When Your Ten Year Old Can’t Read
Not being able to read at ten years old is a big deal for my child. It’s a big deal for the world.
My son loves science.
He constantly asks questions about the world, how things work, about animals, and chemical reactions. He subscribes to YouTube channels that show science experiments, for fun. He can name most of the periodic table of elements, without ever really being taught a thing about it.
He exclaimed while playing at the park yesterday, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction!”
He is ten years old. He loves science and is wicked smart.
And he cannot read.
Not being able to read is a big deal for him. It’s a big deal for the doctors and therapists that see him regularly. It’s a big deal for me, trying to encourage him, helping him practice every day, and acting as his translator when needed.
The most difficult part is this –
He is now aware that being ten years old and not able to read is unusual.
The Reality Of Not Being Able To Read At Ten Years Old
We have tried to shield him from the social stigma. We have explained what dyslexia is and how brilliant he is. We have read story after story about children with dyslexia that grow up to accomplish amazing things.
But despite our best efforts to protect his self-image, over the last year, he has become more and more aware of the judgement.
The incessant questions I answer from doctors and other well-meaning parents.
The looks of shock and dismay, when I explain that he will need a little help reading the form that he is being asked to sign.
The clear dismissal when someone asks him what his favorite book is and he answers, but then explains that he listened to it on audio.
He has gotten the message, loud and clear – not being able to read at ten is unacceptable, shocking, and inferior.
When Your Ten Year Old Can’t Read
He wants to read. Desperately.
He doesn’t despise reading. He despises the continuous effort it takes in order to read. He is frustrated, to be sure. But the idea of reading? He can’t wait to pick up a book and know what is written within its pages.
He works hard, every day, even in the summer, to practice the sight words and review the phonics lessons. He is brave and determined.
I couldn’t be prouder of this kid.
And yet, I find more and more, I am having to defend him.
The older he gets, the more the world judges his learning differences as unsatisfactory. Later this week, I will share how we are helping him learn to read and accommodating his needs, but not today.
Today, I want to say this –
Reading is not as big of a deal as we make it out to be.
(I will pause here for a moment in case anyone needs to gasp in shock.)
The truth is that reading is a relatively new social requirement.
If we look back over history, the importance of hearing stories and grasping their implications and meaning, has been far more important than being able to read in and of itself.
Consider that for hundreds of years, the Bible wasn’t even accessible to most people. Neither were any of the classics. Even after the printing press was invented, books were often still read aloud as a primary means of instruction and contemplation.
Reading, in and of itself, has never been the goal.
Awareness, understanding, the ability to apply thoughts and ideals to real life, having our hearts moved by great stories – this is what matters.
And incidentally, my son excels in doing exactly this.
My ten-year old can’t read, at least not to the degree expected for his age.
He is making progress, real progress. This progress is slower than it is for most children his age. But it is progress just the same.
But more importantly, please hear me when I say this –
Reading doesn’t define who my son is, nor the value he can and will add to our world. Even if he never learns to read, I am confident that his strengths will more than compensate for this weakness.
He thinks big, he cares deeply, and he loves well.
He is fearfully and wonderfully made – just as he is, reading ability and all.
When Is It Time To Worry About My Child Not Being Able To Read?
I am asked this question all the time, and I never really know how to answer.
The experts will tell you that a child needs to be able to read relatively fluently by the end of third grade.
Without a strong foundation in reading, children are left behind at the beginning of their education. They lag in every class, year after year because more than 85 percent of the curriculum is taught by reading. And by the end of third grade, 74 percent of struggling readers won’t ever catch up. In fact, one of the most important predictors of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade. – Reading Foundation.Org
I can see how this is 100% accurate when a child is progressing in the traditional, more formal school format. How would a child ever really “catch-up” in a classroom of 30 kids, all moving through the same curriculum at the same pace.
The opposite is true when you ask a veteran homeschool mom.
Every child learns at their own pace. Some walk early, some late. Why should reading be any different? My son did not proficiently learn to read until he was 12. Now he reads beautifully. – A Homeschool Mentor Mom Of Mine
So which is it?
When is it time to worry that a child cannot read?
I am not sure there is a practical, hard and fast answer. What I can tell you is that I have worried for years and it hasn’t really helped.
What has helped is focusing as much as I can on what my child is able to do and do well. What has helped is focusing on being consistent with reading practice, but then letting it go and finding other ways to learn other subjects.
At the end of the day, I want my child to be able to read, of course I do. But not at the expense of his love of learning and sense of self confidence.
That’s the very best answer I can give you, as a mom figuring this out right along side you.
I will let you know how it goes…
For more on learning differences and reading delays:
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.