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My child finds reading a challenge. Could it be dyslexia?

4 March 2020

Your child’s reading hour is approaching. Tension begins to fill the air. And within moments, the avoidance tactics begin. Excuses, arguments, tears – and perhaps self-deprecating comments such as ‘but you know I’m not good at reading’ and ‘I’m just not smart enough’.

Does this scenario sound all too familiar?

It’s no secret that fostering a love of reading in your child gives them a positive start in life. But what happens when your child doesn’t find reading a pleasure? And how do you know if it’s something to be concerned about?

Reading the signs

You may’ve noticed too that your child is not progressing at the same pace as their peers or as their older siblings did when they were the same age.

There are many reasons your child may be struggling to acquire their reading skills. Reading problems have been associated with speech and language delays, auditory processing difficulties and conditions such as ADD, ADHD and ASD.

But if your child has ongoing reading challenges in the absence of these conditions, you may need to take a deeper look at the individual skills involved in reading, to see where the problems lie.

Delving into the reading process

The goal of reading is to make sense of the written word – and that requires a lot of practice. It’s not an automatic or innate process of a child’s development like learning to walk or talk. It has to be taught.

However, some children struggle with acquiring this skill, even with daily instruction and substantial intervention.

Reading is a set of skills that involves the following abilities:

1. Word accuracy – the skill to sound out words or decode them. Imagine looking at a page of hieroglyphics, or another language like Japanese or Mandarin that uses unfamiliar symbols and trying to decipher their meaning. This is what it’s like for someone learning to read. They are converting symbols or blending groups of letters to form words and sounds.

2. Reading fluency – the ability to sound out words fluently and efficiently. With time and experience, this becomes automatic and a necessary part of reading aloud or silently. It includes the use of rhythm, phrasing, intonation and use of voice.

3. Reading comprehension – the ability to make sense of what is being read. It requires a lot of mental energy and involves pulling the necessary information out of the text and giving it meaning.

Defining dyslexia

Dyslexia is a common term used to describe a set of reading problems characterised by difficulties in the above reading skills. It impacts the ability to spell and write accurately.

If a child continues to struggle with reading after intervention and plenty of practice, it may indicate that they have difficulty with one, two or all three of the above processes.

Therefore, an evaluation of each of these processes is essential for diagnosis.

How is dyslexia identified?

Dyslexia normally becomes apparent during the early years of school when a child is demonstrating an unexplained difficulty in reading – despite being a capable learner in other areas.

Unfortunately, many children are not evaluated or diagnosed until they reach late primary or secondary school, or when they are failing in other literacy areas.

Some of the signs that may help identify dyslexia in early school years (Prep to Year 2) include:

  • Difficulties learning the names of letters and remembering the sounds they make. They often confuse letters that look similar (such as b, d, p and q) – or make similar sounds (such as b/p, d/t and f/v).
  • Reading a word correctly on one page, but then substituting that word for another on the next page.
  • Reversing letters of small words when reading out loud, like ‘on’ and ‘no’ or ‘for’ and ‘of’. Or skipping small words entirely and confusing similar-sounding words.
  • Trouble recognising common words and sounding out new ones quickly – and difficulties remembering sight-based words.
  • Slow and hesitant reading even after much practice with the same material. Or memorising sections of text. This becomes obvious when the child is confronted with new text of the same reading level and struggles to read the same words.
  • Challenges with comprehension despite understanding the general gist of the story, especially when there are no supporting pictures. When asked specific questions, the child struggles to locate the relevant content.
  • Poor spelling skills, often spelling the same word differently each time, or spelling phonetically.

As the reading experience is laborious, the child often avoids reading and becomes upset, withdrawn or disinterested. This can undermine their self-confidence within a classroom setting and may even be misinterpreted as challenging or defiant behaviour during literacy activities.

When is the right time for evaluation?

As you might expect, the earlier a child with dyslexia can be identified and assisted, the better. It can avoid the extra burden of secondary effects such as low self-esteem, loss of motivation for learning, social and emotional challenges and frustration.

Importantly, when diagnosis is delayed, it can take longer to intervene and by that stage the child struggles to keep up with their peers and the whole learning experience may become a negative one.

Assessing the three main reading skills and other literacy abilities to see where weaknesses lie, can help pin-point and address your child’s needs. An academic evaluation that is specific and targeted is the key to intervention and can be conducted at any stage of a child’s schooling.

Steering away from stigma

Think of dyslexia as an alternative way of learning that needs to be recognised and supported. It has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just about understanding how that person processes information.

Once you know that, you can overcome a lot of the obstacles that come with dyslexia.

Our resident expert Martha Mack is a Psychologist at Positive Psychology and has over 20 years’ experience in the field of Child Development. She was part of the Dyslexia Advisory Committee with the Victorian Education Department. Call us on 1300 995 636 to make an appointment or learn more today.