By Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
September 24, 2018
According to Yale Professor of Pediatrics Sally Shaywitz, M.D., co-director of Yale's Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, dyslexia is highly prevalent, affecting one in five people, and represents over 80% of all learning disabilities.
Even when a child does not meet the criteria for dyslexia, they may be a reluctant reader. Children who do not practice reading perform poorly on reading tests relative to children who do read on a regular basis.
In addition, reduced reading time results in exposure to fewer words. In general, people use limited vocabulary during conversation compared to the language one is exposed to while reading. As such, a reluctant reader is at risk to have poorly developed vocabulary knowledge compared to same-age peers. They are also less likely to improve their reading skills over time.
In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), Dr. Shaywitz shared the following information:
Through reading, a child is introduced to new concepts and information. In addition, the more a child is exposed to literature, the more likely reading will become an integral part of their daily life. However, how does a parent encourage a reluctant reader?
Here are some ideas:
1.) Read a story to your child. Then ask them to talk about their favorite parts of the story.
2.) Be ready to read or listen to books over and over again – this is how children learn. FYI- Did you know you can listen to the audio version of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (a series of children’s books by Betty MacDonald originally published in 1947) four times in a row on a drive from Boston to Maryland and four times in a row on the way back?
I did this with my daughter when she was 4-years-old (she is now 16) and I do believe that, to this day, I can still quote parts of the book!
3.) Surround your children with reading material – this can be comprised of books, graphic novels, or magazines, anything that is of interest to your child.
4.) Let your child take out their own library card and go with you to the library to pick out their own reading material. Allowing a child to read for pleasure is the best way to create a more engaged reader. However, it is also important to make sure the child is choosing an age-appropriate book.
A librarian can be very helpful in providing recommendations based on a child’s age and areas of interest.
5.) Have your children practice reading whenever possible. Baking a cake? Ask them to help you read the instructions (perhaps your hands are too messy to turn the page!). At a restaurant? Let them read the menu aloud to a younger sibling.
6.) Use technology to your advantage. For example, I worked with a 14-year old boy with dyslexia who was intimidated by the size of the first Harry Potter book. However, I mentioned to him that, on the I-pad, the book is no bigger than the I-pad itself. He was more willing to carry an I-pad around and read at his own pace.
Another advantage is that with an e-reader the child can place as much or as little text on a page as they wish, another way to reduce reading stress.
7.) Take advantage of audiobooks. This technology is a huge benefit for students who struggle to access books that are written for children their age but beyond their current independent reading level. The child can simply listen along, or they can hold the book and follow along with the text while listening.
There are several ways to access audiobooks, including downloading them from your library for free!
8.) Finally, model good reading habits. If your child never sees you reading, but you insist that they read, they will see reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. If you are not a strong reader, that is ok, you too can listen to audiobooks!
While these recommendations will hopefully help your child experience increased reading pleasure and exposure to literature, it is still important to find out the reason why your child is struggling to read. If your child has not had a thorough reading evaluation, you can ask your child’s school to complete such an assessment. In addition, you may wish to have your child evaluated by an independent evaluator.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Alissa Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center. She specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.