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Reading Difficulties

What mystifies many parents is where and why the reading process breaks down. Although breakdowns may occur in any area (i.e., decoding, comprehension, or retention) of reading, many experts believe decoding is the root of most reading difficulties.

Reading Facts

  • Reading difficulties are neurodevelopmental in nature. In other words, reading difficulties are related to the way the specific brain functions develop over time. Various areas of each child’s brain develop at a different rate. Gaps may be temporary.
  • Most children with reading difficulties can be taught reading strategies for success in school.
  • When children’s reading weaknesses are identified early, they are more likely to learn strategies that will improve their reading.

Decoding Difficulties

Decoding is the process by which a word is broken into individual phonemes (i.e., language sounds) and recognized based on those phonemes. For instance, effective decoders separate the sounds /c/, /a/, and /t/ in the word “cat.” Someone who has difficulty decoding, and thus difficulty reading easily, may not hear and differentiate these phonemes. /c/, /a/, and /t/ might be meaningless to them in relation to the word “cat” on the page.

Experts have no one explanation for this phenomenon. In some cases, it may reflect that some people simply require more time to separate sounds – time that isn’t available.

Signs of decoding difficulty:

  • trouble sounding out words and recognizing words out of context
  • confusion between letters and the sounds they represent
  • slow oral reading rate (reading word-by-word)
  • reading without expression
  • ignoring punctuation while reading

Comprehension Difficulties

Comprehension relies on mastery of decoding; children who struggle to decode find it difficult to understand and remember what has been read. Because their efforts to grasp individual words are so exhausting, they have no resources left for understanding.

Signs of comprehension difficulty:

  • confusion about the meaning of words and sentences
  • difficulty connecting ideas in a passage
  • omission of, or glossing over, detail
  • difficulty recognizing the difference between significant information and minor details
  • lack of concentration during reading

Retention Difficulties

Retention requires both decoding and comprehending what is written. This task relies on high level cognitive skills, including memory and the ability to group and retrieve related ideas. As students progress through grade levels, they are expected to retain more and more of what they read. From third grade on, reading to learn is central to classroom work. By high school it is an essential task.

Signs of retention difficulty:

  • trouble remembering or summarizing what is read
  • difficulty connecting what is read to prior knowledge
  • difficulty applying content of a text to personal experiences

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