For a majority of children, reading is like magic: it opens up a world of possibilities and fun activities. For parents, it’s a sign that your child is headed down the right path—on towards a gateway to growing up and learning. As grand as it sounds, the road to reading might not be as easy or magical for some other little children out there.

According to research in Canada and the U.S., approximately 30-40% of children struggle with learning to read – they are not considered at “grade level” by grade 4. However, typically these children are not “identified” or diagnosed and often do not get instruction that differs from their peers.  Often, they just get “more” of the same instruction through programs such as Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) which does not teach reading, it just provides more “whole word” reading practise in a small group or one-to-one environment.  If anything, LLI teaches a strategy of “guessing” at words; it does not teach children how to READ.

The best response is still early detection.   We have adequate assessment tools; however, assessment is costly and time consuming, and unfortunately is often by-passed or overlooked.

There is a pervasive, damaging belief that children will “catch up”, “grow out of it”, “apply themselves”, “mature”, or just “put it together”.

Children that fall behind stay behind.

AND – it is NOT a child’s fault when they DO fall behind.  Blaming a child’s maturity, engagement, or motivation is a cop-out.  The fault lies in a system that oversteps careful assessment, moves too fast to try meet curricular demands, and is one-dimensional in its approach to teaching reading.

Here are some of the major signs that your child might have a reading difficulty.

Trouble with the alphabet

It’s one thing to be young and having a bit of difficulty with identifying some of the letters, but if your child cannot recognize and name the basic 26 letters of the English alphabet by the end Kindergarten, then it’s probably a sign of trouble. Many parents may think that their child simply isn’t interested, but if they can’t get to nail down identifying every letter despite your efforts, then it’s not usually an issue of interest.  They are losing interest because it seems hard.  They notice all the other kids having success with the alphabet, and they don’t experience the same success.  So, they begin to avoid alphabet-based tasks. This is the start of a confidence and self-esteem problem.

At this stage, it’s crucial to be mindful of how you handle the situation. Grilling your child needlessly can make them anxious about learning; it can lead to deep-rooted feelings of shame.  Children may pretend they understand despite not actually “getting” letters and sounds. This could develop into more severe problems if tackled in the wrong way.

Difficulty with sound-based tasks

It’s normal if a child can’t speak a lot of words properly when they start talking, but after several repetitions, they should at least get close. If they have trouble with speaking and repeating words or sounds, then it could be a major marker for reading difficulty.

Difficulty saying words, sounding out words to read or spell, or completing phonological awareness tasks is a huge red flag about how the sound processing system is developing.

As they get older, they will have to rely on their sound processing to learn to say, read, write, and spell more complex words—which is a challenge for children who have difficulty with sound processing.

Skips around while reading

Even if your child can already read, it doesn’t mean they know how to read properly. Although it will definitely take some getting used to in order to read perfectly, if your child skips too many words while reading, then that’s a major red flag. Some kids tend to avoid words they can’t understand or read—but if they’re skipping too much to be normal, then that might be a severe sign of difficulty.

Watch for places where your child skips or omits words, or has tracking errors such as skipping a whole line or group or words.  Beyond early grade 1, it is not normal for your child to look at the first letter and then a guess a word that makes sense but looks nothing like what is on the page.  This is a sign of a child who has no strategies to approach unfamiliar words.  They are “stuck” with reading the “sight” words they can recognize, and guessing at everything else.

Recognizing a small set of words and guessing at the rest is NOT READING.

Programs that practise this are NOT TEACHING READING.

Avoiding reading altogether

We encounter many behaviours when it is time to read:  avoidance, silliness, distractedness, and defiance.  While it is tempting to label these children as “behaviourally-challenge”, the root of the behaviour is usually centred around the difficulty with reading.  Kids know it is hard; they know they are “different” than their peers who “get it”, and despite all their practise and hard-word, it just doesn’t seem to make a difference.  The child starts to internalize a message of “I’m bad, I’m stupid, I’m different, there’s something wrong with me”.  Although it is not true, this message FEELS true for children.  What child wants to experience THAT?  OF COURSE they start to act out when it is time to read, spell, or write!  That underlying internal message flies up and hits them like a slap in the face when they look down at the paper.

Instruction starts with empathy and compassion, but also ensures we are teaching reading in a logical way and starting a child’s level, and not moving ahead too quickly.  The frustration will rise up – learning to read IS hard for children with a learning difference!  It is also important; and children that learn to read not only acquire an important skill, but also learn about persistence, resilience, and emotional control along the way.


Having trouble reading as a child is no small problem – not only for children, but also for families and our society at large.  It is not something that you want to “wait on” or ignore.  By noticing the warning signs from the onset, you can pre-emptively resolve the issue, thus allowing your child a healthier learning experience.

Are you looking for a reading intervention for your child in Calgary? At Speak2Read, we support, guide, teach, and coach your child to be able to best get past their learning roadblocks. Get in touch with us today!