7 Causes & Types of Reading Difficulties (Common reading problems and solutions)
Or rather, 7 possible causes of why your child can't read that maybe you hadn't thought of. These are just a few areas to consider if you have a child who struggles with reading or has symptoms of reading difficulties.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but perhaps one of these causes might help you and your child. Also, if you have more solutions to poor reading skills, I'd love to hear about them in the comments to help parents and teachers.
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1. Your child is just not ready. (This in itself is maybe the most common reading "problem!")
Children learn to read at different ages. It is true that the "light will come on" in your child when he or she is ready to begin reading. It's eagerly waited for by parents, but it can't be forced.
Similar to walking or potty training, reading is achieved at different developmental ages for children. All children are unique and will go at their own pace.
If you are trying to force your child to read when not ready, you are in danger of creating a hatred of reading. It would perhaps be better to "set the stage" so to speak for when they are actually ready.
Read aloud to them often, let them see you read for enjoyment, create a language-rich environment, and find ways to make reading seem to be a grand stepping-stone of life.
There are so many early childhood classic books to choose - from Goodnight Moon to The Very Hungry Caterpillar , to the many choices you can find around the corner at your local public or school library. Let them know that when they are ready, reading will be the start to many adventures in life!
2. He can't sit still long enough to read.
Have a wiggly kid who is just not focused enough to sit and read out loud? (You aren't alone) 🙂 I have a child with ADHD who has a really hard time focusing and it takes a while to even get a single page read.
"The" (wiggle, wiggle) "rat" (twirl, jump) "sat" (flings backward) "on" (hop, hop, hop) "the" (twist, wiggle) "mat." (twist, jump, flail).
Or perhaps you just have an energetic kiddo who would rather be out playing soccer, right? No shame in that game!
My advice: Let your child PLAY HARD outside after school for as much as is reasonable in your schedule before reading. Maybe try to read before or right after dinner, but not right before bed (unless you are reading TO him).
And for us, I've noticed that it takes 5-10 minutes of hopping and wiggling between every word before he can really get that cadence of reading started.
So I am ready for that "intro" time he needs to settle in to reading. I used to get so frustrated by that, but now I am better prepared, knowing he has to do his wiggling first. When we get through that, he may get some good reading in.
Let them wiggle WHILE they read if they need to. I think it is fine to coax them to try to sit still to read, but it's not helpful to get angry with them for movement they cannot help. Driven to Distraction is a great resource book on ADHD if you need a start.
3. She has a reading disability or physical impairment.
Many (and maybe most, if not all) children flip letters and read words backwards and go through all kinds of learning stages when developing at the youngest ages.
Keep an eye out though, for persistent signs of a reading disability. If you are able to catch a disability at a young age, your child can really benefit from intervention right from the start.
If not caught, it's possible your child might start to feel like she is "stupid" or "not fast enough". But there are awesome teaching strategies out there to conquer these disabilities and as your child's best advocate, you can help your child overcome right from the very beginning!
Don't be afraid of "labeling" your child (in a pragmatic way, of course) if she does have something like dyslexia or dysgraphia. Being able to SAY what the problem is can be the first big step towards finding a solution.
A physical impairment, such as needing glasses for reading and learning at school, would only take a trip to the pediatrician for referral. Just make sure you are covering all the bases. And mention to your child's general physician that he or she is having struggles with reading. Maybe she'll have some suggestions.
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For more information, Overcoming Dyslexia (see book here) is a great resource. Another possibility could be issues with your child's eyesight or other physical problems, so make sure to visit your pediatrician for anything you suspect.
And please note: I am not a reading specialist - just a fellow Mom (and former educator) who has had to address several of these issues with my own children.
If you suspect a reading disability, what harm can it do to perform a quick Google search for a reading specialist nearby and just have a chat on the phone to see what they think?
4. Your teaching is too PHONICS heavy.
Don't shoot me! I love phonics. To be sure, I think all readers are going to need a STRONG foundation in phonics instruction, beginning with phonemic awareness (the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds) in order to be a proficient reader (and speller).
But - if ALL you do is phonics instruction and you rarely read ALOUD to your child, you are not doing your part. Maybe you are diving into the mechanics of reading without having laid a foundation of loving to hear the written word - by exposing kids to great storytelling.
Children need to hear us read aloud to them. (And we need to do it well!) It fosters a love of reading and a desire to learn to eventually read for themselves. It teaches them what to listen for when reading aloud and what it should sound like.
Also, children START out differently from each other. Some children really do need to memorize a few beginning words or just hear and see the same old, same old book over and over and OVER again to begin to pick out the words you are reading on the page and start to formulate them in their mind as words to be said aloud.
The decoding of phonics may be too much for this type learner in the very early stages. In this case, if you have an eager reader, it won't hurt them to pick up a book like "Sight Words Made Simple" to get some early success in reading.
Sight Words Made Simple is chock-filled with early high frequency words (many of them sight words to be memorized anyway). The words are repeated page after page and quickly incorporated into short sentences so your reader can feel a great JOY of reading a whole sentence very early on!
Of course, you should come back to phonics to solidify what your kiddo is learning and reading and to "dive deep" into the English language to be able to become a proficient reader.
5. Your teaching is too SIGHT WORD heavy.
On the flip side of #4 above, some children's minds need the decoding right away!
If you just had some children try to memorize a word straight on, they'd not be able to remember it or retain it for long. (Remember, all our awesome kiddos are different kinds of learners!).
Maybe your child needs that early-on decoding skill to really make sense of a word or sentence. That's okay! That's great in fact! Because EVERY reader is going to need phonics to actually be reading at higher levels.
There are so many amazing phonics programs out there (Hooked on Phonics, anyone? or, consider learning apps such as ABCmouse). And also, with the likes of Pinterest, you don't even really need to buy anything crazy expensive.
Just start working with letter combinations and a strong phonemic awareness to give your child those stepping-stones of phonics that he will need in order to start picking up the words.
6. He is afraid of failure. (In a list of reading difficulties, this one can hopefully be curbed by us, as parents and teachers!)
If this is true, and you suspect that your child has a fear of failure when it comes to reading, I'd encourage you to dig deep with him and find out if something happened or is happening at school or elsewhere to make him feel this way and then address it.
Life is full of problems and kids bottle these up, but as parents we need to really TALK to our kids to find out what is on their hearts and minds.
Is he worried other kids will laugh at him when he reads aloud in class? Be a source of support and talk about that with him.
Discuss what you can do together as a team to help him prepare for the next time he might read aloud. Tackle that worse-case scenario.
And I hate to bring this up, but parent - are you being an encourager or a slave-driver? Please don't brow-beat your child for not reading well or in the way you would like.
It's not necessary to correct every. single. word. that comes out of his mouth when he is reading for you. Sure, make corrections. But don't make it so laborious that your child feels like a failure even with you in the privacy of home.
In fact, make sure YOU are contributing to success with regular daily reading aloud TO your child. (Even your older children! Everyone loves to listen to a good story.)
7. She says she HATES reading. (Another of the most common types of reading problems, especially in today's digital world!)
If you have a child who is interested in bugs and beetles, maybe consider reading a book about - wait for it - bugs and beetles! Or WHATEVER their interests may be. Graphic novels or comics are a great idea for struggling readers, too.
I'd challenge you to let your child take a week or so OFF from reading, and instead YOU read to your child. Hit the "reset" button, and try to stir up interest again.
You can branch out from there and help your child expand their horizons based on book choice, but also, let them explore their interests and their world through the printed word to their heart's desire.
There is a story out there for every niche or subject under the sun. I mean, there is a story about EVERYTHING! Just check Amazon or your local library and you'll find a book about anything you can dream up. And, speaking of grabbing kids' attention in the digital age, be sure when you get your kid a tablet to dowload Audible so you can take advantage of audiobooks for your child.
At school, the teacher may require your child to read from their own "level" (I hate this, by the way, when done in a way that embarrasses a child or singles them out). But at home? No way, Jack! Let them read what they want. (Go ahead and throw in a book or two at the level of decoding they are at.)
Speaking of this, research the difference between "leveled" books, and "decodable" books. Instead of leveled books, focus on decodable books that help your child become strong in areas of phonics that need work.
Another piece of advice I'd like to impart: When you read aloud, make sure you leave each night with a cliff-hanger. As you do read-alouds to your child, make sure there is something exciting to look forward to tomorrow.
OH! And another hint - whatever you are reading, read it IN CHARACTER. My Dad used to give us a choice: "funny or regular"? Of course, we always wanted the funny voice.
This is your opportunity to finally speak in that British accent that you love! Or to sound sinister and scary. Kids eat this stuff up - so easy and such awesome memories 🙂
What are some other reasons that you can think of that a child might not be a reader yet?
There are many, I am sure, such as other medical, emotional or developmental problems that I haven't listed. One thing rings true for all though: Be patient with your child and know that WHEN they learn to read is not as important as IF they do eventually learn to read. Look for progress.
I hope a couple of these reading problems and solutions gave you an idea as you seek to teach your child the greatest of all pastimes!