How to Know When Your Child is Struggling with Reading

How to help a child struggling with reading.

Catching reading red flags early can help your child succeed.

The single most asked question I receive in my private practice is, “How is my child’s reading?”  The underlying concern is usually whether or not a child’s ability to read is developing normally.  Ultimately, this is a very important question for parents to ask, as strong literacy skills are the foundation for all academics.

I typically begin the conversation by explaining to parents that teachers look at reading skills from this perspective:  In Grades One to Three, students are learning to read and from Grade Four onward, they are reading to learn.

Formal reading instruction really starts in preschool and kindergarten, with children learning the sounds of the English language.  In those first few years, there are natural and normal developmental variations.  A family could have a child in Grade One, who learns to read easily and fluidly, and another child in the same grade who is struggling to sound out words.  Despite this difference, both children can go on to be very proficient readers in later grades.

Reading Red Flags

Having said that, there are a collection of red flags that can guide parents and help them recognize when their child is at risk of having reading difficulty. This list is adapted from “Overcoming Dyslexia” by Sally Shaywitz

Preschool Years:

  1. Trouble learning common nursery rhymes
  2. A lack of appreciation of rhymes
  3. Mispronounced words; persistent baby talk
  4. Difficulty in learning and remembering names of letters and their sounds

Kindergarten/First Grade

  1. Does not understand that words come apart; for example, that batboy can be pulled apart into bat and boy
  2. Trouble learning to associate letters with sounds, such as being unable to connect the letter b with the sound “b”
  3. Reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters; for example reading the word big as the word goat
  4. Trouble reading common one syllable words or sounding out the simplest words such as mat, cat, hop, nap
  5. Complains about how hard reading is: running and hiding when it is time to read
  6. History of reading problems in parents or siblings

Grade 2 and up

  1. Very slow progress in acquiring reading skills
  2. Lack of strategy to read new words; makes wild stabs or guesses at words that must be sounded out
  3. Trouble with small function words such as that, an, in
  4. Omits part of word when reading; for example they may read ‘conible’ instead of, ‘convertible’
  5. Oral reading is choppy and laboured
  6. Oral reading has many substitutions, omissions and mispronunciations
  7. Poor spelling skills
  8. Messy handwriting

What To Do If You See Reading Warning Signs

If you see these warning signs or have concerns about your child’s reading progress, begin by asking your child’s teacher about any concerns he or she may have.  Many schools have reading specialists, who can perform diagnostic screeners for a deeper look and determine if a reading delay exists.

The earlier a delay is discovered, the better.  Effective instruction at the first sign of delay is the best predictor of later reading success and most schools will have a remedial reading program that staff are trained to use.  The most commonly used programs are:  EMPOWER Reading, Corrective Reading or REWARDS. If the school has a long wait list to access these programs, many are available through private clinics, and if your budget allows you to explore that option, reading programs can be a quicker way to access support.

Strong literacy skills are essential for academic success in the 21st Century. By being aware of the signs of reading difficulties, parents will have the tools to be their child’s best and most informed advocate to take action at the first sign of a delay.


Jennifer Anstiss

Jennifer Anstiss holds a Masters of Education in Literacy from Mount Saint Vincent University, specializing in the Early Intervention and Prevention of Learning Disabilites. She is also an active member of the Ontario College of Teachers. She has been trained in the delivery of Direct Instruction Programs and is a Certified Fast ForWord Practitioner. Jennifer's field experiences include over 15 years of private clinical practice and 10 years of Special Education Teaching for both the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Peel District School Board. She specializes in the design and implementation of remedial programs for students with Learning Disabilities and Attentional Issues within both public and private settings. Jennifer gives presentations to parents, professionals and community groups.

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