Sumaira is a cheerful and naughty third-grader. She loves to play and help her teachers in classroom activities. However, when presented with any reading work or asked to take notes from the board, she tends to avoid it. Despite being an imaginative child, Sumaira refuses to read stories or texts. Is Sumaira simply being adamant or does she have trouble reading?
If this sounds similar to what your child is going through, it might be because she has reading disability. Learning to read is, in itself, a complex process involving visual and auditory skills. The child needs to understand basic alphabet principles, have phonological awareness and be able to decode words in order to read them. However, many children learn to overcome these difficulties by themselves or with the help of an adult. For some children though, reading difficulty persists even as they go through different grades and reading levels.
So, what is ‘reading disability’ and how is it different from reading difficulty?
Reading disability can be associated with dyslexia, a condition, where a child has persistent difficulties in learning to read. This often results from difficulties with the auditory processing of language and hinders accurate and fluent word-reading. This, in turn, results in problems with understanding the text or phrase that is to be read.
However, it is a common misconception that a person with dyslexia sees or writes letters and numbers backwards. Many children read the letters of the alphabet or numbers backwards and it is a natural step in the learning curve. This phenomenon happens with dyslexic children as well but it is not necessarily the only factor that contributes to its diagnosis. Many children have difficulty reading because of poor instruction received from teachers. They may also have negative experiences pertaining to reading. Some of the difficulties they may face are deficits in phonological awareness, processing speed or comprehension.
According to a recent study, ‘Helping children with reading difficulties: some things we have learned so far’, published by McArthur and Castles (2017) in the journal Science of Learning, ‘a substantial proportion of children struggle to learn to read. This not only impairs their academic achievement, but also increases their risk of social, emotional and mental health problems.’ Therefore, it is important for you to recognise your child’s need for an individualised intervention programme to overcome his difficulties in reading.
While most patterns of reading difficulty are easily recognised in classrooms and home, reading disability and other associated specific learning disabilities can only be diagnosed by a clinical psychologist in appropriate settings.
Early signs of reading disability in your child
- Difficulty in word recognition
- Confusion between letters and their sounds
- Trouble remembering words or letters of the alphabet
- Difficulty in reading aloud
- Lack of expression while reading
- Inability to comprehend phrases and sentences
- High distractibility during reading
- High avoidance of reading tasks including ‘acting out’ or ‘school absenteeism’
Dealing with your child having these difficulties can be agonising and stressful. However, the good news is that most difficulties can be overcome with the right remedial intervention, patience and a positive parenting attitude.
Tips to help your child read
- Talk to your child’s teacher to understand your child’s reading difficulties and associated behaviour patterns in school.
- Take a breather and think of constructive steps with an open mind. Criticising, scolding or blaming your child because you are upset can be a big blow to his self-esteem.
- Consult your paediatrician to rule out organic or medical causes that could impede your child’s ability to read. For example, a simple ophthalmological consultation and glass prescription could help her read better or the endocrinologist can detect an organic problem that manifests as learning disability.
- Consult a clinical psychologist or an educational psychologist to evaluate your child’s developmental, educational and family history in relation to the standardised screening tests.
- Talk to the school authority about your child’s evaluation and assessment. Many schools have a good inclusive set-up with a full-fledged remedial reading and writing programme. It is important to be open to your teachers about the nature of his problems.
- Encourage him to read stories and books that are skill-appropriate in place of prescribed books.
- Tuitions and extra coaching classes will not help; they will only make her feel frustrated and worthless. So, don’t engage her in that way.
- Choose an appropriate remedial intervention programme offered by a trained special educator with emphasis on increasing phonological awareness, decoding skills, sight word vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Following are some of the programmes that can help him read:
- There are pull-out programmes offered in remedial centres, where the child is given intensive intervention for a year or two, following which the child can return to mainstream school.
- After-school remedial centres offer one-on-one services or offer classes in small groups where children are taught reading, writing and comprehension.
- Ensure a good follow-up with the remedial educator and understand the strategies in mainstreaming. Don’t be in a rush to finish your child’s remedial programme.
- Encourage your child to play, make friends and participate in a lot of activities. This will boost her self-esteem and motivate her to learn better.
- Many schools make an effort to sensitise their students on special educational needs. This helps in inclusion. Such schools have seen better learning outcomes and lesser cases of merciless teasing and bullying. Try to enrol your child in such schools.
- School boards such as IGCSE, ICSE, CBSE or State Boards encourage inclusive education and emphasise the need to have individualised educational plans in the school including giving an oral exam or submitting a project in place of a school exam. Empower yourself with the Right to Education Act (RTE) and take help from Parents-Teachers Association, if necessary, to deal with difficult school managements.
- Look for options in Alternate Education like Waldorf Schools or Open Schooling, where your child has options to choose subjects. Encouraging special talents in him, like giving lessons in gymnastics or fabric painting, could pave the path for a suitable career for him in the future.
Most children eventually overcome their reading difficulties with the help of parents, school teachers, special educators and friends. Early development of reading skills is essential, and efforts should be made to identify children with reading disabilities and implement interventions at an early stage. A holistic approach to the understanding and intervention of learning problems could bring out marvelous results!
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