Photo Credit: Jewish Press

You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book” – Dr. Seuss Seuss (whose birthday is March 2nd and why March has been chosen as National Literacy Month).

For some children, the quote above is absolutely true. For others, it is a mocking reminder of a daily struggle. Reading lays the foundation for all other learning in a child’s school career and in most areas of life. The wise and nurturing parent knows that fostering the love of reading, through reading aloud to children, cannot begin too early.

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Many children are not given that early exposure and enrichment. Are they at a disadvantage? Studies show that as important as that early reading experience is, most children will still learn to read fluently without it – no matter what method is used to teach them!

(This is not true however, when it comes to teaching kriyah, where the language is foreign, thereby canceling out the incentives of reading for interest, enjoyment or information that apply to reading in one’s native tongue.)

Studies show that twenty percent of all children – unless they receive special help – will not be able to master this task. That means about 10 million children in this country are “at-risk” for reading difficulties. Not because their parents did not read to them, but due to a wide range of factors that interfere with the vital skills involved in learning how to read.

Their situation is painfully obvious when they try to read out loud. Children with reading difficulties read haltingly, stumbling over and mispronouncing some words, and skipping others entirely.

The first casualty is self-esteem: such children may be bright and self-confident, but they soon grow ashamed as they struggle with a skill their classmates master easily. They become intimidated by difficult-looking words and soon will not even attempt a book on their own level.

In the later grades, when children switch from learning to read to reading to learn, reading-impaired children are kept from exploring the wealth of information that is presented in print. Life becomes a slippery slope that must be navigated with care to avoid humiliation.

Even those things that to most of us are everyday conveniences – a road map, a driver’s manual, the instructions for how to fill out an application – become daunting tasks for those whose reading difficulties were never treated, or, at the very least, diagnosed.

Should you press the panic button if you become aware your child has a reading problem? While there are grounds to be concerned, experts say, study after study find that ninety to ninety five percent of reading problems can be corrected with early intervention and appropriate instruction.

Research has shown that if reading deficits are not treated by the third grade, however, the challenges of reversing the deficiency are greatly multiplied. Thus, the importance of sustained individualized attention during and after school and over the summer cannot be overestimated. The appropriate corrective measures can help to raise reading levels dramatically.

 

Why Evaluation Is Critical

The problem is that, as the saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.”

Many schools and professionals have only one method or set of methods for remedying reading or language problems. Students who don’t fit that profile exasperate those who are working with them. Somehow it’s their fault they aren’t “getting fixed.”

In reality, reading problems (and learning deficiencies generally) have a multitude of possible causes just as chest pain has many possible causes. Treating all remedial reading problems with one standard method is akin to treating all bodily aches with an aspirin.

Unless a qualified professional has evaluated the child and zeroed in on the precise nature of the difficulty, using an undifferentiated remedial approach can end up compounding the child’s frustration and sense of failure. In addition, much time and money can be squandered going down blind alleys in search of the elusive “cure.”

A competent evaluation performed by a reading specialist can pinpoint the factors responsible for the reading deficit so that the appropriate corrective strategies can be applied. An expert evaluator will be able to distinguish between the following root causes – each of which calls for its own particular remedial strategies – and determine if and where overlapping exists.

Dyslexia: The term means poor word recognition. Dyslexia affects approximately twenty percent of school children. To read, children must translate letters on a page into the sounds of words. In dyslexics, an inefficient module in the brain is believed to interfere with letter-sound processing, so students experience difficulty decoding words and in processing visual cues.

People with dyslexia usually have significant strengths in areas controlled by the brain’s right hemisphere. These gifts need to be recognized, praised and encouraged.

Often intuitive and highly creative and intelligent, they excel at hands-on learning. Because they think in pictures, it is sometimes hard for them to understand letters, numbers, symbols, and written words. The difficulty spills over into reading, writing and spelling, where reversals and upside-down perception is very common.

Children with this disability need remedial instruction in letter-sound relationships using a curriculum that employs multi-sensory techniques.

Speech and Language Disorders: This general term refers to problems with communication, including reception (understanding), expression (speaking), and articulation (forming sounds) disorders. These disorders affect approximately 10% of the school population and account for 25% of children in special education.

A child with a speech or language disorder may use baby talk past an appropriate age, may stutter, or have trouble using or understanding words in the context of a conversation or assignment. Speech and language disorders often accompany learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Processing Deficits: Processing disorders interfere with information taken in through the senses. The most common types affecting school tasks are visual, auditory, and motor deficits. Though defined as learning disabilities with their own set of symptoms, these deficits often overlap with speech and language disorders and symptoms of dyslexia.

Students with processing deficits may experience problems with auditory or visual sequencing and memory dysfunction (e.g., reversing letters, losing the place while reading, problems with weak mental energy and forgetting instructions).

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by age-inappropriate levels of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. It affects 3% to 5% of the population and often occurs with other conditions.

Researchers believe that symptoms result from underlying impairment in areas of the brain that regulate and control behavior. Children with ADHD may pay attention to a novel and stimulating lesson or activity but have trouble staying seated or keeping focused during more routine tasks. Their weak impulse control often creates behavioral problems and social friction.

Impaired Eye Coordination: As many as half the participants in remedial reading programs appear to suffer noticeable impairment of coordinated eye function,” writes Dr. Win Wenger of Project Renaissance, a remedial reading organization. “Yet this major cause of reading problems is quite often missed by an untrained evaluator.”

The reader’s two eyes wobble and blink from discomfort, or are otherwise impaired in their ability to read out information on a page, and the brain functions associated with reflexive eye-movements are correspondingly impaired.

Getting 20/20 corrected-vision eyeglasses doesn’t touch this more fundamental eye problem, nor do the reading drills in conventional remedial programs. Special optical exercises have been developed that have proven effective in combination with other corrective strategies.

Whatever the issue, reading is truly the key to academic success, and without the skills, children ultimately can grow into disgruntled and self-doubting adults. The best way to avoid this? Start early!

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.