Steps a Parent Can Take to Help Their Struggling Reader

Boy sitting on stepsEvery parent wants what’s best for his or her child. We all know how important reading ability is and therefore we want our children to succeed at reading. When children have difficulty with reading parents can become frustrated because they want to help them but do not know how.

If your school-aged child is having trouble with reading here are some steps you can take to help his or her progress:

Observe your child’s reading behaviors

In order to develop a plan for helping your child with reading you must first identify where the difficulty lies. For several days observe your child’s behavior when it is time to read. Conduct reading time the way you always do in your household, but during these particular sessions focus on what your child does rather than what she is reading. After she is done reading, make detailed notes about her behavior. Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself as you are observing your child are:

  • How does your child react when you tell her it is time to read a book? Does she avoid reading? Is she nervous? Is she hesitant? Do behavior problems increase?
  • What happens when your child begins reading? Does she have trouble staying focused on the text? Does she read slowly or too fast? Does she struggle to “sound out” or identify words? Does she misunderstand or not understand what she is reading?
  • Does your child’s attitude towards reading and ability to read a text change based on the reading material? Are certain topics more interesting to her than others? Do pictures seem to help or hinder her comprehension? Are certain formats (ie. books vs. magazines) easier for her to read?

Schedule a meeting with your child’s regular classroom teacher.

More often than not, if you are noticing that your child is having difficulty with reading his classroom teacher is also. Schedule a parent-teacher conference to discuss your child’s reading ability. This does not have to be during the traditional “parent-teacher conference time” of the school year. Most teachers are more than willing to make time to discuss your concerns with you at any point during the school year. When you come to the conference, bring your observations of the child’s reading behaviors at home with you. Be sure to share these as well as the “reading routines” you have at home with the teacher. Together you can develop a plan for helping your child. Using your first hand knowledge of your child’s abilities and personality and the teacher’s relationship with the child and his/her expertise in education make a plan for working with your child. This may involve some at home reading practice or modifications in his classroom instruction. Also, set a timeline for re-evaluating his progress. Plan to meet again or talk via email or the phone to discuss what is working (or what is not working) for your child.

Request evaluation of your child by a specialist.

While a good many children are able to make progress in their reading development through a focused intervention planned and carried out by the teacher and parent, some need additional support from specialists trained in assisting those with specific reading difficulties. If your child continues to struggle with reading, ask for her to be assessed by a specialist. Talk with your child’s teacher about the school’s procedures for requesting evaluation. Under the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) law there are two routes that parents and schools can take for evaluating children for specialized services:

  • Traditional formal testing: If a teacher or parent suspects a child may have a reading disability and has compelling evidence to support this claim, s/he may request formal testing. A school psychologist will conduct a psychological-educational evaluation focused on identifying educational issues and in some cases a neuro-psychological evaluation to identify any other mitigating factors.
  • Response to Intervention (RTI): This route is primarily available for elementary aged children. In RTI there are a series of steps taken before formally testing a child for a disability. At the first signs of difficulty the regular classroom teacher makes modifications to his/her instruction to add interventions that s/he believes will help the child’s reading skills improve. If these initial interventions do not result in progress, a specially trained teacher (usually a special education or reading specialist) partner with the classroom teacher to help the child. The specialist will often work individually with the child and will suggest additional interventions to the classroom teacher. If this second step still fails to bring the child to the level he is capable of reading at formal testing is initiated. At this point the process follows the same path as the traditional formal testing route.

Placement of the child in a specialized reading program and creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

If formal testing shows that your child has a reading disability (or some other disability which affects her ability to learn to read), an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be created. Some parents are wary of having an IEP created for their children because they are concerned about the stigma associated with a special education designation. Just because a child has an IEP does not necessarily mean she will always receive special education services or will always be placed in a separate classroom. In fact, IDEA requires that children be placed in the least restrictive educational environment possible to meet their particular educational needs. A special education designation and IEP simply ensure that your child will get the support she needs to develop as a reader. Each IEP is created to address the child’s specific needs and personality. They are re-evaluated and revised annually by the parents and the school staff to allow for modifications to be made. You will be a partner in your child’s reading development throughout the entire process.