Chapter 8: The Struggling Reader

(Click for the Complete Online Parent Reading Guide)

We have already discussed some of the things that can make it hard for a child to learn to read. We’ve covered the possibility of vision problems and even some seemingly unrelated medical conditions.

There are many other very specific reasons that a child can struggle with reading. These can range from a simple lack of interest to neurological problems. The more accurately the problem is identified, the more targeted a remediation program can be. In other words, the more you know about what’s going wrong when your child struggles to read, the easier it will be for you and his teachers to help him.

Common learning problems

Below are some of the most common learning problems and how they affect a child’s ability to learn to read.

  1. Dyslexia – The Mayo Clinic describes dyslexia as a learning disorder that causes difficulty with reading. Dyslexic children struggle to link words and letters with the speech sounds they represent.
  2. Comprehension When a child struggles to read, sometimes he will simply move from word to word rather than looking at the whole sentence. The meaning of sentences and paragraphs can be lost as the child works to simply pronounce each word on the page.
  3. Attention – Attention deficit disorders can affect reading. A child who feels jittery and distracted can have trouble focusing on a book or a reading lesson.
  4. English language learner – If English is not your child’s first language, than it is quite natural that reading in English will take longer for him to learn. As he becomes more and more proficient with the spoken form of English, reading will become easier, as well.
  5. Lack of interest or motivation – A child who does not read well may simply not be interested enough to do the work. He may feel like there are just better ways to spend his time. Keep in mind, though, that a child may use lack of interest as a cover story. He may be struggling for other reasons but try to shrug it off by saying it doesn’t matter to him.

Reading problem checklist

There are many steps to figuring out what is causing a child’s struggle with reading. Parents, teachers, counselors, reading specialists and other school personnel all have important information to add before a complete picture of the problem is formed. As a parent, you might be able to notice the specific ways your child struggles when he is trying to read.

Below are some of the symptoms of common learning problems. Read each one carefully and circle any that you have noticed in your own child.

  • My child has a hard time telling left from right
  • My child can’t learn the words to simple rhymes and songs.
  • When he writes, my child sometimes reverses letters like “b” and “d.”
  • It’s hard for my child to learn new words.
  • My child had a hard time learning the alphabet.
  • When my child is speaking, sometimes he can’t come up with the right word.
  • My child can’t follow directions very well.
  • When I read my child a story, he can’t tell me what happened in the story.
  • My child struggles when I ask him to “sound out” a word.
  • My child mixes up the order of words when he’s reading or writing.
  • My child sometimes mixes up the sounds different letters make.

Show this list to your child’s teacher or his doctor. It could help pinpoint the reason your child is having trouble with reading.

Extra help

The PBS website Reading Rockets also has a great online tool called Target the Problem that can help you or your child’s teacher figure out why your child is struggling with reading.


The Mayo Clinic, “Dyslexia,”

PBS Reading Rockets, “Target the Problem,”