Babble is partnering with PACER Center to help readers better understand and navigate the needs of young children. This month, we’re talking about simple ways to recognize when early reading struggles could be a sign of something more.
Lucy is a bubbly 9-year-old with a vivid imagination and a love of science. In fact, she spends most of her free time putting together model kits designed for older children — and she does it all perfectly, without even reading the directions.
But when it comes to her reading skills, Lucy’s mom Diana has been worried. Lucy does poorly on spelling tests, and even simple spelling worksheets are riddled with errors. And while Lucy had originally been excited about learning to read, she now says she “hates” reading and seems to dread reading aloud at school.
“I’m worried about Lucy’s reading,” Diana recently texted Lucy’s father, Mike. “Give it some thought and let’s talk about it.”
Diana and Mike have been divorced for some time. Mike has since remarried, and he and his new wife, Jane, share custody with Diana. Mike was more than happy to sit down and talk about Lucy’s reading issues.
“I talked to Jane,” shared Mike, “and she thinks you’re right. She said one night Lucy reversed the letters in her own name. I’m on the road a lot and I guess I haven’t paid enough attention to the homework thing. Lucy seems smart — she’s really into science. But since I got your text, I’ve been thinking about my late dad. I remember he used to have my mom read to me because she was better at it. I called my mom, and she said he had dyslexia. It can run in families.”
Diana and Mike talked first to Lucy’s pediatrician, and then to her teacher, Ms. Chen. The pediatrician immediately referred them to an expert to evaluate Lucy’s reading abilities, but Ms. Chen wasn’t as convinced.
“Some students just develop a little more slowly,” she told the parents. “Maybe you should wait awhile.”
But by now, Diana and Mike had taken the time to do some reading about dyslexia and they were afraid Lucy might fall further behind if they waited to get help. When they shared their concern, Ms. Chen suggested they email the school principal.
The principal met with school staff and then talked to Diana and Mike, who both signed a form authorizing an evaluation of Lucy’s reading ability. After the evaluation was complete, the school staff, including the school psychologist and a learning specialist, met with them to discuss the results. While they all agreed that Lucy was smart, the team concluded that she indeed had a learning disability in the area of reading and qualified for specialized reading instruction services. Some districts refer to Lucy’s disability as dyslexia.
There are a number of signs indicating that a young school-aged child might have dyslexia. Some of the more common ones include:
- Difficulty reading familiar words such as cow or red.
- Substituting words when reading familiar stories aloud, for example using puppy when the story says dog.
- Struggling with rhyming (can’t come up with three words that rhyme with bat).
- Guessing at which letters make which sounds.
- Trouble figuring out vowel sounds and vowel combinations.
- Omitting or confusing short words like of and at.
Shortly after her evaluation, a team including Mike and Diana, her classroom teacher, an administrator, and the reading specialist, all put together an individualized plan for Lucy’s education. This document is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and it contains benchmarks for how Lucy’s progress will be measured. As part of the IEP, Lucy attends a small-group reading class. Lucy is now getting the help she needs in reading, but is in her regular classroom the rest of the time.
Did you know that as many as one in five children may have dyslexia? PACER Center serves the families with children with dyslexia and all disabilities.