Reading disability, or ‘Dyslexia’, is real. But it is not something your child was born with, it is not natural, it is not hereditary, and there is nothing wrong with your child. The prevalence of dyslexia is about 20%, with another 10% ‘at risk’, but only a vanishingly small number of healthy students will not become strong readers with proper instruction.
Does your child hate reading? Don’t assume it is because reading isn’t ‘cool’, or he (or she) would rather play sports, watch TV, or play video games. The likely reason your child hates reading is that it is slow, difficult, and humiliating.
Your child is not lazy, not stupid, and not unwilling to learn. But perhaps he or she is starting to develop behavior problems and fall behind in school. Perhaps your school has told you that he or she might have a learning disability. This is a hair-on-fire emergency, you must intervene. If you leave it too late, your child WILL develop a learning disability for real.
There are many causes behind the epidemic of dyslexia – poor teaching methods, negative social pressures, the difficulty of English orthography, and so on. But none of them are your child’s fault. Nor are they your fault. But here we are, and your child need help, urgently.
Reading develops our cognitive inventory, it teaches us about the world, and helps us learn patterns that enable problem-solving. Reading also teaches us empathy, encouraging us to see the world from the eyes of others. Reading develops focus, vocabulary, and verbal skills. And of course reading gives us a powerful tool for life-long learning.
Reading deficits have life-long consequences, almost all negative. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of high-school or university. Poor reading correlates with poor listening skills, poor time management skills, and poor concentrations; these secondary effects often continue even after the reading skills are repaired. Poor readers are more likely to have serious health problems because they cannot access health resources. Poor readers will tend to earn less than their peers, suffer more from psychiatric disorders, develop emotional problems, and have lower self-esteem.
There is value in being ‘street-smart’ but the world is run by people with book-learning and academic credentials. Many upbeat websites chirp about the ‘gifts’ of dyslexia, but you should do everything in your power to ensure your child doesn’t receive them.
We greatly underestimate the time and effort required to become a strong reader, and how early that effort starts. Children begin playing with alphabet blocks at age 3 and don’t become competent readers until middle school. Skilled reading requires intense, sustained effort spanning almost a decade.
A student that falls behind faces grave obstacles. The first is simply that weaker readers fall further and further behind. Stronger readers tend to read more and improve their reading skills, which encourages them to read even more and improve even faster. Catching up requires a weak reader to read MORE than a strong reader, and to gain skills faster than a strong reader – almost an impossibility.
Worse, a student that falls behind quickly develops self-defeating behaviors. They tend not to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid. They avoid trying because they want to avoid the pain of failing. They develop poor self-esteem. They start skipping school.
The treatment for dyslexia is proper instruction, delivered with intensity and sustained for long periods. Our Community Reading Program pulls students out of school for intensive daily training. These students often gain as much as a year in reading skill per month, but many start five or six years behind. Sustaining this intense pace for six months is onerous, but nothing else works.
Reading is a set of skills, honed to automaticity through drill and practice. Some of the skills seem obvious, like tracking a line of text across the page from left to right, but they still require practice until they are accurate and effortless.
The good news is that skills are just skills. Skills can be taught, and can be learned. There is no ‘disability’ in missing a skill. We believe that helping a child learn to read is mostly a matter of identifying missing skills, explicitly teaching them, and then encouraging the child practice his new skills through reading.
In Grade 3 students must switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. About 20% of students don’t make that switch, and can’t read at the minimum level required for their schoolwork. They are wasting their time in school and likely preventing the rest of the class from learning as well. But you won’t hear any of this from the schools that your child attends, the ones that send you a cheery report card twice a year telling you all is well.
Without strong reading skills, your child is falling behind his peers. Closing the gap requires systematic, one-on-one intervention to repair the skills and then catch up. Intensive interventions work best, ideally 10 hours per week. A less intensive intervention, 4-5 hours per week, will simply slow the rate of failure. Less than that is ineffective.
You can advocate for an IEP but your child isn’t going to get that much help. His or her teacher has 25 other kids to worry about. Your child might get accommodations and modifications, but that just kicks the problem down the road, perhaps beyond when remediation is possible. Work with your school, but supplement with drills at home. Hire a tutor. Hire the college student next door. But don’t wait another day.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure your child’s education. Everything you need is on this website.
Let’s get started.