What to do if Your Child is a Struggling Reader

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Learning to read is a challenge for ~40% of kids. With early intervention, most reading problems can be prevented. Unfortunately, parents often wait about a year or more to seek help after they notice their child has difficulty reading.

What Does Difficulty Reading Mean?

Reading difficulties occur on a continuum with a wide range of students who have been diagnosed with a reading-related disability or learning disability to those who are not diagnosed but still require targeted reading assistance.

Risk Factors

Some student may be more likely to develop reading difficulties such as students with parents who have a history of reading difficulties, who have been diagnosed with a specific language impairment or have a hearing impairment, or do not display emergent literacy skills (e.g., vocabulary, print motivation, print awareness, narrative skills, letter knowledge, phonological awareness) during preschool.

Why Early Intervention is Important

Stanovich used the “Matthew Effect” to describe the phenomenon in reading where children who start well continue to do so, while those who do not have a tougher time catching up. Not only is it difficult to catch up, but there is also a widening gap between those who have difficult reading from the get go and those who do not. Stanovich created a model describing how problems with early phonological skills can lead to a downward spiral where eventually other higher cognitive skills are affected.

Phonological Awareness vs. Phonemic Awareness vs. Phonics

  • Phonological awareness is the all-over awareness of sounds in spoken words and the ability to identify and manipulate those sounds.
  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
  • Phonics, on the other hand, refers to knowledge of letter sounds and how to apply that when decoding unfamiliar printed words. Phonemic awareness refers

*Note: Children who have more difficulty with phonological awareness and phonemic awareness are at greater risk for reading difficulty.

What Reading Difficulties Look Like

  • For the child: The child may express frustration with statements like, “I hate reading.” They may express they don’t know any words that rhyme. They may not know what you mean if you ask them to break down what sounds are in a word and/or whether or not words have the same sound (e.g., cat/bat). They also may have a hard time counting syllables. It is important to note how difficulty reading can affect self-confidence in many children.
  • For the parent: You may notice a reluctance to participate in reading activities. Maybe you notice difficulty with rhyming or sounding out words.
  • For the teacher or therapist: Their teacher may mention the child doesn’t correctly complete blending activities (e.g. put sounds /b/ /a/ /t/ together to make bat) or phoneme substitution activities like changing the /b/ in bat to /k/ and make “cat.” The teacher may notice difficulty counting syllables, rhyming, and/or spelling or sounding out new words.

How Can You help?

  • Model fluent reading. First and foremost, children are the best imitators. Who is your child’s model reader? It is helpful for the child to have an understanding of what reading should look like. Read aloud to your child so they can hear what reading aloud sounds like and understanding prosody (e.g., pausing at the end of sentences, rising intonation with a question mark, etc.).
  • Ask your child to read aloud. Have them focus on accuracy rather than speed.
  • Define key novel vocab before reading. Identify new or potentially challenging words. Before reading, practice new words by themselves. Help teach the correct pronunciation and meaning of the words.
  • Notice your child’s strengths. Be sure to tell them when you see them excelling at something.
  • Celebrate success, every time. Give a high five or good job after every single success.
  • Relate to your child. Share your own difficulty. Let them know that even when things are hard, you keep trying.

How Can we Help?

We have a reading specialist as well as several speech-pathologists who are willing able to work with you and your child to help them learn the skills necessary. Amidst COVID-19, you can be rest-assured knowing Worldwide Speech has over 10 years of experience working via telepractice. Head to our website to schedule a free consultation!

Keep calm and read books lettering text and cute open book with pink glasses, stars and mug with hot tea with ginger. Flat vector illustration on isolated background.

*Note: All gifs retrieved from giphy.com


About Reading Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, and Reading Difficulties

What are these Matthew Effects?

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness: Introduction

Helping Struggling Readers

Seeking Help for a Struggling Reader: 8 Steps for Parents

Self-Esteem and Reading Difficulties

Recognizing Reading Problems

Early Signs of a Reading Difficulty

Five Ways to Help Struggling Readers Build Reading Fluency

Ten Things to Help Your Struggling Reader – Yale Dyslexia