Reading is an essential skill vital for thinking, learning, and comprehension. If your child is having trouble reading, they may have a hard time catching up with other kids, socializing, communicating, and more.
Learning and thinking differences in brain functionality and development can make reading challenging for children. Your little one can get better at reading with the proper reading support. Here are some conditions that may affect their learning and the strategies on how you can help them address these:
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is an increasingly common mental health disorder that impacts children’s ability to focus their attention, organize, plan, and maintain self-control. Their working memory is also affected, making it harder for them to remember and use information.
If your child has ADHD, they may have trouble with reading due to problems with their working memory. This can impact learning of letters, letter-sound correspondence, and learning of words that are stored in their sight vocabulary. It can also impact their learning overall – often these children require longer therapy times, more review, and tend to learn at a slower rate unless very interested and motivated. ADHD often impacts comprehension for both listening and reading.
To cope with these challenges and boost their reading skills, come up with fun-filled activities that can help them maintain their attention. Some actions you can consider doing are taking regular breaks, embedding games, making charts, reading aloud, or acting out scenes. Multi-sensory and movement-based learning games can be good activities if they are not too distracting. Timely cueing to draw their attention to errors, to remind them of something they know but are not activating/retrieving, and breaking larger tasks down into sequences or parts are effective ways to teach them a “process” to complete complex activities like reading.
For an activity like writing, pre-writing and writing across several drafts for specific purposes can be effective. Using story maps, concept webs, outlines, diagrams, and adult-facilitated revision are all helpful ways to support a large working memory and organizational task like writing.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that can make your little one’s reading challenging due to problems with word identification and recognition. Some schools of thought think that Dyslexia does not truly exist; that careful assessment will find a more appropriate diagnosis (e.g., language disorder) and that appropriate therapy WILL teach a student to read.
Typically, when there are word reading problems, children are re having difficulty identifying speech sounds and connecting these to their corresponding letter symbols, making it hard for them to read accurately and fluently. Aside from reading, this condition can also affect your child’s ability to comprehend, count, or do math, write, or spell.
Often the response is to do a lot of connected reading and have children figure out words from context. This often leads to guessing. Unfortunately, it is the opposite of what these children need. While I do encourage a lot of connected reading (facilitated by a trained adult that knows effective ways to cue and prompt, rather than “does that look right”).
Students with dyslexia need explicit, frequent, systematic instruction in simple and advanced phonological and phonemic awareness skills. They need instruction in letter-based knowledge and letter-sound correspondence. They require phonics to learn how letters and sounds relate. They need practise with reading and spelling single words, out of context. They need this instruction presented in a logical sequence, at their level. Too often children are taught at their grade level; it is no wonder so many children have extreme emotional reactions to reading.
If your child is in grade 4 and reads at a grade 2 level, they should not be required to do grade 4 reading work. Period. We can customize the content and activity to make it age appropriate, but the underlying skill that we are instructing needs to be a match for a child’s learning level. Unfortunately, this very rarely happens.
When supporting a student with Dyslexia, it is extremely important that you provide intensive practise with the underlying skills required for reading as well as opportunities to practise reading. Providing practise ONLY in reading paragraphs etc. will not yield results; just tears and behaviours.
Autism often impacts reading comprehension and writing organization. With Autism, the primary deficit is in social awareness, comprehension, and cognition. This often impacts perspective taking which is important to comprehension of children’s stories: what is the theme or moral of this story? What is the author trying to have us think about? How did the character feel in the story? What do you think motivated the character to behave that way? These questions go “beyond the stated text” and require social inferencing and thinking.
Similarly, in writing tasks, we write with an audience in mind; we write from the perspective of someone else – to convince them of something, evoke something, promote understanding, to entertain – there is always a purpose to writing and certain audience that we right for. Getting into the mind of another is very challenging for students with Autism.
Practise with perspective taking, guided comprehension questions, and adding more supports to the writing process (e.g., templates, organizers, sentence frames) can often support literacy development in Autism. Supplementary vocabulary interventions may be warranted based on assessment results, as much of the vocabulary we learn is contextual and requires social awareness.
What Is Slow Processing Speed?
Good question. I don’t know. IT seems like kind of a “catch all”. There are many different kinds of “processing” that we can assess. Some children are slow to respond to any stimulus; but more often children have a “profile” regarding their processing abilities – some things are slower and some are faster, rather than truly having a “slow processing speed”.
When it comes to reading, anytime the underling skills are not “automatic” we will often get a slowdown in processing speed – how long children take to respond, how long it takes them to read, or how long it takes them to print letters or write sentences. Some children are not slow, but then they are often inaccurate in their work (e.g., spelling or reading aloud).
When speed of processing is a concern, it is warranted to complete an assessment of the cognitive profile with a psychologist.
When processing speed seems slow specifically around language – speaking, listening, reading, writing, or spelling, I recommend having a comprehensive language assessment completed. It is likely there are some underlying skills that are low (and these skills usually respond to therapy).
Regardless of the cause of your child’s reading difficulties, the good news is that you have many options to help them improve their reading skills and level. Your strategies should be fun, engaging, and enjoyable to encourage them to learn and read more smoothly, such as incorporating games, books with pictures, roleplays, personalized interest topics, and more into your activities.
Your activities and strategies should be at your child’s level so as not to “confront” your child with insurmountable tasks. You may need to switch activities often or break up work into manageable chunks of time. You may need to establish a motivating end-goal or reward. Breaking complex activities into manageable skill-based training yields results – and confidence. The great news is that almost all underlying skills respond to therapy. However, it usually needs to be intensive – you must make that commitment to the time, energy, and possibly money to alleviate the difficulty.
I disagree with throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. There are many reading activities out there that are commonly used that simply don’t work. This is a waste of time, energy, and resources. We need to stick to the skills and activities that have been proven to work; and those that assessment shows us need support and practise.
I also disagree with “pigeon-holing” children. I see this ALL THE TIME. A clinician will say “I’m trained in … (Lively Letters, Orton-Gillingham, LLI) and then ALL the students they see get the SAME instruction. This is downright ludicrous. You may be teaching a child skills they already have; you may be trying to teach them a skill that is “over-reaching” (they don’t have the necessary foundational skills); or you may be using activities and strategies that don’t match their learning profile. In the worst case, with programs such as Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI), instructors are using programs, materials, and strategies that research has shown us to NOT work. To me, this is actually doing HARM, despite the best intentions to help.
The worst part of this? When these programs don’t work, it is the STUDENT that gets blamed (e.g., “he can’t pay attention, he doesn’t want to try/apply himself, he doesn’t do the homework).
What’s important to me? Comprehensive assessment, and then an instructional plan to match that individual profile. Knowing the cause of your kid’s reading problems is the first step to helping them address their learning difficulties. Find ways to make reading less frustrating for them by identifying their condition and reaching out to a reliable speech-language pathologist right away.
Help your child overcome learning difficulties with our reading programs in Calgary. Book a call today to learn more about what we offer!