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Should I Be Concerned About Reading Difficulties?

Children Reading - Learning ReadingChildren take different paths while learning to read. For some children, learning to read may seem effortless. Others may struggle with the same kinds of learning that appears to come naturally to other children their age. So when should you be concerned?

Even when children develop differently, there is a typical or usual path of development. Many children struggle with learning at some point during their development. Most will catch up with a little bit of extra practice and individual attention. However, you are right to be concerned if a child appears to be having difficulties, especially if he or she seems frustrated.

Parents are often the first ones to realize that their child may be having trouble. Sometimes teachers mention that they are concerned, and it’s not unusual for pediatricians or health care providers to suggest “keeping an eye” on some aspect of a child's development. If a child is struggling with reading, it’s best to be proactive and take action as early as possible. Research has proven that earlier is better when it comes to providing help.

If you are concerned, you can begin by observing the child for signs that he or she is struggling with reading. Remember, most children exhibit worrisome behaviors from time to time. However, if several of these behaviors persist, you should seek the advice of qualified professionals such as educators, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists or speech-language pathologists.

If the difficulties noted below are unexpected for the child’s age, educational level, or abilities, they may be associated with dyslexia, a reading-related learning disability. A qualified diagnostician can test a child to determine if he or she has dyslexia.

Common Signs of Dyslexia: K–4th Grade Students

  • May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds.
  • Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation). Has difficulty spelling phonetically.
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors such as:
    • Letter reversals: “d” for “b” as in: “dog” for “bog”
    • Word reversals: “tip” for “pit”
    • Inversions: “m” for “w,” “u” for “n”
    • Transpositions: “felt” for “left”
    • Substitutions: “house” for “home”
  • May confuse small words: “at” for “to,” "said” for “and,” “does” for “goes.”
  • Relies on guessing and context.
  • May have difficulty learning new vocabulary.
  • May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x / =).
  • May have trouble remembering facts.
  • May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding.
  • May have difficulty planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks
  • Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.).
  • May have poor "fine motor" coordination.


Common Signs of Dyslexia: 5th–8th Grade Students

  • Is usually reading below grade level.
  • May reverse letter sequences: “soiled” for “solid,” “left” for “felt.”
  • May be slow to discern and to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other reading and spelling strategies.
  • May have difficulty spelling; spells same word differently on the same page.
  • May avoid reading aloud.
  • May have trouble with word problems in math.
  • May write with difficulty with illegible handwriting; pencil grip is awkward, fist-like or tight.
  • May avoid writing.
  • May have difficulty with written composition.
  • May have slow or poor recall of facts.
  • May have difficulty with comprehension.
  • May have trouble with non-literal language (idioms, jokes, proverbs, slang).
  • May have difficulty with planning, organizing and managing time, materials and tasks.

If you are concerned that several of these behaviors are proving consistent over time, you may want to learn more about dyslexia.

“Warning signs” are used with permission from the International Dyslexia Association web site, which lists the following two sources:

Basic Facts about Dyslexia: What Every Layperson Ought to Know - Copyright 1993, 2nd ed. 1998.

The International Dyslexia Association, Baltimore, MD and Learning Disabilities: Information, Strategies, Resources

© Copyright 2000. Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, a collaboration of leading U.S. nonprofit learning disabilities organizations.

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