on a conversation and answer questions about stories that have been read to them
- Concept of print – the understanding that books are made up of words, which represent spoken words, and that they are read left to right and top to bottom.
- letter knowledge – the ability to name and recognize letters and their sounds
- phonemic awareness – the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds in words, and to recognize and say rhyming words
With these skills intact, a child is ready for formal reading instruction and will usually learn to read easily with traditional teaching methods.
NOW back to the question
How do you know if your child needs intervention or just more time?
You must first answer these questions:
Has your child received sufficient preparation to develop pre-reading skills? Has (s)he been exposed to letters and letter sounds in his/ her preschool years?
Children that have not had these experiences will usually catch on quickly once exposed. In Kindergarten, more practice with pre-reading skills takes place, as well as the transition from pre-reading skills to reading instruction.
If your child has had opportunities and experiences around language to learn these readiness skills yet still has difficulty remembering letters or rhyming words, (s)he needs intervention. Click here for a description of reading milestones your child should reach by the end of Kindergarten.
You may be thinking, “My child is very smart. How can (s)he be having trouble with reading?”
This is such a common question, because we tend to equate the ability to learn to read with intelligence. And that is a misconception.
This brings us to yet another question:
Given two children with the same inherent intelligence, why might one have difficulty learning to read and the other not?
The answer lies within the brain circuitry of these children.
1 out of 5 children, even with high intelligence and having had opportunities to learn, still have difficulty learning to read. They have dyslexia.
Functional MRIs of the brains of dyslexics show a difference in the brain of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different.
If you think your struggling reader may be dyslexic, click here for a list of dyslexia symptoms by Age.
If you sense that your child is struggling with the sounds and symbols of reading and language, don’t settle for being told, “Just wait… (s)he’ll catch up.” or, “(S)he’s just a late bloomer.”
For most struggling readers, learning to read is not a question of being given more time.
The theory of children being “late bloomers” with regard to reading has been disproven by research. Children who have difficulty when young will not just “catch up” on their own. To read about this research, click here
Consider these quotes from two leading experts in the acquisition of reading:
“The best solution to the problem of reading failure is… early identification and prevention.” — Joseph Torgesen, Researcher and Professor of Psychology and Education, Florida State University
“The idea of a ‘maturation lag’ is not supported by science. To the contrary, research has shown that if a child seems to be behind, it is critical that he receive help as soon as possible… I have yet to meet a family that feels they acted too soon.” — Sally Shawicz, neuroscientist and professor of pediatric neurology at Yale University
So – in a nutshell – if your child is having trouble, and it is not due to lack of exposure to reading activities – don’t wait. Get help.
Who can help my struggling reader?
It is important that your child gets support from a highly qualified professional that is trained in a multi-sensory approach to reading that has proven – in simple terms – to rewire your child’s brain.
The gold standard is Orton-Gillingham (Scroll down in this link for an explanation of the O-G approach.)
To find certified dyslexia tutors in your area, click on these links:
Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. You can email the Academy for a list of certified tutors in your area. They are quick to respond, and you’ll have a list within a day or two.
International Dyslexia Association –
You’ll have to scroll down to find your state first, then the list of certified tutors.
One more thing.
If someone tells you that they can provide Orton-Gillingham (O-G) tutoring once a week, look for someone else. They do not understand O-G.
O-G is an effective approach because it builds new neural connections in the brain for reading. That can only happen with an absolute minimum of two times per week, on a consistent basis.
With the right help, ALL children (and adults) can find reading success.Judy Packhem of www.shapingreaders.com is a reading specialist/ consultant and dyslexia therapist who holds certifications from both the International Dyslexia Association and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham. She tutors struggling readers of all ages in RI and Palm Beach County, FL. She also provides online tutoring for students who do not have access to local certified dyslexia practitioners.