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Why do Some Children have Trouble Learning to Read

Today I was asked the million dollar question, “Why do some children have trouble learning to read?” Unfortunately I can’t answer that question in a five word sound bite. Luckily I have this column, and I have the opportunity to give that question the time and thought it deserves.

Learning Disabilities
There are so many learning disabilities that affect reading such as dyslexia, auditory processing disorders, receptive language problems, and attention deficit disorder. However if I were to describe them in simplest terms, I would say that they present a difficulty in learning how to read, spell, or communicate. For a complete description of dyslexia click here.

We are very quick to acknowledge giftedness. How often to you hear people say, “My son has a natural ear for music,” or “My daughter has always been able to read people. She is liked by everyone she meets.” We see these talents or gifts everyday, but we don’t often hear people talk about their challenges. Just like some people can’t carry a tune, or have an intense fear of speaking in front of others, there are some children and adults who struggle to master the connections between letters and sounds. Or they can’t remember what happened to the lead character just two paragraphs ago. The labels of various learning disabilities help teachers and specialists tailor the remediation process to a child’s specific needs. However for a person who is not involved in the remediation process, the easiest way of understanding a learning disability is simply just realizing that reading will not be an easy skill for this child to master.

Instruction that does not meet the needs of the student
As I mentioned before some students will pick up the rules of reading quickly and easily. Others simply need more time and practice. For some students it will take weeks to understand why kit and kite are spelled differently. Many will guess at words that are not in context. These students need very detailed instruction, but mostly they need more time and practice. If they are in a classroom where the majority of the students have mastered the magic e concept, then they will be forced to move on the next rule, without a working knowledge of the first one.

Other Distractions
If you are over thirty, chances are you grew up with Saturday morning and afternoon cartoons. There were no twenty four hour children’s cable channels. I only knew of one friend who had Atari. And it is only humanly possible to play pong for one hour at a time, before total boredom sets in. For the reluctant reader, books are a weak opponent for a game boy or an x-box.

Family Value of Reading
If you come from a family of readers, chances are you will become a reader. The same is true if come from a family of campers or skiers. Parents pass on their interests to their children. Some children grow up in families where trips to the library are regular weekly activities. Other students see their first library when they go to school.

Every Child Reading
One of the slogans of the International Dyslexia Association is, every child reading. This is an attainable goal as long as we realize that not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. Just as there are may factors for why some children have difficulty learning to read, there are just as many reasons why some students fall in love with literature.


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