Learn from those who have gone before you!
Parents are not experts in finding reading help for their kids or being able to read a learning diagnosis. It’s not what they imagined parenting would be about. But actually, figuring out the right path for your child and reading is a big deal.
For many children, their reading difficulties define who they are, and it impacts self-esteem. While others don’t take it to heart, at the very least reading difficulties detract from their enjoyment of school and it slows their learning progress.
Read about this from child’s viewpoint here. This article is an attempt to provide an objective perspective – pointers for parents on finding help for a struggling reader. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Interventions vs tutoring and accommodations
- How to see problems earlier
- Do not underestimate the brain’s potential to change
- Online programs need professional support
#1, Interventions and Accommodations – They’re Different!
Many parents start out looking for reading help, without really thinking about the kind of help they need. This is key:
- Interventions – going after root causes, trying to remove impediments to reading
- Accommodations – the focus is keeping on grade, from not falling further behind
A classic accommodation is tutoring, another one is moving your child to the front of the class, another one is taking ADHD medication. None of these do a thing to address the underlying difficulties, but they can help make each day easier.
Accommodations tend to be ongoing – costs add up. Interventions, on the other hand, are trying to change your child’s present and future. They tend to one-time programs, taking from a few weeks to many months.
Because most interventions include individualized attention and professional involvement, they tend to expensive. And they don’t always work. But if they do work, they are oftentimes life changing — hence the glowing testimonials — and they can save a ton of money on accommodations longer term.
#2, How To See Problems Earlier
Parents are not learning clinicians, and so they are often late in recognizing their child has a problem. They only see the tip of the iceberg. When they hear from the teacher, see their child resisting reading or taking too long over homework, they will act.
But by then it’s often quite late in the story. In the first 5-6 years of life, the clearest clues of a reading problem lay outside reading. There are two major sources of reading delays that are often evident at age five. They are delays in:
- Language processing
- Sensory processing
Symptoms of language processing delays include rhyming difficulty at 3 years of age, difficulty following multi-step directions, problems with background noise or limited vocabulary. Reading is a language skill. A child will struggle to learn letter sounds if weak language processing is making it hard to even hear the sounds inside words. Here are some other early clues.
The second delay that can hold children back is sensory processing or sensory integration. If the senses are not in sync, a child’s focus is impacted. In the early years, this lack of sensory integration might show up in unusual difficulty catching a ball, riding a bike or knowing where to be on a sports field.
If a child exhibits signs of delay in language processing or sensory processing, he should be considered an at risk reader. And really, in these cases, where the signs away from reading are clear, there is a case for an early reading intervention. On the other hand, if none of these symptoms are present and your child is struggling with reading, then patience is more warranted. Reading is a difficult skill to master and some child just take longer to get started.
#3, Don’t Underestimate the Brain’s Potential to Change
Despite knowing about neuroplasticity, for instance that stroke victims who lose 97% of their brains can relearn most life skills using the last 3%, parents struggle to project that kind of life transformation onto their child.
And so there is still a significant amount of skepticism about the value of learning interventions and brain training regimens that seem to promise a short cut to better reading, too good to be true.
There is a now overwhelming body of evidence that the brain is plastic, that it will respond to exercise and that much of the change these interventions reports is real. At the very least, it’s worth checking out.
#4, Online Programs Need Professional Involvement
Finding effective help for a struggling reader is not getting any easier. There are a number of cheap or free online apps parents can try. However, the track record of home-based programs without oversight is horrible.
Not only are there compliance problems – without oversight it just doesn’t get done – there are almost always curve balls, unexpected progress or lack of progress that needs professional judgment. While all of these programs have a cost attached, in a way, the bigger cost is the time and effort they take – for you and your child.
And there’s the fact that anything you choose takes a toll on your child. And so you need to pick your spots and go with programs that give you the best chance of working. And so, if you and your child are going to embark on a program, choose one that has supervision — at a center or at home with remote oversight. That gives you the best chance of success.
Think Long Term
Day to day there’s pressure to focus on the next obstacle — tonight’s homework, next week’s test, etc. That’s natural, because those are the loudest and more pressing needs.
However, particularly if your child is not yet in high school, these issues can surely wait. There”s plenty of time to focus on grades and getting into college. The bigger picture, the longer term priority in these years has to be building a foundation for life success, focusing on the fundamentals, the building blocks of learning.
Passing next week’s test does not amount to anything if it detracts from time that could be spent on building that learning foundation and that means working on the underlying delays that are holding your child back. We know that might not be what you are hearing from teachers and others, but you know that’s the right call.