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How You Can Build a Better Reader

Research shows that 88 percent of reading disorders are caused by problems in sound recognition and awareness. Understanding your child's skill levels in these areas will help lay the foundation for solid reading for a lifetime.*

by Sabra Gelfond, M.A., CCC-SLP
National Speech/Language Therapy Center

Learning to read begins when a child first hears spoken words. The sounds of our language form early patterns children use to speak and eventually, to read. For children to learn to read successfully, they must start with a strong foundation of sound awareness and build on it by incorporating more difficult, abstract skills.

You can compare the process of learning to read to building a house. A well-built structure requires a strong foundation or the underlying weakness will cause problems over time. The same is true in "building" a better reader.

Without the right foundational skills, learning to read can be very difficult.

For some children reading comes easily because underlying skills develop properly, but for the children with weak skills, reading difficulties become evident as early as grades 1-3 and can remain for life.

Foundational skills are critical for your child's reading development. In most cases, parents know their child(ren) best. You can better detect if your child is at risk for reading problems by understanding the following stages of learning to read:

Here are just a few of the free and fun brain-training games Gelfond recommends:

  1. Laying the Foundation: Sound Awareness

    In order to read, children must first understand that spoken language (words) is made of individual sound segments (phonemes). Most children acquire this phonemic awareness by the end of kindergarten or beginning of first grade. For example, in "hat" the child must hear three phonemes: /h/, /a/, and /t/. If the child has trouble processing or segmenting these sounds, he or she will have trouble reading fluently and learning to read itself will be a painstaking process.

  2. Raising the Structure: Sounds Combined…Phonics

    The next level of learning to read includes learning phonics (the mechanics of sounds within words). Children need to learn and practice fundamental principles blending sounds and associating sounds and symbols. If phonemic awareness is weak there will be difficulties here, too. Decoding and word recognition problems are typically due to problems with phonemic awareness (linking speech sounds to letters.)

    Additionally, children must understand that spoken language is represented by letters put together to make the words we speak. In typical development, children point to road signs, labels, and familiar words, and associate sounds with them. This is critical to build on a solid reading foundation.

  3. Finish the House: Become Automatic

    Children also develop accuracy and fluency to set the stage for enhanced comprehension. It’s not enough to have phonemic awareness and understand phonics. He or she must practice until enough recognition, speed, and an automatic approach to reading develops. For some children this step will take longer than for others, but for those with weak auditory processing skills it will be almost impossible.

  4. Enjoy the Finished Home: Gain Comprehension

    Finally, children develop comprehension skills, the real reason for reading. Comprehension needs to be fostered. At this step, parents should encourage their child to talk about what she reads and help her with abstract information (how or why something happens). This goes beyond simple recitation of the facts.

    This can even be accomplished with a very young child. Over time, imagination and a desire to learn more will be ingrained that can only be satisfied through a lifetime of reading.

    The process of reading is a continuum with more difficult, abstract skills building on the basic ones. Once foundational skills are firmly in place, we can comfortably build the infrastructure, knowing we are building on solid ground and solving problems before they begin.

  5. Building Better Readers is a Process

    Many parents and teachers put off assessing a child's reading difficulties because they believe the problem will be outgrown. This simply is untrue. Studies have consistently shown that children who read poorly in early years continue to exhibit reading difficulties throughout high school and beyond without appropriate intervention.

    Parents are key to getting children on the right track to reading. Remain alert to your child’s reading struggles and potential. This helps you know when to seek professional help. Many reading difficulties can be identified in kindergarten or 1st grade. While it is true that the earlier a child’s auditory difficulties are identified the easier it will be to correct them, even older students with long-standing auditory processing problems who read poorly can be helped, so never give up hope! If you suspect your child is having difficulties, contact a professional for appropriate testing and a consultation today.

    *Institute of Health and Child Development 1985-1995

About LearningRx and the National Speech/Language Therapy Center
Sabra Gelfond has worked extensively with children who have speech, language, behavior, and reading disorders. Ms. Gelfond is a Speech-Language Pathologist who has been the Executive Director of National Speech/Language Therapy Center since 1989 and has been featured in the Washington Post, on National Public Radio, and in professional journals.

NOTE: Reading problems/dyslexia screenings and a complete cognitive skills test are essential first steps to getting a struggling reader on track. LearningRx Training Centers offer screenings and affordable testing packages to parents seeking to help their children. Please call your local LearningRx professional or visit for information you can use today.

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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