When Reading is Delayed: At-Home Strategies & Professional Assessments
By Sharon Beattie
“Mom, how come I don’t know how to read and you do?” my oldest, then a preschooler, asked one day. I had to stifle a chuckle, but she was serious. So, I went to a bookstore and bought Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She was focused and determined, but more importantly, she was ready, which made the process easy. I had no idea how our other children would fare; they were all so different. One of our children really struggled to learn to read with this book. Other signs began appearing: every letter reversed in a sentence, writing from right to left on the page, and verbal language struggles.
I was determined to help her learn this life skill so she’d feel capable and be successful. I began to research and ask questions. One elementary teacher friend assured me that at five, this is not a concern, but if it continues into ages seven or eight, I could consider testing.
But sometimes well-meaning homeschoolers suggest that it’s best to stop trying to teach reading altogether, suggesting that reading will happen when the child is ready. This, of course, can be true some of the time, but only in the absence of complex learning difficulties. Neither undue stress nor putting aside teaching reading, leaving learning reading to chance, will serve the child best, and what we want to do as homeschooling parents is help our children to learn as deeply and with as much engagement as possible.
One homeschooling mom I know (we’ll call her Lisa) began to notice a significant struggle when her daughter was young and wondered, “Is she ever going to be able to read? This is really, really hard for her.” She recognized that the way most kids learned wasn’t the way her daughter learned. Phonics didn’t work but neither did a whole language method. None of the conventional approaches seemed to help.
But Lisa did not give up.
She began to think of learning more holistically. Rather than treating reading as something separate from other areas of learning, she found ways to enrich her daughter’s learning environment by exposing her to language and literature in other ways – audiobooks, reading aloud, and shared reading – persisting in a fun and loving way. All of this exposure to language enabled her daughter to begin to deepen her vocabulary and understanding of grammar, and to think through complex ideas even though she couldn’t yet read on her own.
Lisa wisely chose to be very purposeful in helping her daughter learn and grow academically despite a significant learning delay. She eventually discovered a book called The Gift of Dyslexia in which she discovered the strategies she needed to be able to properly help her daughter learn to read. Importantly, it gave her a unique perspective about her daughter’s delay: her daughter’s learning issues were actually a type of ability and she needed to learn how to capture that ability to help her daughter learn to read. Feeling empowered by these newfound strategies, she persisted. Her daughter learned to read around age 12, progressed through high school, and obtained a university degree. Given the right tools and approach, dyslexia need not prevent someone from learning to read fluently.
Lisa maintains it was best not to have had her daughter assessed early by a professional. She didn’t want labels for her child that could be potentially damaging to her self-esteem or cause her to feel inferior. This is so important to bear in mind. As well, she felt comfortable taking the time to try out various approaches until she found something that worked.
I took a different approach.
By contrast, I considered the assessment and potential label as positive and something that would help our daughter’s learning move steadily forward. I knew I wanted the help of professionals as early as possible to prevent my daughter from feeling incapable or inferior should her struggle continue. In my view, professional assessment and direction would provide an opening for my daughter and for me to begin to understand and grow differently, in her learning and in my teaching. I didn’t see it as limiting in any way, but rather freeing.
Lisa and I both agree that having an assessment is crucial before post secondary studies. A child can still be assessed for learning exceptionalities in the high school years. Colleges and universities provide important and necessary accommodations for anyone with an exceptionality.
As parents, we all desire to help our children learn as deeply as possible, with confidence and eagerness. We want to see them thrive and grow to their fullest capacity. Even with challenges, there is so much we can do to gently help a child’s literary growth blossom.
Strategies to Develop Literacy
Use games and play
Read aloud & listen to audiobooks
Ask questions to check comprehension
Discuss ideas, make connections and predictions, critique the text
Create a flexible reading plan
Track learning progress
Have your child assessed by a professional
The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read… and How They Can Learn, By Ronald D. Davis
NILD Canada offers Rx Workshops for parents