Help, My Child Has Trouble Reading!

Is your child struggling to read?

Maybe you’ve just been to your child’s parent-teacher conference, and the teacher has told you that your child is not reading at her grade level. Or, maybe you’ve noticed that your child struggles with her reading homework, doesn’t like to read independently or worries that she’s not as “smart” as the other kids in her class.

If this sounds familiar, it might help to know that you and your child are not alone. According to the Reading Rockets website, a non-profit focused on literacy, as many as 40 percent of children struggle with learning to read. The good news is, with the proper help, most of those children overcome the problems that are holding them back.

Time to act

Reading is just too important a skill to overlook the warning signs that your child is having trouble. If you’re concerned, here are a few things for you to do.

  • Talk to the teacher … again – Even if you’ve just come from that parent-teacher conference, schedule another meeting with your child’s teacher. Remember, during parent-teacher conferences, your child’s teacher is meeting with dozens of parents and discussing the progress of all of the children under her care. She has to be brief. But, if you’re concerned about your child, you need more information. In your next meeting, ask specific questions. Why does the teacher think your child has a problem? How far behind is your child? Does the teacher have a plan in place to help your child succeed at reading? Does the school district have a reading specialist? Ask that your child be evaluated.
  • Talk to the doctor – There are many physical issues that might contribute to a reading problem. Minor health problems may be affecting how well your child sleeps, her energy level, or her ability to sit still and concentrate. Having a check-up will allow you to address any underlying problems – or at the very least, reassure yourself that there are none.
  • Don’t forget the eye doctor – Eye problems that can affect reading go beyond the simple near-sightedness that most schools test for. These can include tracking issues, focus problems, form perception, eye coordination and even visual memory. These problems can cause blurry vision and letter reversals, but are often easily addressed with specialized glasses or eye exercises. Have your child assessed by a specialist so that you can rule out any vision problems – or take care of them.
  • Know your rights – Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – or IDEA – both you and your child have very specific rights concerning her educational journey. You have the right to ask that she be tested if you’re concerned about her progress. If the school is offering her extra help with her reading problem, even if she is not in any other special education classes, this extra help could qualify her for an IEP, or individualized education program. An IEP outlines the goals the school has for your child and how they hope to help her meet them. When your child has an IEP, you have the right to review her school records, know when the school is testing her and be involved in deciding just what kinds of extra help she will get. You can find more information on your rights here, at the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

Could it be a learning disability?

Learning disabilities are often disguised as other problems. Sometimes it may seem as if a child is just “not trying.” Sometimes it may seem like she’s just not interested in school – or reading. If you’re not sure if what you’re seeing in your child is really cause for concern, look at the list below. These are, according to the Children’s Literacy Initiative, some of the early warning signs that a child’s struggles with reading may be part of a learning disability:

  • Difficulty recognizing and naming letters and their correlating sounds
  • Struggling with rhyming games and word play – like puns
  • Avoidance of reading activities
  • Guessing what text says based on nearby picture clues
  • Inability to “sound words out”
  • Trouble copying printed text
  • Slow and laborious reading
  • Inattention and other seemingly unrelated behavioral problems

Do your part

If you have already followed the tips above and serious problems have been ruled out – or are being addressed – then it’s time to do some homework of your own. Here are some simple ways to help your struggling – or reluctant – reader right in your own home.

  • Be encouraging – If your child is struggling with reading, she already may be self-conscious about what she perceives as a “failure.” Don’t let that self-perception become permanent! Point out the small, steady improvements she’s making whenever you see them. Say things like, “That was a hard word, but you figured it out.” Or, “You didn’t know that word the last time we read this book. Look how far you’ve come!”
  • Read to your child – This may seem counterintuitive. After all, you want your child to do the reading. But, reading to your child accomplishes many things. It gets her used to the cadence of written text. It allows her to work on the complex task of comprehension without having to struggle with individual words. And, it presents reading as a fun adventure – not simply a dry and difficult task. After all, listening to a story, your child can travel to foreign lands and meet exciting characters. This can lead her to reach for a book on her own.
  • Play word games – Listen to silly jingles on the radio in your car, then make up sillier ones of your own. Read books with rhyming words or catchy rhythms, like those by Doctor Seuss or Shel Silverstein. Try to see who can make the longest sentence using words that start with a single letter, “p” for instance. Pass those perfectly pasty potatoes, please! Anything that gets your child thinking about word patterns and letter sounds is a great springboard to reading.

Reading is too important a skill to let slide. If you’re worried about your child’s reading ability, keep working on the problem until you find some solutions.

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