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Your Questions and Our Answers

Have a question about reading intervention? Ask Help for Reading with the form below….

Our answers to your questions.

Q:  My daughter’s birthday is just a day from the cutoff for entering school, so I am thinking about delaying her start.

A: There is quite a bit of research on delaying school entry and results are mixed. Some results do not favor late start and others favor late start. 

Most of the studies looking at benefits to academics have concluded that late start does not result in a benefit to academics. But studies looking at the benefits of late start for children with weak social-emotional skills – specifically with attention or hyperactivity concerns – indicate these children may benefit. You can read about a recent study at http://cepa.stanford.edu/content/gift-time-school-starting-age-and-mental-health

Among the studies indicating late start does not benefit academics, one study specifically looked at the impact on reading. Fred Morrison at the University of Michigan conducted a study to see if children’s reading achievement was more related to their age or the amount of schooling. The study followed older kindergarteners and younger first graders – kids who fell on different sides of the school’s calendar cutoff. Both the younger first graders and the older first graders made similar progress – so it would appear that late start kindergarteners does not give a child an advantage in reading. The study also showed that the first graders made far more progress than older kindergarteners, even though they were close in age. What seems to matter more than age is time in school. This study would argue against using delayed enrollment if your goal is to benefit a child’s reading.

The decision for each child must be made on an individual basis, taking in many factors including spoken language, vocabulary development and early literacy skills. If your child has a language impairment or other developmental delay, do not delay getting support. Check with your school district about free screenings offered for children ages 3 to 5. Delays in identifying children at risk for reading difficulties are not beneficial because earlier interventions are more successful.

We hope this information helps you in your decision-making.

“Our son has a reading difficulty and also has an attention deficit disorder. At our recent school meeting the principal suggested we explore medication for our son’s ADD. She thought it would help his reading. He does not act out and there are no real behavior concerns. Will using ADD medicine help my son’s reading?”

In general, the answer is no. Medicine will not ‘fix’ a reading problem. The research community has established for many years that reading difficulties or dyslexia are language-based difficulties. Neither an attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit disorder with hyper-activity (ADHD) cause reading disorders.

But even if ADD doesn’t cause reading problems, it would seem logical that any medicine which improves focus would help with reading. However, no studies to date have confirmed this speculation. See this blog on a study reported in the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

No one can predict what may work for an individual child. There may be situations in which ADD medicine, simply by improving the child’s behaviors, allows him or her to respond better to all instruction.

What we do know is that an evidence-based, intensive reading program does work and works for most students with or without medicine.

“The school met with us about our daughter’s struggle with reading. They suggested we look into color overlays to help with reading. They also gave us a bookmark with a blue see- through panel to use. Does this work?”

If you have concerns about your child’s vision, this should be checked by an eye doctor or other health care professional. Vision problems may interfere with the process of learning and an eye doctor can identify vision problems such as farsightedness (hyperopia) or wandering eye (strabismus) and any possible impact on learning.

The idea of using color overlays for reading difficulties is spread by organizations and parent testimonials on the web describing “amazing” and “miraculous” results for children using them. But we get a different answer from carefully controlled studies conducted by reading researchers and from doctors in eye and health care.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists – issued a joint statement. They reported that vision problems are not the cause of reading difficulties, and there is no evidence to support treating reading difficulties with vision therapy or tinted filters.  They stated that these approaches are not endorsed nor should they be recommended. Here are links to the articles: http://www.aao.org/clinical-statement/joint-statement-learning-disabilities-dyslexia-vis   http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/2/837

Based on this information, and current reading research, Help for Reading does not recommend the use of colored overlays or vision therapy as a viable treatment for a reading disability. 

“Is there any harm in trying?” The concern of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others repudiating vision therapy, is the delay that occurs and resources that are diverted when these approaches are tried rather than using well-documented, successful interventions.  

As a parent, you wish to do whatever will help your child learn to read, so you may choose to try colored overlays, but please do not delay in asking your school to evaluate your child’s reading and begin any needed evidence-based reading interventions.

Research indicates that vision problems are not the cause nor the cure for reading difficulties.* If the concern is about learning to read, you most likely want to assess and address cognitive and language processes related to reading.

*According to the American Optometric Association, vision therapy may be appropriate to treat strabismus or ocular motility dysfunction amblyopia but vision therapy for treatment of reading disorders or dyslexia is not recommended.

Quoting the American Ophthalmological Association:

“To date, there appears to be no consistent scientific evidence that supports behavioral vision therapy, orthoptic vision therapy, or colored overlays and lenses as effective treatments for learning disabilities. It seems intuitive that oculomotor abilities and visual perception play a role in learning skills such as reading and writing. However, several studies in the literature demonstrate that eye movements and visual perception are not critical factors in the reading impairment found in dyslexia, but that brain processing of language plays a greater role. Furthermore, the vast majority of individuals with known ocular motility and eye movement defects appear to read and comprehend normally. Many individuals born with severely misaligned eyes excel in reading and academics.”

“….Our 3rd grader’s teacher spoke to us about placing our daughter in special education, she is doing well in all other areas. Will this help?”

It is commendable that you and your school have recognized your child’s need for help with reading. The prognosis for children who receive early intervention in reading is so much better than when a child is allowed to fall significantly behind.

But before considering special education your school may first help with a Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, since many children are able to catch up in reading through this intervention. Read more about this step here: A Parent’s Guide to RTI  and The ABCs of RTI in Elementary School: A Guide for Families    According to many reading researchers it is possible to substantially close the gap in reading ability with good remedial interventions.

If after RTI the school feels a special education is in order, or if you request an evaluation, the evaluation process will begin. Qualifying for special education affords many legal rights for your child and involves you as part of the school team in developing your child’s individualized education program.

Here is the not so great information. Although there are many dedicated teachers doing their best to meet the varied needs of all their students, when we searched outcomes in special education for children with reading disabilities, it was disheartening. There is evidence from many sources that typical special education interventions for children with reading disabilities do not remediate their reading failure. One well known study found that placement in special education for children with reading disabilities produced no gain in word level reading skills relative to normal readers in a three year period. Average scores on standardized reading assessments showed the students in special education even experienced a decline in their standing in reading comprehension scores (McKinney, et al, 1990).

Our schools are facing more and more challenges in educating children, but your particular school’s special education program may be an exception to the above general finding. As you make your decision about special education, remember that what matters is your child’s progress in her reading ability. Ask your school about the success of their programs, and if you decide to seek special education and qualify for those services, your school will track your child’s progress with data on her individual reading goals. 

What most parents want to see is their child progressing in reading and hopefully catching up to grade level. Whatever you decide to do, understanding and monitoring your child’s instruction and reading growth is important.

I have a 6th grade son who behind in reading and need some help getting him prepared for Jr. High. I would love some help getting him some tools that will help him with not only speed but comprehension.”

To best help your son, we would need more detailed information about his reading, so we could target his individual needs, but let’s try to help by using a hypothetical child and make these assumptions:

  1. His reading level is a year or less behind that of his classmates.
  2. He doesn’t have any underlying weaknesses typical of reading difficulty, such as weakness in phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming, or short term memory.
  3. He knows and uses letter/sound patterns (phonics) to decode words he does not recognize. When he decodes unrecognized words he may occasionally, say a close pronunciation, but from that he changes his pronunciation to the real word. For example, if the word is ‘geyser’ and at first he says ‘jiser’ he immediately corrects the pronunciation to ‘geyser,’ using his known vocabulary and a mind set for diversity.
  4. He reads grade level text with 96% or better accuracy, not making many errors by simply guessing at words or changing /moving letters. For example, he doesn’t read ‘dissect’ for ‘bisect’ or ‘converse’ for ‘conserve.’ He simply reads words more slowly and not automatically.
  5. One last assumption, if you read to him, he comprehends well and is able to answer questions and relate to the material. It is only when he reads on his own that comprehension seems to be a problem. In other words, his oral language skills, vocabulary and ability to draw conclusions and make inferences are fine, so most likely his slow reading rate is what is interfering with his comprehension.

From all this we could conclude that your son simply needs to build his reading rate; he has the necessary skills but his reading rate needs a boost. A technique called “repeated reading” may be beneficial for this student. We have several videos that explain how to do various forms of repeated reading, such as echo reading and choral reading, along with a handout on repeated reading.

One more suggestion that might help would be to increase his volume of reading – how much he is reading in and out of school. Increasing the amount and variety of what he reads may help build his rate and word recognition. Finding books he enjoys may assist with this.

If your son’s reading ability is actually more than a year behind that of his classmates, or he has difficulty reading accurately, we would need more detailed information in order to customize an approach that would improve his reading. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.