Q: My daughter, Nechama, has been struggling with reading since I started singing her the ABCs when she was a baby. In nursery, when her teachers introduced the alphabet, and in kindergarten and first grade when they began to read in earnest, Nechama was always two or three steps behind her classmates. However, up until recently, Nechama’s reading had seemed to only impact her academic performance.
Since she entered second grade this year, Nechama has been telling me that she doesn’t want to go to school. At first, I thought that her problems with reading were causing her to fear school, but her reasons for not wanting to go to school range from “None of the other girls play with me” to “I don’t like eating lunch by myself.” It breaks my heart to see my once happy and confident daughter depressed and isolated from her peers.
Here’s my question and I should tell you that my husband thinks I am overstating this, but I think there might be a link between her struggle with reading and her trouble with friends. Is that possible – are reading and socializing connected?
A: The short answer is: yes, there is a link between reading and social skills. But, first, it is important to clarify some of the different types of learning disabilities that cause children to struggle with reading:
Dyslexia: The National Institute of Health defines dyslexia as characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin and often runs in the family. Children with dyslexia experience trouble reading and writing when taught through traditional instruction.
ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a common behavioral disorder that affects between 8-10% of school age children. Boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. Children who have ADHD have trouble sitting still, focusing on one thing at one time, and attending to details. While their attention seems unfocused, it is multi-focused. Their mind takes in multiple stimuli at once, making it hard to engage in one activity for long periods of time. For this reason, reading through conventional methods can be frustrating.
Visual Processing Disorder: A visual processing disorder affects how the brain perceives and processes what the eye sees. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted and perceived. The person may have difficulty in discriminating foreground-background, forms, size, and position in space. Using worksheets with enlarged print and breaking assignments into clear, concise steps are various methods that assist comprehension. Again, with a visual processing disorder, traditional methods of reading instruction fall short.
As children enter elementary school, and reading becomes an integral part of the curriculum, those with learning disorders begin to struggle academically. Whereas before, they might have been able to get along based on their innate intellect, children with dyslexia, ADHD, or visual processing disorder start to show signs of struggles when reading instruction begins in earnest.
Often, these children go undiagnosed and their struggles with reading are attributed to a lack of trying or apathy. In reality, these children are working hard, but need different methods of instruction. Without these accommodations, children with learning disabilities often become frustrated and dejected. This can lead to low self-esteem and decreased self-worth.
So, are reading and social skills linked? Definitely. When children develop low self-esteem, they are less likely to attempt to make friends. They believe that no one would be interested in being their friends and that their peers will reject them. This often leads children with disabilities to isolate themselves in order to avoid risk-taking in social situations.
Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to help improve your child’s reading and thereby improve her self-esteem. Depending on the source of your daughter’s struggles with reading, alternative-reading strategies can be employed. With a customized plan in place, your daughter could be on her way towards success in reading. Then, with each small gain in reading, your daughter’s self-esteem will grow – she will no longer be the girl who is scared to be called on in class. Who knows? That newfound confidence might allow her to believe in herself enough to take some risks and make some new friends!