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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.

ten year old can't 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.

When Your Ten Year Old Can't Read

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

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.

When Your Ten Year Old Can't Read

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

Terrifying, right?

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:

The Best Way To Help A Child With A Reading Delay

Why We Use All About Reading With My Dyslexic Son

It’s Not Always Forward: Mothering a regressive child

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  1. Tracy Criswell says:

    I have four children; two boys and two girls. Both of my girls have dyslexia. Learning to read is important, however, it is important for the child to learn how to read at their speed and pace. My almost 13 year old daughter is able to read, but it took a lot of time and effort and patience (from both of us). She can now read books and enjoys reading them. My youngest daughter, she will turn 9 in September, is reading but at her own pace. She has made a lot of progress but at her pace. She was in public preschool for a year and she only knew the letters in her first name, that was it. I started homeschooling her in Grade K. During that year we worked on all of the alphabet letters and their sounds. During first grade she learned how to put those letters together to form words. Grade 2 she learned how to read short sentences. She is always getting a book (even though she can’t read them…they are chapter books) to “read.” I let her “read” those books so we don’t squash her love for books….but also we keep working at her pace and level. For the past week she has brought her confidence builder books and read a page to me each night (they are at a first grade level) and has done this on her own accord. It is important for every child to learn how to read, but it is also important for them to get their at their own pace and use whatever works for them.

    I want my children to all learn how to read and hopefully enjoy it. I don’t want them to have their grandfather’s experience of only being able to read at a 3rd grade level at his best and be ashamed to read stories to his grandchildren. He has done well for reading at that level in his professional career, but it has truly affected his relationships with his grandchildren and independence with daily living skills (i.e reading important forms, filling out applications for healthcare, reading letters or emails from family and friends, etc.).

    1. Well said. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

  2. Oh my gosh…I could not agree more!!! My son is 9 1/2 and is reading at a Kindergarten / 1st grade level. We do sight words and reading every day!…breaks, summer, last day of school, first day of school. He basically has had no summer the last 2 years due to intensive reading camps. He gets up every day, never complains, and goes. He is also the most tender hearted soul you will ever meet. His non verbal IQ is 121….part of his mind is well above other children his age, but the world, the school system doesn’t see those parts…all they see is that He cannot read! We had a new principal start this year at his school when she asked what I want from the school, I want them to look at my son as a WHOLE person…he is so much more than just reading! I also had to change my view of what success may look like for him based on the world’s view of success. He is working towards eternity and thst is what really matters and he is miles ahead of me when it comes to that!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Racquel. I love your answer to the principal. <3

  3. My son is also 10 and has dyslexia. He too is not reading or writing at grade level. We are thankful for his dyslexia tutor who works with him diligently. I am also so thankful for his private school which has a pull out program for him to support him and meet his needs. He is working hard and improving at his own pace. I know that no matter what, my so will be sucessful in life. It is not necessary to be a super reader or writer to be successful productive adult.

  4. Lisa Hoskins says:

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I really needed this exactly one week before school starts, and I’m not sure who is more nervous me or my son. He is also 10 and has dyslexia, he will be in 5th. grade this year. Sadly our school district still turns a blind eye to dyslexia so, while he does have an IEP it is of little help since he is not getting the right type of intervention. We are currently planning on driving him 2 hrs. away from our home for tutoring twice a week!

    1. I appreciate your words, Lisa. Thank you for taking the time to share. Praying for a good back to school experience!

  5. Judy Luster says:

    May I please encourage you moms that “a child who is read to WILL learn to read!” I too had a difficult son with delayed learning issues. Had he been in traditional school he would have been labeled, held back and medicated. It takes lots of extra grace to be patient. At about 12 our son covered years of reading improvement (verified by achievement test scores) in one year. I had known another home schooling boy who was very below grade level in reading and something clicked and he began to successfully read the entire Chronicles of Narnia! My son like yours was also amazing in other areas and finally his reading caught up!
    He ended doing well in college in a hands on curriculum (architecture), working in the field, going back to an Ivy League University for a Masters in the field. He now loves to read and study and learn and is a doing very well for a New York firm. The greatest blessing is he loves the Lord! I know it can be discouraging and difficult when they began to see their own delays, but stay the course. They are so much better off with a loving mother and father while moving at their own speed in an encouraging, caring home!

    1. So well said, Judy! Thank you so much.

  6. I am 66, a college graduate and a retired teacher. My strengths are reading, writing, literature, Language Arts, History and Art. But math? No. Science? No. In fifth grade my reading/comprehension level was 12th grade +. Math? I was flunking, and trying my best and still, not getting it. Math brought me to tears and frustration all my life and I STILL will blank out when people start to talk numbers. I envy your son his brilliance. I am in awe of his math and science ability and wish I could have even a little of it. He should NEVER, ever, never feel bad because he has trouble reading. There are people out there who would love to have the skills he has got. I applaud his efforts and brain power.

    1. So beautifully said, Robyn. You brought me to tears with your words. Thank you so much.

  7. Please contact me – I will send your wonderful child a CoolerRuler (free) which will make reading easier immediately. It screens the lines above and below and has two sliders to help isolate parts of words that can be built up. It reduces visual stress and can be used over a coloured acetate sheet if this is required. Find me at http://www.rulerreading.com. Hope I can help, Sally xx

  8. I have a 10 year old that is almost identical. He in addition has speech and expressive language delay. I feel the same way. He is a smart kid and learns but not through reading. He’s a highly visual learner and loves YouTube. Thanks for sharing your story. At least we are not alone.

    1. So not alone! Thanks Jennifer. <3

  9. Thank you for this. My 9 year old dyslexic can’t read at her age level, in fact she is quickly being overtaken by her 5 year younger sister, but she is kind and compassionate, she can think of great stories and loves books (audio but who cares!) she is very aware that she struggles but she is brilliant in her own way just like your son. Thank you for this post

  10. Amanda Morton says:

    Well said!!!! I have a dyslexic 11 year old son, who is just starting to understand the alphabet and phonics. We of course tried every program and method available. He just had his 1st ever practice spelling test yesterday.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Amanda. I am encouraged and hopeful because of your words <3

  11. This made me cry. We must embrace the people our children were born to be

  12. Thank you, thank you for this. This encourages me as I homeschool my 9-year old daughter with dyslexia. I am hurt and (honestly) a little bitter when I see posts by friends (or blogs I follow) about how reading is their world. It’s like a badge of honor to talk about how many books one has read, how many books one has bought recently, how many books one’s kids devour…. Dyslexic kids become very aware of their inability to read like others. Even a small thing like playing the alphabet game on a recent road trip…I could tell that it was intimidating for our daughter. Thank you for reminding me of what the real goals are.

    1. Your kind words are such a blessing to me. Thanks Joy!

  13. Have you had him screened for visual processing difficulties? http://www.irlen.com Children with this difficulty find reading difficult as they experience visual stress when looking at black text on a white page. They might rub their eyes loose their place need help with tracking. Often reading is harder under bright lights at school and they may get headaches. They don’t usually self report these difficulties as that is always how reading has been and they don’t know what a normal page should look like

  14. Hi. I’m not even sure if I belong here. My son is 14 and was diagnosed with autism at age two. He got early intervention, special needs pre-k, and was in two additional public school programs for autism before landing in a private day school setting for disruptive behaviors, but his academics improved as well. He is verbal but not conversational and has significant trouble with language comprehension. He has a great memory and appears to understand alot more than people give him credit for. He is learning at a 1st to 2nd grade level, and struggles to read and write. He’ll start sounding out a word and then immediately start guessing all the words he already knows that start in the same way. This year he has finally started doing homework with me on a consistent basis, but he gets distracted and often obsesses on a completely unrelated issue over and over. When he was little, he loved it when we read books to him, certain ones repeatedly like many children do. Then he would read them on his own. He very rarely has interest in this any more. He has an IEP and I had to beg for speech therapy which all autistic children should have. We have been working on WH questions for several years now…

    Bottom line. I have been told by the IEP team that he will never read. We live in the state of Virginia, and he cannot meet the criteria to get a diploma here. His IQ is testing less than 70 now, but it is almost impossible to get an accurate score on this child. Between ages 2 and 4 his IQ was estimated to be as high as 80-100. They are already focusing on life skills above and beyond academics. I have requested time and again that they use his interests as a tool to help him to read, understand and learn at school… Maps, globes, night sky, planets moon, stars, solar system, anything to do with water, etc. I feel like I should have learned more, known more, researched more. His behaviors often get in the way as all behaviors are a form of communication, and he gets frustrated and angry because he “can’t get it out” in my opinion. I did get him two years of in home ABA based behavioral therapy during which we focused on academics about half the time.

    In any event, thanks for listening.

    1. I agree with your assessment give him something he wants to read. In my ds7 case it is Greek Mythology.

  15. Thank you <3

  16. At 10 my son couldn’t read. At all. He didn’t even recognise all the letters of the aphabet. He is smart, loves science and maths. Fortunately he always thought of himself as “learning to read” and never quite realised how far behind other kids his age he was. He would have no problem in asking other adults or kids to read something for him. He loves books and listens to them for hours most days. I tried as best I could to “hold the space” for him. Try to keep him safe from critism and gasps of horror and rude people as much as possible. When he was about 10 1/2 he said to me “that says Pet Shop” and I held my breath…..(was it the pictures of animals?). “how do you know that?” I asked. “I read the sign”. Was his reply. For the next day or two he began reading signs and commenting on boxes and notes around our home – something he’d never done or been able to do before. It was like watching the cogs in his brain begin to line up. A week or so later he asked me to find him a “good book” so he could look at the words. The beginner readers were too babyish and other novels the writing was too small. I found some emergent reading books with language for 6 year olds but concepts more appropriate for 10-12 year olds. He read his first book that night with only the occasional asking me what a word was. A year later the can read quite well. Probably not at his age level yet but he will get there. And those lousy site words I tried to get him to look at about five years ago. I suggested we look through them to see which ones he still had to learn and he easily read every one of them first time easily! Who would have known kids could learn them by living in our world and teaching themselves to read. It’s incredibly stressful having a child who doesn’t read according to some imagined cutoff time. I was so fortunate to have a few families in my homeschool group who had children learn at 11, 12 and older.

    1. This is so encouraging! Thank you so much for sharing!

  17. My youngest was 10 when she finally learned to read. We had to use a curriculum that helped with it, but now I know it was dyslexia all along. Turns out that program HELPS dyslexic kids. That’s why it worked!

    1. Hi Michelle!
      That worked out perfectly. 🙂

  18. I have 10 year old twin boys that are just beginning their reading journey. One has a convergence issue with his eyes, a lazy eye corrected with glasses but within consideration of reading correction… so, we just realized he is memorizing word shapes because he is not able to see individual letters without a magnifying glass (to be addressed this week). How difficult to learn new words independently. The other twin struggles with reading but that appears to be more of a dyslexic issue. Both are wicked smart, learn vast amounts from YouTube, videos, and book diagrams not to mention general exploration of the world around them. Reading about your son was like me talking about my boys. I have a 15 year old that had no phonemic awareness until about age 10-11, he is a good reader now. His timing was different than the school system’s so we became home schoolers and all of are children are thriving. My oldest started college this last September and is excelling. Thank you for sharing your story, it helps to know we are not alone in our journeys.

  19. Moms, Please remember that ear reading with audio books is just as valid and eye reading print. The most important thing is that our kids are getting vocabulary and concepts. With the proper intervention our kids who have dyslexia (or signs of dyslexia) will learn to read at their own pace. My so. Is 11 and is finally beginning to read. The proper intervention is crucial and the earlier the better !

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