We’re coming up on fall teacher conference season in my area. I’m scheduled to see my child’s teacher in a few weeks to take a look at some of his work, here the good and bad news about his progress and make plans for how I can support him at home as the year goes on. Usually, my son’s teacher and I are on the same page about what he’s great at and what he needs. But what you go in with concerns about your child’s reading and the teacher doesn’t share them?
When to worry about your child’s reading
When is dyslexia diagnosed?
Learning to read in kindergarten, first and second grade can be a messy process. Students all come to school with different levels of skill and different language backgrounds. They are learning how to be students – how to line up, sit at desks, follow directions. And somewhere, in all of that, the teacher is taxed with teaching students how our system of written language works. Yet for most kids, by the end of about second grade, they are reading fluently and ready to take on new books and new challenges! Nancy Young, creator of The Ladder of Reading & Writing model, estimates that about 45% of kids learn to read in a way that seems pretty effortless.
The other 55% of students (that’s more than half!) need consistent, explicit instruction in how reading and spelling work. They need to be taught the sound represented by each grapheme (letter or group of letters that spells a sound in words). They need to learn to manipulate language sounds out loud (phonemic awareness) and blend sounds together smoothly to form a recognizable word. They need to be able to work with syllables and notice if a word has a prefix or suffix that affects the meaning.
Within that 55% of students who need explicit phonics instruction, some – 10-15% of all students – will need lots and lots of intensive practice and teaching with phonics. This number correlates roughly with the number of dyslexic students. That doesn’t mean that all struggling readers are dyslexic, or even that all dyslexic readers will struggle to learn to read. But those numbers taken together do suggest that in a class of 20 first graders, at least 3 will need some intensive instruction to become readers.
Often, schools use a “response to intervention” approach to identify students with learning disabilities (dyslexia is an example of a specific learning disability in reading and schools tend to use that term instead of dyslexia). That means they may put the student in small groups, give them extra instruction in the skill areas where they struggle, or bring in additional materials. Done well, this process can fill in skill gaps for students who struggle and also help to identify students who need the most help. Done poorly, this process can waste a child’s time with unfocused or ineffective instruction and delay testing and identification that gets them the support they need.
Dyslexia is diagnosed by a qualified professional, through a combination of formal testing, observation, and an educational history. It is often left to the parent to initiate and push through this process. But deciding to “wait and see” can have grave consequences for children as the months and years tick by without their reading problems getting solved!
Will dyslexia go away?
Dyslexia can be remediated, meaning the skills a child struggles with (repeating multisyllabic words, decoding, spelling, fluency) can be taught. But a child with dyslexia grows up to be an adult with dyslexia.
With the right teaching and plenty of support, many dyslexic adults are successful. They may choose careers where reading isn’t a barrier. They may also choose to tackle lots of challenging reading that is worth it to them because they are curious and passionate about what they are learning. But they are still dyslexic. They will benefit from accommodations and tools like audiobooks, spellcheck, note-taking strategies, speech-to-text, and a family member or friend who will edit their written work.
Will dyslexia go away for children whose needs aren’t met in school?
Ignoring a child’s reading struggles in the hopes that they will “catch up” or believing that they are “late bloomers” is a harmful practice leftover from the days of whole language teaching. Teachers used to think that if we just fostered a love of reading and read to kids enough, they would eventually catch on.
In many schools, these “late bloomers” don’t bloom at all. Instead, they become below average students who “miss a lot of details,” “have a bad attitude” about schoolwork, and become anxious, depressed, or disruptive in the classroom. And who can blame them? They’ve been sitting in these classrooms for years, being told to “try harder” when their educational needs are being ignored!
If this describes your child, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!
So what should parents do about dyslexia?
If your child is struggling to learn to read, they need your love and support, and they also need better instruction. Often, it falls to the parents to advocate for their children. This may begin with asking the teacher for data about your child’s reading, from classroom assessments. Be sure to get your child’s score and ask what the expectation is for students in their grade at this time of year.
If classroom instruction isn’t moving your child along to where they need to be, you can request a special education evaluation from the school district. Even if your child attends private school, your local school district is responsible for conducting the testing and, if necessary, offering services.
Once the testing is complete, the school may offer an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. This document, written for a student with an educational disability, lays out the instruction your child needs to make effective progress in the curriculum. It will include goals (what the district plans to achieve in a year), accommodations (supports like study guides and audiobooks that will help your child access her schoolwork) and services, a specific number of hours or minutes during which your child will get specialized instruction, every week, throughout the school year.
The IEP process is complex, but there are lots of resources out there to help you make sense of it. I recommend starting with your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter. Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parents and professionals working to improve education for students with dyslexia. They are an incredible resource for information and advocacy as you support your child.
Watching your child struggle with reading is disheartening and scary. We know how much reading they are expected to do in school, how many tests they must take between now and graduation. We picture them struggling to read a menu or a job application. We hear them cry over homework or fight over getting ready for school.
Becoming an expert in dyslexia and reading challenges on top of supporting your child through her school days is a lot to take on. But the rewards – a happier, more confident child, proud of her new skills and ready for new challenges – is an outcome worth fighting for.
If your child is struggling to learn to read, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!