Teaching Learning Disabled Kids To Read

Trying to teach a learning disabled child to read can be a frustrating experience. When our oldest came to us, he was a poor student. His report card read D’s and F’s across the board. He detested reading and refused to even try to enjoy anything involving the printed word. A big part of Randy’s aversion was his discomfort in doing it. He felt inferior because he had poor reading skills. He didn’t have a good foundation to build on; no one read to him as a child and he was never encouraged to read. He was never taken on an imaginary journey through an author’s eyes. He was unable to comprehend a story line or character in a book. These difficulties were magnified by his ADHD, FAE, and some of the learning disabilities associated with these diagnoses.

Our first clue to the problem was helping him tackle a book report due in English when he was in the seventh grade. He was assigned the task of reading “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. I was familiar with the book, having read it and seen the movie. I set a time limit everyday for him to read thirty minutes in the evening. He would become visibly irritated when I reminded him it was time to read. Randy could not stay focused, squirming and fidgeting while he leaned into the book and struggled to understand it. I realized he was not enjoying the book, much less comprehending the story. I tried revising his reading rules. First we timed his reading speed to make him aware of how much he read in an allotted time. He was disappointed with the results. I assured him it was just a starting place, a means to determine how much work needed to be done in that area. When we first started timing him, Randy could read approximately three to four pages in thirty minutes. Our second step was to read aloud. This was the real challenge. He was embarrassed by his constant struggle to pronounce words. He and I would read privately, away from the rest of the family. Daniel is an avid reader and enjoying a good book comes naturally to him. I didn’t want any comparisons made to little brother that would further bruise his already injured self esteem. We worked on spelling and grammar. I explained the basics of pronunciation, not an easy task with our complicated language. He would become extremely frustrated when I would try to expound on simple spelling rules, tion sounds like shun, drop the “e” when adding ing. I remember wondering, how did this child get to the seventh grade without learning the basic rules of spelling and pronunciation?

We struggled on and he had one more weekend before his assignment was due. There was still much left to be read and not one written word on paper yet. We set aside the whole weekend for his report. We structured his reading and set aside time Sunday evening to write. Randy spent forty five minutes, uninterrupted, in his room reading. After the allotted time, he appeared in the backyard, swimsuit and towel in hand, for a fifteen minute break. The time out gave him the break he needed to relax and clear his mind to go on to the next few pages. Every two hours, I would review with him. This helped him retain what he had read and gave him the opportunity to ask for help if there was something in the story he didn’t understand, or the meaning of a word had eluded him. In his frustration, he became angry, cried, and told me he absolutely could not do it. At one point, he threw the book across the room and angrily declared I was just asking too much of him. After the frustration subsided, he picked it back up and started again. It was a difficult task.

Paul, Daniel, and I were busy in the backyard Sunday afternoon. Daniel in the pool, Paul preparing the pit for hot dogs to celebrate reaching the end of the book, and I was watering plants. Randy came flying out of the back door, relief written all over him. He had finished the book. At the age of twelve, he had finally read a whole book. We witnessed something in his face and demeanor for the first time since the boys had blended into our family; we saw pride.

After dinner, we started the short book report. It was a little messy, there were several erasure marks, and he was tired when it was over. The book report was finished. Randy was unable to contain his excitement the following Wednesday, when he proudly told us his book report grade was a B.

Several months later, I ran across “The Outsiders” at the video store. I brought it home for us to watch. Randy gave us a verbal tour during the whole movie. He still displays a lot of self satisfaction in that special accomplishment. We have continued the reading practice and he is much more proficient now. I ask him to read labels to me in the grocery store, under the pretense of not being able to see the fine print. I try to use an opportunity whenever available to subtly ask for his help in reading. There is much less struggle with words now. On Family Night we each read from our collective bibles. Randy has a teen bible geared for his age. He is comfortable with reading out loud.

Teaching a learning disabled child the basics of reading is a difficult task. It can be a boring job at times, as he struggles with the most simple words. Taking him on the journey of reading can also be an exhilarating experience for the parent and child. It is an opportunity to travel through the universe on the starship Enterprise, bury a treasure chest with the pirate Jean LaFitte, solve the elusive mystery with Nancy Drew, vicariously live the life of a pharaoh in ancient Egypt, or feel Pony Boy’s pain as he struggles with life.