What If My Child Never Learns To Read?
It’s a question I’ve been afraid to answer for a long time. What if my child never learns to read?
Last week, we resumed my son’s daily reading lessons and practice.
He is profoundly dyslexic, and all the research shows that in order for him to become a proficient reader he needs daily, consistent learning.
Because I think everyone needs a break, no matter what the research says about consistency, we have not done it the past few weeks. Instead, we listened to audio books, we did hands-on projects, and we enjoyed each other.
It was exactly what my heart needed (and his too, I think).
I would like to report that we picked up right where we left off and that all of that time not focused on reading fundamentals was no problem at all.
I would like to report that, but I would be lying.
Our first lesson back, he struggled to read the word “the” again. He couldn’t sound out “sit” and was in tears within minutes. It was difficult for him and for me to not feel completely defeated.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t read a thing all summer. The truth is, he is reading more and more in everyday settings.
In video games, the signs on the road, when I am texting someone and he is being nosey – these everyday situations have shown me how much his reading ability continuing to improve. But when it came time to formally begin our learning, he just couldn’t put the letters and words together.
How Do I Help My Struggling Reader?
There are many accommodations and tactics we employ to help my son improve in reading. I think all of them have been an important and worthwhile part of helping him learn to read.
But these resources still haven’t stopped me from worrying… from asking, “What if my child never learns to read?”
What If My Child Never Learns To Read?
While all of these interventions have been helpful, and are allowing my son to make progress, I think really helping a child with a reading delay has nothing at all to do with actually helping him read.
For my son, this looks like removing an expectation of progress and focusing instead on reminding him how far he’s come – not just in reading, but in every aspect of his life.
Let me explain.
My son is well aware that he cannot yet, proficiently read. At twelve years old, he reads at about a second grade level on his best day. But the world interacts with him as if he should, of course, be able to read whatever is in front of him.
Every one of his friends can read. He knows he is the anomaly.
Because of this, he is hyper-focused on not being able to read. He is well aware that he has practiced these words and sounds over and over again for five years now, and sometimes still cannot read them. He sees his own gaps and lives with a deep fear that he will never learn to read.
Several times over this past year, he asked me what would happen if he was sixteen and couldn’t read. He doesn’t need me to add any sort of expectation.
I think the best way to help a child with a reading delay is to remind them that they are so much more than their reading ability.
A Child Should Never Be Defined By What He Can’t Do
My son is one of the most compassionate, hard-working kids I know. He is brilliant, creative and fun. But he easily loses sight of his abilities when confronted with his reading delay.
This year, instead of celebrating moving into a new level of his reading program, I want to celebrate how hard I see him working. I want to encourage him that the progress he has made is impressive, given how much he has had to do to get here. Then, I want to stop talking about his ability to read entirely, and instead focus on his heart, his natural strengths, and his many special interests.
Our children are so much more than their differences, their challenges and their struggles.
But, with the constant barrage of interventions, IEP goals and constant focus, I fear we are sending them the exact opposite message.
While I would never negate the importance of reading practice and intervention, I want to encourage you that it’s not only OK, but helpful when we let go of all the requirements, expectations and fears.
Research has proven, over and over again that, yes, consistent reading practice and therapy helps improve reading ability.
It can also decrease self-confidence. It can cause discouragement, anxiety and depression, especially if not done with care.
Research has also proven, over and over again, that a child allowed to spend more time on strengths will develop the skills necessary to compensate for delays and weaknesses.
It’s never all or nothing with our children.
Even when it comes to reading.
Author’s Note (added June 2020):
My son is now 14. He can read “the” consistently. He reads street signs and even paragraphs in Harry Potter. He has made so much progress… and I still worry. I still ask the same essential question – Will he learn to read proficiently? What I’ve learned is that what I am really asking is, “Will he be alright?”
So far, so good.
For more resources, support, and encouragement:
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.