My Child is Struggling to Read… Now What?
by Jennie Farrant, Reading Teacher
Reading is a complex process that takes years to develop. As soon as children are born and introduced to the sounds of oral language, they begin developing literacy skills. However, it is years later before they begin to blend sounds together to form words. Since reading is not a skill children learn overnight, it can be difficult as a parent to recognize when your child is no longer learning to read but struggling to read.
These three steps will help you determine if the challenges your child is encountering in reading are a natural part of the learning process or may indicate the presence of a learning difference.
1. Look for signs.
When people think of dyslexia, letter reversals are likely what comes to mind first. Parents of young writers may notice reversals in their children’s work and say, “My child reverses letters. Does that mean she is dyslexic?” The answer is no. On the contrary, it is developmentally appropriate for young writers to have reversals until around seven years of age.
That may leave you wondering, “So what are the signs of dyslexia?” Signs of dyslexia vary by age and can become evident as early as preschool. Preschool age children may struggle to learn common nursery rhymes, identify the name of letters, recognize their names in print, and recognize whether or not words rhyme. Children in kindergarten and first grade may have difficulty associating letters and sounds, recognizing that sentences and words can be broken into parts, and sounding out simple words. For children in second grade and above, the act of reading may be very laborious and lack automaticity or fluency. Students may also guess at unfamiliar words since they lack the skills needed to decode them. These are just a few signs that children with dyslexia may display. For a comprehensive list, visit The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
Low self-esteem and confidence may also indicate reading difficulties, even in younger students. As students enter school for the first time, they are generally excited to unlock the mystery of reading. However, if learning to read proves to be more challenging than anticipated, children may try to avoid reading or comment on its difficulty.
It is also important to consider whether your child has a family history of reading or spelling difficulties since dyslexia is often hereditary.
2. Talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns.
If you feel your child does display some of these signs, the next step is to speak with your child’s teacher about your concerns. In addition to possessing professional expertise, your child’s teacher spends several hours a day with your child and, academically, knows him or her better than anyone else!
Make sure to let the teacher know you are concerned about your child’s progress in reading and schedule a time to meet. This is not a conversation to have in the hallway during morning drop-off. Your child’s teacher will need time to gather work samples or classroom observations to support what she is seeing in the classroom and may want to invite other specialists from the school to join the conversation.
We are fortunate at The Christ School to have a community of educators who have been trained to recognize the signs of dyslexia and implement gold standard reading and spelling instruction. All of our teachers in TK-3rd grade have participated in 30 hours of Orton-Gillingham training through a Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. In addition, we have a Student Support Center that provides small-group intensive reading support to equip dyslexic learners with the skills they need to develop into proficient and confident readers.
3. Have your child evaluated by an expert.
If the teacher also has concerns about your child’s progress in reading, the next step is to schedule an evaluation by an educational psychologist. Check to see if your school has a specialist who can assist you in this process. At The Christ School, we have a Student Support Specialist who is well-connected in the Orlando area and can recommend psychologists who are experienced working with children who have specific needs.
Getting a psychological evaluation is often the most difficult, and the scariest, step for parents. However, it is one of the most integral. While it may be evident that a child is struggling to learn to read, the question is still…Why? A psychoeducational evaluation provides that glimpse into what is going on inside a child’s brain. Without an evaluation, we can still utilize various strategies and best teaching practices to meet a child’s needs, but we can only speculate about the source of the difficulties. A psychological evaluation provides a roadmap by helping us understand exactly why a child is struggling so we can tailor instruction and offer accommodations to meet those needs.
In addition, the importance of early intervention cannot be overemphasized, and children are now being identified as dyslexic as early as five years of age. Research shows that as children are identified earlier, they are more likely to need fewer hours of intervention, maintain a high self-esteem, acquire content knowledge and vocabulary, and develop a love for reading.
If you would like more information on dyslexia, diagnosing dyslexia or the programs at The Christ School, please contact Alissa Plaisance, TCS Student Support Specialist.