Does My Child Have a Reading Disorder?
Contextual Reading as a Symptom of a Reading Difficulty
When was the last time you heard your child read out loud? First, maybe second grade?
According to Scholastic.com:
Nine in 10 parents (91%) say their children are read books aloud at home before age 6, primarily to develop their child’s vocabulary and language skills and to foster reading enjoyment. However, the vast majority of parents stop reading to their children, or having their children read to them, by age nine. By age twelve, 65 out of every 100 parents (65%) have ceased to read to or with their children at all.
So, once again, when did you stop reading to your child? And more to the point, when did your child stop reading aloud to you? But wait, before you answer, let me give you a bit of background information on why you might want to listen:
Westside Tutoring & Testing Services has been specializing in (but is not limited to) tutoring, mentoring, and coaching students diagnosed with learning difficulties for more than three decades!
Here is a partial list of the learning difficulties we’ve helped students manage and/or overcome over the past 34 years (at least as far as their learning difficulties interfered with academic performance):
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- Asperger’s syndrome
- Reading Difficulties
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Anxiety disorders (GAD, test anxiety, etc. – academic/education-related issues only)
- Depression (academic/education-related issues only)
- Bipolar Disorder (academic/education-related issues only)
- Anger Issues (academic/education-related issues only)
- Visual, Language, and Auditory Processing Disorders (academic/education related issues only)
- And many more!
Westside Tutoring & Testing Services also has an active scholars program for gifted and twice-exceptional students (2-E):
The 90/10 Scholars Program
The 90/10 Scholars Program is designed specifically for gifted students. Additionally, The 90/10 Scholars Program includes students with and without learning difficulties, and, furthermore, it includes twice-exceptional or 2-E students. Twice-exceptional or 2-E students are students who have been diagnosed with a learning difficulty (e.g., ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, etc.) and are also considered gifted.
As a matter of fact, twice-exceptional students are not all that exceptional. Interestingly, many students who have been diagnosed with a learning difficulty are also considered gifted.
Finally, Westside Tutoring & Testing Services has an active and successful test preparation program.
Westside Tutoring & Testing Services offers test preparation courses for all of the following examinations (and many more):
- AP (all subjects)
- PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)
- SATJ Subject Tests (all subjects)
- CLEP (all subjects)
And, of course, we offer academic tutoring and test preparation for students preparing for final exams.
Over the past 34 years, Westside Tutoring & Testing Services has tutored, mentored, and coached students from all over Northeast Ohio: Sandusky to Ashtabula and Cleveland to Ashland. First part-time and eventually full-time, Westside Tutoring & Testing Services has grown into an academic tutoring and testing service with a successful track record and a reputation for success.
Over the past few years we have referred several students to an educational psychologist in private practice: Dr. Cheryl Chase-Carmichael (Independence, Ohio). Dr. Chase has extensive experience assessing and working with children and adults with learning difficulties. Without exception, Westside Tutoring & Testing Services students and their parents speak very highly of Dr. Chase. WTTS has also referred students to the Pediatric Neuropsychology Department of University Hospitals-Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio.
I understand that I am not a medical practitioner. Therefore, in order to make sure that our students receive the kind of help they deserve and so often require, and not a few for the first time in their lives (in addition to the requisite testing accommodations), I refer our students to a qualified medical practitioner whenever necessary. To that end, I have developed professional relationships with a select group of highly-qualified experts:
Experts who we know will help our students deal with their learning difficulties and disorders effectively.
I am both capable and qualified to address learning difficulties in an academic setting. However, I am not able to do so medically, nor would I want to. As a matter of fact, to do anything other than refer our students to a qualified, licensed medical practitioner would be folly…not to mention highly unethical, immoral, and illegal.
First and foremost, I am an educator. I love what I do and the students I work with. So, whenever one of my students requires medical, psychiatric, or psychological intervention, I refer them to a qualified educational psychologist, pediatric neuropsychologist, or psychiatrist at once.
Learning Difficulties: Students with Reading Difficulties
Without getting into too much detail, I will try to explain why I have, on several occasions, referred our students to qualified educational psychologists or pediatric neuropsychologists who specialize in reading disorders or difficulties.
NOTE: The term disorder and difficulty are generally used in the same context and convey the same meaning.
The type of learning difficulty I am speaking of is a type reading disorder or reading difficulty. I have come across this type of learning difficulty quite often; unfortunately, it is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to overcome.
The main reason it is so difficult to diagnose is because, as noted above, we rarely place our children in situations where they have to read aloud after the first or second grade, in or out of the classroom. Even if a child is asked to read aloud, he or she can usually avoid doing so by making an excuse of one kind or another. Consequently, this type of learning difficulty can, and very often does, escape detection for years.
Sadly, the child may think what he or she is experiencing is entirely normal, often explaining that he or she is “just not very good at reading aloud.” Nevertheless, if this sort of learning difficulty or disorder allowed to go unchecked through middle school and into high school, the student’s frustration will grow exponentially. Once the student’s frustration reaches a tipping point, he or she will do what the vast majority of us would do in a similar situation:
They eliminate the source of the pain and stop reading altogether!
Adaptation in Response to a Learning Difficulty or Disorder through Contextual Reading
As the affected child continues through elementary school and on into middle school, he or she adapts or compensates by reading contextually (i.e., reading what should logically follow next on the page based on recognized words and images). The reason for this sort of adaptation should be obvious, we expect our children to be able to read normally. In point of fact, it is a reasonable assumption, one that is completely understandable. Interestingly, I have had both physicians’ and educators’ children present with this undiagnosed learning disorder many times over the years. It is that difficult to identify.
The reaction is almost always the same: “I never knew!”
By the time a child reaches high school, he or she has adapted completely…or as completely as is possible. By high school, they are usually able to manage (or hide) their reading difficulty completely; or rather, they are able to manage and/or hide their reading difficulty until placed in a situation where they must read technical and/or demanding subject matter. It is generally at this point that the adaptation begins to fall apart. All at once, the compensatory mechanism they have come to rely on no longer works…or no longer works as well.
It is at this point, the point at which the contextual reading adaptation is failing and a myriad of additional psychological difficulties begin to express themselves (e.g., anxiety, depression, headaches, chronic absences, etc.) that we get a call from a concerned parent.
Alternatively, and this is perhaps even more disconcerting for parents and students alike, the difficulty emerges during preparation for a standardized test, usually in preparation for a high-stakes, academic-related proficiency test or high school, undergraduate, graduate, or professional school entrance examination (e.g., HSPT, PLAN, PSAT, OGT, AP exams, ACT, SAT, SAT subject tests, GRE, LSAT, etc.). When the difficulty finally emerges it is often an “Ah-Ha!” moment for student and parent alike.
Parents will often say: “I knew there was a problem!”
Or they will say: “We’ve asked for testing more times than we can count over the years and the answer was always the same: ‘her grades are fine’ or his grades are fine’.”
And so it goes on from there: Often pitting parent against school–back and forth–with little or no resolution.
The irony is palpable. The parents were right. The experts were wrong. And, incredibly, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
Well, they simply soldier on…
Sadly, I hear this same, sad story several times a week.
Reading Aloud: After All These Years and ACT, SAT, GRE, and LSAT Preparation
In preparation for the PSAT, PLAN, OGT, ACT, SAT, GRE, LSAT, or any of the other exams mentioned above, Westside Tutoring & Testing Services Test Preparation Course students read aloud as we work through exam after exam. We do so one question at a time and it is often at this point that a contextual reading adaptation will present itself, if indeed one exists.
Certainly, there are quite a few students who have difficulty reading aloud initially; that’s a given. But that sort of reading difficulty goes away after a few sessions. However, there is a subset of students who cannot work through their reading difficulties.
And here’s the rub: It’s how they read because they have to, because they are compensating for an underlying learning difficulty. The student reads contextually because he or she works out logically what should be next on the page…what must be next on the page. He or she reads what should come next on the page based on the overall context.
Hence the phrase, contextual reading!
The Solution to a Lifelong, Often Undiagnosed Learning Difficulty
Contextual reading is not a learning difficulty!
Contextual reading may be a symptom of an underlying learning difficulty; it is an adaptation…and the solution is never easy. Nevertheless, this type of learning difficulty can be, and must be, dealt with. In fact, with time and effort it can be overcome. Overcoming this sort of reading difficulty is often difficult and time consuming. After all, if the student is a teenager preparing for the ACT and/or SAT, then the adaptation has been a part of the student’s learning strategy for almost as long as he or she has been in school (if not longer).
Learning How to Read…Again!
We begin by changing how the student reads. We work to slow everything down. We work to slow the student down, often because there are other learning difficulties (i.e., ADHD). We read aloud and we focus on what is actually on the page. Once the student learns to slow down and analyze what they are reading, they are on the road to reading proficiency. This is a long and difficult process and the student is often frustrated. They are, in a very real sense, learning to read all over again. And, there are times when the student feels like quitting.
There have even been times when students have cried out in frustration.
There are other times when they’ve just cried.
It is absolutely heartrending!
When this sort of breakdown occurs, when the frustration becomes too intense, we stop, take a breath, reassure, refocus, and point to how far they’ve come…usually in a relatively short period of time.
They know. Deep down, they know. And they are relieved. They finally know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel…even if they can’t quite see it, yet.
But let’s not kid ourselves, it is still very hard on them…and it’s hard to watch. It is hard to watch because it’s impossible not to care. It is impossible not to feel empathy. It is impossible not to grow fond of these remarkable, remarkably bright, and remarkably resilient children. I am very fond of every one of my students, and I know how much pain they have dealt with. I know how much pain they are in at that very moment when they cry or cry out.
To their credit, these remarkably bright and determined students rarely quit. And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched students walk away after an especially difficult session, wondering if I’d ever see them again. Fortunately, quitting doesn’t seem to be in their DNA: not if they’re still working, still trying, still coming back for more in spite of the pain.
If you have a son or a daughter with this sort of difficulty, even if you think but don’t know (not for sure), get them to someone who can help them.
I believe in these kids. This is a remarkable generation and I will do everything humanly possible to help the students who cross my path. If you have a child with a learning difficulty of any kind, please contact Westside Tutoring & Testing Services any time. Call 216-712-7004 for a free, in-home consultation and assessment. Leave a message. We monitor voicemail 24/7/365. We will get back to you just as soon as we are able to.
I wish you and yours all the best in life!
Westside Tutoring & Testing Services
Lakewood, Ohio 44107