by Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
Nobody knows better than homeschool parents, that not all our children learn the same way, nor at the same pace. So, when one of our children has a “slow start” out of the reading gate, parents wonder if this is just natural for this child, and waiting will bring the desired result, or if intervention is needed. One of the most common questions we receive from our homeschooling parents is, “My son (or daughter) is seven and a half and still can’t read. How do I know if this is a “maturity issue” or if this difficulty is a sign of a learning disability?
Let’s explore this “maturity issue” further. I look for “red flags” that the child is presenting to me.
1. Boy or Girl
It is common knowledge that boys tend to mature later than girls. Thus, if I have a boy who is around seven and a half who is not interested in reading, I may just give him six more months to let his nervous system “catch up” before I present the reading lessons to him again.
Meanwhile, you may want to explore the many studies available on the role of essential fatty acids in the maturing of a child’s nervous system. The LCP Solution by Dr. Jacquelyn Stordy and Nutritional Influences on Illness by Dr. Melvyn Werbach, MD, UCLA School of Medicine are two good sources. Dr. Werbach reports of the fascinating studies that show that boys have a three times higher need for these essential fats than girls. This is one possible explanation for the “maturity gap” between boys and girls. It is easy to include more fish or fish oil supplements in the home setting to help aid in this maturing process.
Does this child have the desire to read? If the child has no desire to read, then I would give him/her six more months for his nervous system to mature. However, is this child wants to read, but can’t remember the sight word names, or the sounds of the letters, then that is a Red Flag that there likely is a learning block that is present. I would begin interventions.
3. Early Speech
Many times the puzzling thing that parents observe is that the child has a huge speaking vocabulary at age 3 or 4, saying things like, “I would prefer the red crayon…” The parent expects that this child will take off with reading as soon as the words are presented to him. Frequently that is the case. However, when this verbally gifted child struggles with the initial reading process, the parent is surprised. That is a Red Flag, often indicative of a visual or auditory processing problem.
If a child has a significant Speech Delay, that also is indicative of a child who is struggling with an auditory processing problem.
If a child easily learns to say the alphabet, and easily learns the names and sounds of the alphabet, but is still not interested in reading, then I would give him another six months for his nervous system to mature. However, if the child has difficulty learning the letter names and sounds, or even saying the alphabet in order, I would see this as an indication of an auditory processing issue, and start interventions.
5. Listening to stories
If your six or seven year old is not even interested in sitting still long enough to listen to a good story read by mom, I would give that child six more months for his nervous system to mature. However, if your child loves to listen to stories read by mom, or stories on tape, that child is showing that reading is fascinating for him, and he would like to learn how to read himself. If he is struggling with this process, then I would see that as a Red Flag and start interventions.
6. Other children in the family
We often hear that we are not to “compare” our children’s learning to one another. However, there generally are some commonalities in a family. Dr. Linda Silverman, in her book, Upside Down Brilliance, found that not only do we tend to marry a person who is no more than ten parts apart in IQ, our children tend to be no more than ten points apart in IQ. In other words, we can dispel the myth that this child is not as “smart” as his siblings. If a family has children who tend to learn how to read early, but one child continues to struggle with the process, we see that as a Red Flag. Something is up. Let’s consider looking at interventions for this child instead of making him wait until he has figured it out himself. Often by that time, the child has formed an opinion about himself that is not favorable. This can easily be avoided.
7. Reversals longer than siblings
It is a common opinion that reading and writing reversals are “normal” in the learning process. However, as we talk with first grade teachers, we ask them about the number of their students who continue to make reversals after Christmas. If they have a class of twenty five, they often say, “Oh, not more than three or four students.” Thus, if continued reversals is “normal”, a much larger number would continue struggling with reading or writing reversals. With current brain research, we now know that when a child does not have an established “midline”, he/she must use “battery energy” to switch around letters so they make sense when he reads or writes. This, of course, will slow down the process considerably and often cause this child to give up on the process. This is not necessarily a symptom of dyslexia, but rather a symptom of a poorly established midline that can be easily corrected. Of course, when a child is first learning how to track his eyes left to right in the reading process, or first learning how to make the letters, reversals often occur. But this naturally resolves itself after six months of practice. If this does not resolve itself, then we see it as a Red Flag. Too much effort is given to a task that should require no effort at all. Dr. Mel Levine refers to this “learning energy leak” in his book, One Mind At a Time. I always take reversals seriously after age seven and a half, and see it as a stress in the child’s learning system that I want to eliminate.
“No parent has ever said that they started interventions too early with their child.” Sally Shaywitz, MD, Overcoming Dyslexia
“Reading and writing is natural, if there are no learning blocks.” Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, Brain Integration Therapy
8. A Final Thought
At times we hear parents say, “My child didn’t learn to read until age 10 (11 or12) and is fine now.” Do some “late bloomers” learn to read by age 10 or 12 by themselves? Absolutely. Then why not wait all the time? The price the child pays in lowered self esteem can be too high at times. The child has struggled so many years, when it was not necessary. We have more knowledge about the reasons for “late blooming” now and the early interventions that take the chore out of learning.
Bottom line: Learning doesn’t have to be so hard!
The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.
Dianne Craft has a Master’s Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. More articles and information are available at diannecraft.org.