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5 Ways to Lift Up Lagging Readers

A quarter of all kids with ADHD also have dyslexia, which complicates and slows down the process of learning to read. If your child is frustrated by books, follow these tips to build up lagging skills and to make reading less work and more fun.

How to Help a Child Struggling With Reading: 5 Strategies

When my son, William, was little, he soaked up information like a sponge.

When it came to reading, however, his eyes darted everywhere but on the page. Memorizing letters and sight words was a Herculean task. He didn’t benefit from repeated rehearsals of basics like “cat’ and “the,” and I was at a loss — William learned to talk so easily that I assumed his reading skills would develop naturally.

Looking back, I should have foreseen William’s struggle to read.

How? For one, his father was diagnosed as a child with dyslexia, a highly genetic condition.

Secondly, William was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten.

ADHD and dyslexia are two distinct conditions, but they share a strong overlap. Research statistics vary, but findings generally suggest that a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) has about a 25 percent chance of having dyslexia. If a child has dyslexia, he has about a 25-40 percent chance of having ADHD.

[Does Your Child Have a Learning Disability? Take This Symptom Self-Test]

William’s shaky start with reading contributed to him repeating kindergarten, but I’m happy to report he became an excellent reader by the end of second grade. Here are a few strategies that made a significant difference for us:

1. Seek reading support sooner than later.

If your child is lagging behind classmates in reading, DON’T WAIT. Early reading lags are highly predictive of future reading problems. If your child is one of the few who catches up within a few months, great! But most children with reading lags require school-based and private reading support to catch up.

The good news is that, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 95 percent of children who have trouble learning to read can reach grade level if they receive specialized help.

Among the great reading supports available for children is Orton Gillingham (O-G), a nationally recognized multi-sensory approach to teaching reading and writing skills in youth. O-G specialists, like my son’s tutor, incorporate a child’s senses into the learning process (e.g., have them write words in shaving cream). This was perfect for William, who craved movement.

[Free Webinar Replay: Beyond Dyslexia: Overcoming Reading Challenges for Kids with ADHD]

2. Choose books at your child’s level.

To become a strong, satisfied reader, a child needs to read books at his level. A good rule of thumb is this: If your child makes more than one reading error in ten words, the reading level is likely too difficult. Here’s a great article on how to discover your child’s reading level. Your child’s teacher is a good resource, as well.

Parents, ask your local librarian to help you find INTERESTING books that are at your child’s level. Research suggests that if a child is highly interested in the topic, she will work harder to try to read the book. Here’s a list of books that motivate children and middle schoolers with learning difficulties.

One more thing: Don’t squabble with your child if she insists on checking out a book beyond her level. If she gets an ego boost by “reading” Harry Potter along with her friends, more power to her.

3. Consider audiobooks.

Research has shown that reading comprehension improves when kids read books and listen to them simultaneously. This is particularly true for kids who have short attention spans and lower reading skills.

Heard Any Good Books Lately?” explains the benefits of listening to books versus reading them for children with ADHD. I encourage parents to consider a free trial on Audible or check out books on tape at their local library.

Of course, audiobooks are not a substitute for one-on-one reading time with a parent. Reading to your child is important on multiple levels. For example, it builds reading fluency, parent-child connection, and stronger vocabulary skills. I read to my kids at bedtime, which helps us all wind down.

4. Limit screen usage.

Excessive screen-related activities, like video-gaming, have been associated with lower academic performance in school. That’s why it’s super important for parents to monitor their child’s screen-time, and promote alternative activities, like a trip to the library, or a family bike ride.

Don’t be surprised if your child balks at your suggestions. Shifting off screen-related activities triggers frustration in many kids, especially those with ADHD. Just know that you can kick your guilt to the curb when your unplugged child insists that you are ruining her life.

She may not thank you now, but she’ll thank you later.

How to Help a Child Struggling With Reading

  1. Don’t wait to get your child reading help she’s behind
  2. Try to read to your child for a few minutes daily
  3. Help your child choose books at her reading level
  4. Consider checking out books on tape
  5. Create a reader-friendly home by monitoring screen-time

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