When I was a kid, I learned how to read at the same rate as any other child. However, as I grew older, I gradually lost my reading speed and comprehension skills.
I learned just last year that this was due to having undiagnosed ADHD, a condition that causes me to lose focus and distract easily. I’d find myself re-reading paragraphs and pages I’d already read—usually more than twice—and still have no idea what I just read.
This pattern eventually led me to avoid reading at all costs. I felt incapable, unintelligent, and insecure. Today, through medication and talk therapy (and practice!), I’ve been able to improve my reading abilities. In fact, I even enjoy reading now!
If your child is struggling to read, they’re not alone. It’s estimated that around 10 million kids experience difficulty reading. But the good news is that more than 90% can overcome their challenges with the appropriate support!
Keep reading to find out the signs of reading difficulties, how to help a child struggling with reading, when to seek professional help for reading, and books for struggling readers.
Signs of Reading Difficulties
Early identification of your child’s reading challenges is key to improving them. The older a child is when they initially get the help they need, the more difficult it will be for them to catch up.
Literary expert Margie Gillis, Ed. D., explains that contrary to speaking, reading is not a skill that’s naturally acquired through exposure. She says:
“We have to build a neurocircuitry to be able to skillfully, automatically, and effortlessly pull words off the page while making meaning. And for some children, that is just a very difficult thing to do. It has nothing to do with intelligence. It has nothing to do with exposure. It has everything to do with ‘I was born with this brain.’ And skilled reading instruction will address those neurobiological differences.”
When you know what to look out for, you can help your child sooner. Here are the most common signs of reading difficulties:
Forgetting Letter Sounds & Sight Words
If your child struggles to recall letter sounds, it could be indicative of an auditory, processing, or learning problem.
Trouble with sight words—common words that kids can recognize immediately without “sounding out” or context clues—can happen when your child is first figuring them out. However, if they’re still struggling after plenty of practice, they may be dealing with conditions like dyslexia (challenges with reading comprehension, spelling, and writing) or apraxia of speech (a speech sound disorder).
Struggling to Rhyme
Further indication of dyslexia or apraxia of speech includes the inability to rhyme words. When your child can identify rhyming words, they demonstrate that they can hear and process the sounds of their language.
Mixing Up Similar Letters
It’s not uncommon for new readers to mix up similar letters, like lowercase “b” and lowercase “d”. As your child improves their ability to read, this confusion should dissolve.
If your child is still experiencing these mix-ups into the first or second grade, they may be dealing with a learning disability.
Misspelling long or tricky words happens all the time, even for adults! But if your child misspells one word in multiple different ways—like “beacuz” and “becus” on the same worksheet—they may struggle with dyslexia or dysgraphia (challenges with writing).
Skipping the ends of words while reading can indicate a phonological or articulation disorder.
Forgetting What They Read
When your child can’t recall what they’ve read or what’s been read to them, they may be displaying neurological difficulties. From a short attention span to challenges with memory, many neurological factors may be tied to reading struggles.
How to Help a Child Struggling with Reading
Every child is different, but many children who struggle to read can be helped by their parents at home. With extra attention and support, your child can become a stellar reader in no time!
Here’s how to help your child with reading at home:
- Read aloud to your child.
Your child is never too old for you to read to them! When you read aloud to your child, they can connect what you’re saying to the words on the page. They can also ask you questions to help them understand the story.
- Pick books at your child’s level.
If children are pushed to read above their level, they’ll skip fundamental steps in their reading development. Click here for tips on picking books fit for your child!
- Let your child choose books they like.
If your child is interested in what they’re reading, they’re more likely to pay attention to the story. Reading about things they enjoy can spark enthusiasm for reading!
- Try audiobooks.
Listening to audiobooks and books on tape can improve your child’s reading comprehension. When your child follows along with a book as it’s read to them, their reading skills improve.
- Practice reading rules.
Get back to the basics without classroom pressures. Practice the alphabet, review letter sounds, and drill sight words.
- Limit screen time.
Too much screen time has long been the culprit of poor academic performance. Limiting screen time forces your child to seek other options for entertainment, like reading!
Choosing a parent-controlled, kid-safe smartphone—like Troomi—helps you keep your kiddo’s screen time in check. Click here to learn more!
- Lead by example.
Showing your child that you enjoy reading yourself can inspire them to keep trying.
- Share your own struggles.
When your child knows they’re not alone, they feel more comfortable facing their challenges. Share your own struggles with your child to remind them we’re all human and no one can do everything perfectly!
When to Seek Professional Help for Reading
In some cases, your child may require more help than you can give them at home. And that’s okay! There are professional resources available for this very reason: to help your child reach reading success.
Your Child’s Teacher
If your child attends school, their teacher should have insight into their reading performance. If you’re concerned about your child’s reading abilities, contact their teacher to set up a meeting. Be sure to ask specific questions, like the reading groups your child is in and how your child compares to peers.
Your child’s school should have aides, counselors, or specialists available who can assess your child’s reading and learning abilities.
These evaluators can work with the school’s administration and your child’s teacher to offer special accommodations that support your child’s academic success. Whether it’s extra time to complete tests and assignments or a desk placed in a more suitable spot in the classroom, there are many things your child’s school can do to help your child improve.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
If your child is found to have a learning disability, it’s important to know what help they’re entitled to receive. Children with disabilities are to be evaluated by their schools—through Child Find—at no cost to families, placed in classrooms with their peers whenever possible, and accommodated as needed. Parents are also entitled to have a voice in their children’s education.
Need a second opinion? Look for an expert outside of your child’s school who can provide an independent evaluation.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can ask for a referral from your child’s pediatrician or get in touch with your local parent resource center.
Therapist or Specialist
There are all sorts of trained professionals available who can help your child better their reading abilities. Tutors, reading specialists, and speech-language pathologists are some of the many equipped to support your child.
While medication alone won’t address your child’s reading skills, it may help to treat other symptoms that impact their learning abilities. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can assess your child for any conditions—like ADHD or dyslexia—and recommend appropriate treatment.
Books for Struggling Readers
One of the best ways to learn is by doing. Just like with sports or musical instruments, reading is a skill that’s improved through practice!
According to the experts, children often favor fantasy, humor, mystery, and science fiction genres for their books. They also enjoy stories involving action, adventure, school, and sports. An added bonus? If books are graphic novels, beginner chapter books, or part of a series!
The selection of books for struggling readers continues to grow every year, but here are some popular favorites:
For Ages 3 to 6
- Amelia Bedelia series
- Bob Books series
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
- Diary of a Worm series
- Dr. Suess books
- Fancy Nancy series
- National Geographic Kids animal books
- Pete the Cat series
For Ages 6 to 9
- Bad Kitty series
- Boxcar Children series
- Captain Underpants series
- Nancy Clancy series
- Judy Moody series
- Junie B. Jones series
- LEGO readers and chapter books
- Little House series
- Magic Tree House series
- Ramona and Beezus books
For Ages 9 to 12
- A Series of Unfortunate Events series
- Artemis Fowl series
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
- Dork Diaries series
- Dragonblood series
- I Survived series
- Percy Jackson series
If your child is struggling with spelling, reading comprehension, or writing, try these tips to help them get back on track. We’re rooting for you!