“It would really pain me when I used to hear my son read and he’d look at a word and couldn’t for the life of him try and sound it out. He just couldn’t do it”.
That’s how Alice, his mother, told me of her distress when she would try to help her son Ryan, aged 8, practise his reading. Ryan was falling behind his classmates at school and he started to think he was “dumb”.
Ryan was having tutoring for his reading problems and it was helping but Alice thought it just was “just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, but not fixing his underlying difficulties.”
If this sounds like you and your son or daughter, what can you do to help? There are plenty of ways to encourage reluctant readers, but what if your child is actually struggling to learn to read?
Here are 7 things that parents can do right now:
- Take action. Most children do not grow out of their reading difficulties.
- Be understanding & compassionate, as this will reduce your child’s frustration, and yours too!
Understand your child’s reading reluctance is not because he or she is “lazy”. Children are natural learners, they are inquisitive, they want to learn, and want to be doing what their friends are doing. So they are motivated to learn to read. But if they find it hard because of some underlying “reading glitches” in their brain, they can quickly become demoralised and demotivated.
- Talk to your child's teachers – because teachers will have extra insight your child’s particular reading struggles.
- Make sure child’s eyesight is ok. This might seem obvious. But of course children will not find it easy to learn to read if they have poor sight, or other visual problems like the ability to track their eyes smoothly from left to right across a page.
- Get an assessment by a reading specialist. Reading is complex. It does not occur naturally for most kids.
There are many reasons why a child can find reading difficult. Once poor sight is ruled out you need to identify any underlying reading issues, such as language disorders.
Some children have difficulty distinguishing between similar sounds such as “ta” and “da” or “pa” and “ba”. This can make it hard for them to link the sounds of spoken language to the letters that represent them - a fundamental skill needed to learn to read.
Research, including brain-imaging studies, shows that trouble recognising separate sounds in spoken language is a major cause of reading difficulties. At the most fundamental level it all boils down to what is happening in your child’s brain.
So find a specialist, such as a speech pathologist, educational psychologist or other reading expert and have your child’s reading & underlying skills assessed.
- Consider using a neuroscience program to address any weaknesses in the areas of your child’s brain that are involved in reading. To understand how this can work, you can read Chapter 3 of Dr Norman Doidge’s best selling book, “The Brain That Changes Itself”.
- Get them a good reading tutor
Now, find your child a good reading tutor to build on the changes in the reading parts of their brain and supplement their school reading lessons. The tuition will now be much more effective and you will see your child’s reading improve.