Dear Dr. Linda,

I have a 3-month-old baby and have been reading to her from the day she was born. My husband has dyslexia and I’m concerned that she may have inherited it. Will this prevent it?

Madison

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Dear Madison,

I wish there was a guarantee that your baby wouldn’t inherit her dad’s “reading gene” but there isn’t. Whether she has a genetic predisposition to dyslexia has no direct relationship to what you are doing.

Since learning to read begins with putting a sound with a symbol, it’s critical that babies learn to recognize the sounds of our language. This learning begins from the day a child is born. When parents talk to babies, read to babies and sing to babies using real words, they learn the sounds by hearing them over and over, and by watching their parents’ mouths. Babies need to hear these sounds in order to develop the language part of the brain. This way, when children are later exposed to alphabetic symbols, they have already heard the sounds, developed a beginning vocabulary and have the brain power to put those sounds with the symbols that represent them.

Research has shown that language ability, or lack of it, is a predictor of literacy and school achievement. In fact, by the time a child is 5 years old, his or her store of oral language is one of three factors which predicts school success. Unfortunately, much oral language is being replaced by emails and texting, which reduces how much oral language babies and tots store.

Reading to your child cannot guarantee that your daughter will be a great reader. If your husband has a reading problem such as dyslexia, your daughter may have inherited it. But that doesn’t mean she won’t learn to read—only that it will take longer for her to make a lasting connection between the sounds and letters. 

In the meantime, continue reading to your daughter. Cloth books, board books and books for the bathtub with rhyming and repetition are great. Books with the alphabet, numbers, animals and the sounds they make, peek-a-boo books and the classics “Good Night, Moon” and “Pat the Bunny” are still at the top of the list. And believe it or not, reading Mother Goose rhymes to babies is still one of the best ways to start teaching your child how to read.

But don’t stop there. As your child grows, keep reading with her. Reading together provides a secure and safe time between child and parent. It helps develop reading and language skills and increases vocabulary. It promotes communication skills as parent and child talk about the characters in the book, the setting and the story. When reading together, stop and talk about what has happened, why it happened and what they think will happen next. When you finish a story, talk about the ending and ask whether she would have written a different ending.

Dr. Linda

If you have a question about how to help your child succeed in school, call or email Dr. Linda at 845-628-7910; she’d love to help you. You can also visit her store at HelpForStrugglingStudents.com. If you’re looking for the “funnest reading program in the whole wide world,” visit her newest website, TigerTuesday.com.