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Recognizing Delays – A Challenge in Lockdown

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Teachers can track… when your child’s in class

Added to the stress of managing learning from home in 2020/21 is the role families are having to play as observers, assessing whether their children are on track or falling behind.  At school, teachers are constantly observing, constructing your child’s learning identity day by day. They are vigilant, watchful – recognizing learning problems is a large part of what they do. However, teachers can only track children when your child is in class- regularly.

Detecting delays is a process that requires constant interaction between student and teacher. That’s why this year is different. That precious time where teachers observe and reflect on each child’s progress is at best limited.  And so, there is no doubt a lot of children  are falling through the cracks, going longer with their learning difficulties not recognized.

Children Try to Hide Their Delays

Tracking your child’s true progress is no simple undertaking. Children are wired to please the adults around them, teachers and families.  They know their adults want them to be readers and to be “smart.” And so, they learn to fake it as best they can, to make it look like they are doing what you want them to do.  This makes recognizing learning problems more challenging than you’d think – especially for elementary school age children.

Struggling young readers fake it by memorizing hundreds of words – rather than actually sounding them out – and they get smart about using pictures to guess missing words. Children are able to fool teachers also.  Even when school is normal, full-time, many children get into 4th or 5th grade before their reading delays are fully identified as it’s only in 4th and 5th grade that reading comprehension becomes demanding and essays start to reveal that a text was not understood.  At that age, a child who is concentrating hard still on decoding the words will get found out. As only then will the multi-tasking on decoding and reading comprehension become a tough act to keep up.  The concentration required to read the words crowds out the thinking space needed to derive the meaning.

Many parents are tuned into their child – they see things that they sense are not right.  And sometimes they are a step ahead of the school in seeking help or demanding testing or an IEP. However, more often than not, families rely on the school to take the lead, which make sense.  The school has trained professionals who understand  development paths and are paid to understand your child.

Teachers Need Time With Your Child

However, understanding the makeup of a child’s learning identity takes time – what is immaturity, what is avoidance, what is guessing, what are the signs of an underlying delay.  Identifying reading and learning issues is a moving target – the symptoms change as a child gets older. For example, early reading delays are seen in an inability to sound out words, then it’s about it’s about reading speed and knowing phonetically normal words, and then it’s about reading comprehension  – the same issue, showing differently.

And so to really understand a child and make an informed call requires consistent time with a child – to build an understanding of each child’s nature and learning identity, and then careful observation.

That kind of time, that kind of focus, is in short supply in 2020/21 for two reasons. Whether your child is at home, attending part-time or attending  school all day – this is not a normal year for two reasons:

  • Schools are complicated this year
  • Teachers have less time with each child

The business of running a school in 2020/21 because of Covid-19 is insanely complicated. For instance, New York State issued an 81-page manual of new mandates and protocols for school districts to help keep teachers and children safe and to serve  families who have chosen not to send their children to school.  This is not a normal school year, even if your child is attending school every day.

And remember, detecting learning delays is sometimes not that easy in normal times even – children want to please.

You Need to be the Detective!

And so if the school is understandably distracted this year, the recognition of learning difficulties falls more on you as the parent.  This is not as intimidating as it might seem.  You are after all the world expert on your child.  With a little bit of knowledge you can at least assist in the detective work.

And you really don’t want your child to lose a year.  If an intervention is needed, it’s best to get started.  Early intervention is important:

  • Younger brains learn faster
  • Younger learners and reader develop fewer bad habits to overcome
  • It has the potential to reduce the period of frustration where children learn to hate reading and learning

And so, if you have any concerns about your child, rather than wait until 2021/22, you can be vigilant..

Interestingly, one of the pluses in this disjointed year is that there is very likely more time in your child’s schedule for an intervention.  There is less busy work from the school, possible less sport and so more time to focus on and invest in remediating issues – setting your child up for a strong year in 2021/22.

Gemm Learning has a number of pages with symptoms checklists to help you identify learning or reading issues:

You Next Steps

If the signs of learning difficulty on any of the symptoms pages sound like your child, call us for a free consult or have your child take our free reading assessment.  These issues most often are caused by deep-seated language processing delays, which can be exercised and remediated by our home-based program. 

Our reading intervention is not for all children. If we can help your child we will say so, and if another intervention is a better fit we will recommend it.

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