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Teaching a Child to Read
Early Intervention for Reading Difficulties

by The Langsford Learning Center, Louisville, Kentucky

To discover just how important reading is, talk to a third-grader who is already frustrated and struggling in school because of poor reading skills.

Or ask the student who cannot read the latest Harry Potter book or the parent who is unable to read instructions on how to assemble a toy for his child.

Learning to speak is a natural process; learning to read is not. Children are not born readers; they have to be taught.

Consensus in the reading research community is that the process of learning to read starts with phonemic awareness -the ability to distinguish the sounds, or phonemes, in words. For example, the word "cat" has three sounds:/k/, /a/,and /t/.

The next step comes in teaching children that letters or combinations of letters are the way these sounds are represented on paper. In the English language, there are 44 phonemes represented by the 26 letters or combinations of letters in the alphabet.

For proficient readers, these core steps are followed by increased vocabulary skills, fluency, and text comprehension.

Dyslexia, once thought to be a visual system defect, is now known to be a deficiency in the processing of the distinctive sounds that make up spoken and written words. Reading problems result when there is a deficit in these core phonological skills. Without intervention, reading difficulties will persist into adulthood. Time does not improve this weakness in reading.

Proficient readers are phonemically aware, understand how print represents the sounds of speech, can apply their reading skills quickly and fluently, and understand what they have read.

On the other hand, children with reading difficulties read haltingly, stop and start frequently, add or omit words, guess at words based on a bookís pictorial cues, and mispronounce words. Consequently, because for them the act of reading is so disjointed and burdensome, they are at risk of having little or no understanding of what they have read.

Children will not outgrow reading difficulties. Repeating a grade in school does not help. Data from a 13-year study that followed over 600 children shows that those who read poorly at age seven or younger rarely catch up to their peers.

Reading difficulties are not related to intelligence or effort. Boys and girls are affected at about the same rate. Boys, whose learning frustrations may translate into rowdy behavior, usually get the teacherís attention and are more likely to be referred for reading support services. On the other hand, girls with reading difficulties may quietly withdraw into daydreaming and not be noticed by the teacher at all.

Most children will learn to read easily, but for others, roughly one in five, there are factors that interfere with learning to read, such as heredity or patterns of brain organization.

Genetic studies show that reading problems cross family generations. In fact, the child of a parent with a reading problem is eight times more likely to have reading difficulties, according to a recent article in Education Matters written by G. Reid Lyon, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Lyon also cites evidence that poor readers and proficient readers have subtle structural differences in several brain regions. Research from both Yale University and Georgetown University shows that poor readers exhibit a break in the neural activity of the brainís left hemisphere, the part that is associated with language and proficient reading.

To further complicate matters, the method that schools use to decide which children are eligible for special reading services is based on there being a large enough gap between a child's intelligence and his or her academic skills. Lyon calls this the "wait-to-fail" model --we wait until a child fails at reading before making services available to the student. This is akin to waiting for your child to exhibit symptoms of tetanus before having him or her vaccinated.

Prevention and Early Intervention

Studies show that prevention and early intervention and instruction will help most students avoid reading failure, says Victoria Molfese, Ph.D., who conducts research in the development of language and cognitive abilities in young children. She is with the University of Louisville College of Education and Human Development. Molfese says there are simple activities that a parent and young child can share, such as drawing letters and practicing the alphabet, identifying objects that begin with certain sounds (boot, ball, balloon), and rhyming games. These and other activities help to set the stage for getting a good start in reading.

For some children, though, even the most energetic early reading activities and parental support may not be enough. "Identifying a child as needing extra help in reading is not a black mark, but not identifying one who needs help is," Molfese says.

Children who are at risk for reading failure must receive early intervention that includes intensive and explicit work in phonemic awareness, phonics skills, and reading comprehension strategies within a literature-rich context, according to research by the National Institute of Child Heath and Human Development.

Reading happens along a continuum. While some children need significant help, others may need little to no instruction, says Stephen McCrocklin, director of Langsford Learning Center in Louisville. Langsford Learning Center is a private reading clinic that teaches the underlying processes of reading and comprehension.

"Children who fall on the lowest end of the reading continuum will require systematic and intensive instruction," says McCrocklin. Across the continuum, though, there are students who may merely need enrichment instruction to advance their reading skills.

"The majority of students who need intervention benefit from instruction in their early years," agrees McCrocklin. But even for older students -teenagers and adults -big strides in reading can be made.

"For those with mild reading difficulties, although not labeled "disabled," their reading is inefficient," says McCrocklin.

"These inefficient readers do not read for pleasure or to learn. They are not able to read quickly. Therefore, the act of reading is cumbersome and they may not comprehend what they have read," he says. Whether a person needs intensive instruction or enrichment work McCrocklin says, "The goal is to help students become lifelong readers."

To learn more about comprehension, go to Langford Learning Center's website:

Article submitted by: The Langsford Learning Center, Louisville, Kentucky. For more information, call (502) 473-7000 or see
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Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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