Jan 31, 2021 • 7M

What if your child has reading-related difficulties

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If your child has entered preschool, then it's a moment of great celebration since it is the first fledgeling step towards what eventually will become formal education. Pre-school is also when children, with the assistance of their teachers, build foundational academic skills. While the joys of discovery are many during this beautiful time, some challenges might go unnoticed since we, as parents, tend not to register certain early signs of learning difficulties.

The post today discusses briefly the challenges teachers or parents might encounter when their child exhibits reading delays. You may not register them as reading delays, and perhaps they are not, but being aware is essential. 

Source: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It remains in the teacher's hands to let the parent(s) know whether or not a child is at-risk for academic success. Teachers are an integral part of identifying early learning difficulties because they observe the first signs, making it very important that teachers have either the sensitivity or the training to recognise the problem. 

Several studies have shown that teachers can help identify reading difficulties early on if they have the necessary training. They also help provide early support and thereby prevent the need for intensive intervention. The case for training or sensitisation in early-childhood education to identify learning difficulties should be addressed more forcefully through changes in policies that govern early-childhood and educators and parents' mindsets. 

In my interactions with teachers, I have often found that teachers are not specifically aware of what constitutes pre-reading skills (phonological skills, orthographic and letter knowledge, word reading ability, vocabulary, and syntactic ability). Teachers are most often disconnected from essential theoretical knowledge, which becomes problematic because then, a teachers' analysis of a learner's problem stems from a personal and simple qualitative assessment. Research indicates that the most common rationale for identifying as an at-risk student with regards to reading is problems in, for example, letter knowledge and identifying letter sounds. However, assessment should involve several skill areas related to developing reading skills. These include phonological skills, orthographic and letter knowledge, word reading ability, vocabulary, and syntactic ability (Bailey and Drummond 2006; Davis et al. 2007).

If standardised, research-based assessments help identify a reading-related problem, then teachers should be aware of what research instruments are being used in the evaluation of reading difficulties. Along with a battery of tests, teachers' knowledge, based on the observation of a student, will strengthen the assessment. Bailey et al., (2001) state that literacy checklist, teacher evaluations can become more systematised and also lead to a higher identification rate of at-risk students.

It is important to remember that while research sheds light on possible ways to detect reading delays, all readers do not display the same kind of reading behaviour. So what do some of these impediments look like in early childhood?

Some instances include:

Lack of phonemic and phonological awareness:

Phonemic awareness includes learning to map sounds to letters. Difficulties become apparent when the child cannot distinguish between the sounds say, ' B' and 'G', for example. This could lead to a problem in 'recoding' or 'decoding'. To decode, the child should have the ability to sound out words by sound-letter correspondence and blend sounds so that written text can be recognised and interpreted.

Phonological awareness includes "understanding the concept of sounds and syllables making up words, and words making up sentences. It is the ability to process speech sound information so that one can: identify and generate rhyming words; identify individual sounds; break words into component sounds and syllables; blend sounds together; count syllables, words and sounds; read nonwords; delete syllables and sounds; and substitute sounds." (https://www.slhunterspeechworks.com/Conditions/Reading-Difficulties/Phonological-Awareness).

Not having phonological awareness leads to a slow rate when reading, leading to an impairment in reading fluency, comprehension, inference etc.

You could, for instance, give your child "exception" words like "yacht." Suppose your child is unable to read new words accurately that do not follow the regular mappings between letters and sounds, in that case, there might be a problem that is sometimes referred to as poor sight word reading or poor visual word recognition. 

In other cases, there might be accurate phonological recoding and visual word recognition, but there is a struggle to read words fluently.

There is yet another set of problems, where the reader has intact phonological recoding, visual word recognition and reading fluency, but cannot comprehend the passage that was read.

Some ways to test any of these issues, as a parent or a teacher, based on age, could be by:

  • using alphabet cards for letter-sound recognition, 

  • getting children to read nonwords like YIT,

  • asking children to read word lists or sentences as quickly as they can,

  • getting children to answer questions about the meanings of paragraphs they read

If you find that there are certain roadblocks, it is always best to consult with a trained and certified assessor who can then help you understand the specific problem. 

The reason it becomes urgent to understand if there is a deficit, is because reading is a taught skill that unfolds over a period of time and requires cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and language skills etc., and the longer one waits, the further the solution or intervention gets. 

Dennis and Victoria Molfese, PhD, identify writing, alphabetic knowledge, rapid naming tasks and phonological processing as critical skills to build. According to these two psychologists, "explicit testing of these skills, combined with carefully monitoring their acquisition, can help pinpoint preschool- and kindergarten-age kids who simply aren't up to speed yet, as well as kids who suffer from bona fide reading disabilities." 

In 1985, Dennis and Victoria developed a method to spot babies at risk of developing reading disabilities at birth with an accuracy of 80%. Today, the same couple have improved their previous research to predict reading disabilities with a stunning 99% accuracy. 

While the research to understand reading difficulties is growing at a steady pace, the concurrent implementations in schools have been slow. If you spend time and keep track, you will notice wonderful things about your child. The key though is to be aware during observation so you can catch a problem early and find a way to work around it. 


Bailey, A. L., Cano, L., Fischer, D., Freeman, S., Jacobs, J., Heritage, M., et al. (2001). The LDC manual: A guide to using the Literacy Development Checklist (Rev. ed.). Los Angeles: University of California Regents.

To read more about Dennis and Victoria Molfese's studies, visit: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/04/reading-problems