Getting to the Root of a Reading Problem

Dear Dr. Linda,

My son, who is about to enter high school, reads on a fourth-grade level. He has had Wilson Reading since first grade. He has done very well in math and other subjects up till now and he’s a happy kid, but I’m concerned that because of the amount of reading required in high school, he’s headed for a real problem.

His school does not provide reading in high school. They tell me that he’ll receive support. I think he’ll need more help but I don’t know exactly in what. How do I find out if the school is doing the right thing? Since his reading is so low, maybe something else is wrong. Where do I go from here? 

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Distressed Mom

Dear Distressed Mom,

Don’t panic. The teachers in your school are probably placing him in the right classes with the right support. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you had him tested by an outside provider since he’s had reading support for so many years and is still struggling. If he is diagnosed with dyslexia, that won’t be surprising. However, getting another opinion might reveal another issue that has been masked.

I recently tested a young man who started struggling in ninth grade.  Before that, he always did well. His parents thought he simply was lazy because the courses were hard. However, during our session, I noticed that as long as he was looking at me when I talked to him, he did everything I asked and did it well. What was the problem? He had a mild undiagnosed hearing deficit. He was able to get by in the lower grades because he picked up most of what was being taught. In high school, he couldn’t. The subjects were difficult and used words he had never encountered before. In other words, sometimes a student has an issue that is masked for years by overcompensating.

With another young client who was below grade level in reading, we discovered that his decoding was fine, but he continuously got poor grades on reading comprehension because of a poor short-term memory combined with a mild attentional problem. When he was shown how to jot down information or draw pictures as he read, his reading comprehension improved. In other words, his comprehension was fine because he could make meaning out of what he read. He simply couldn’t remember it.

The same is true for other school-related problems. Is the reason a child fails algebra tests because she has dyscalculia or because she never learned her times tables and it slows her down so she never finishes? Is the reason a middle-schooler fails a social studies test that he doesn’t study or is it because he doesn’t know how to study in the first place?

Before we can begin to solve any problem, it’s important to figure out the source of the problem. Otherwise, we’re likely to try things that have no chance of succeeding and wasting valuable time in the process. No matter how many times you add oil to your car, if the problem’s a leak from the oil pan gasket, the problem won’t go away.

Have your son tested by an educational testing professional who is experienced in diagnosing dyslexia and other sources of reading problems. Knowledge is power—once you know what obstacles may be standing in your son’s way, you can make informed decisions about how to help your son overcome them.

Dr. Linda

If you’d like Dr. Linda to answer a question, email her at or call her at 845-628-7910 or 914-238-1850.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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