In the first grade, Nate had trouble learning to read, so his mother asked the school to test for learning disabilities.
“And they tested him,” says Joy Swenson, “and they came back and told me that there was nothing wrong.”
Later, Swenson began home schooling Nate, and his reading improved.
“And I thought everything was fine; it was just a problem he was having in school,” she says.
Nate had fooled the school, his teacher and even his mother … then he started third grade. The vocabulary words became longer and more difficult, and Nate found that he hit another wall.
“I don’t know how to spell them, I don’t know how to pronounce them, I don’t even know what they mean,” he explains.
So Nate was tested for dyslexia again a week ago, and this time he was diagnosed with the disorder.
“And so a child who sounds like they’re reading accurately, reading rapidly, loves to read, and suddenly hits the wall in third to fourth grade, can surprise parents, even though many of the warning signs were there earlier,” says Susan Barton, a dyslexia specialist and educational consultant for Bright Solutions.
According to a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Nate is part of a “second wave” of learning disabled children who don’t get discovered until the so-called “fourth grade slump.”
But can a learning disability suddenly appear in the third or fourth grade, or is it that children aren’t diagnosed until that time? Experts and studies support both sides.
Still, for Nate, even a late diagnosis was welcome.
“In a way, it’s a relief because now I know exactly what to do – what’s wrong with him, what we can do,” Swenson says.
What We Need to Know
A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology reveals that even though a child is reading well in first and second grades, he or she could suffer reading problems later in life. Researchers from Haskins Laboratories studied the reading, language and cognitive skills of 74 fourth-graders and 87 fifth-graders from diverse backgrounds. Of those children, 95 exhibited age-appropriate reading skills, 35 suffered reading problems before third grade and 31 suffered “late-emerging” reading difficulty. Consider these additional findings from the study:
- Only nine of the children with late-emerging problems had been identified as having problems by their school.
- An estimated 32% of those with late-emerging difficulties had strong word recognition but problems with reading comprehension.
- Approximately 35% of those with late-emerging problems had trouble with words, phonetics and spelling but no trouble with comprehension.
- About 33% of those with late-emerging difficulties had trouble with both word recognition and comprehension.
Some common disabilities that affect learning to read include the following:
- Dyslexia: Dyslexia affects approximately 20% of school-age children.
- Speech and Language Disorders: This general term refers to problems with communication, including reception (understanding), expression (speaking) and articulation (forming sounds) disorders. These disorders affect approximately 10% of the school population and account for 25% of children in special education.
- Processing Deficits: Processing disorders interfere with information taken in through the senses. The most common types affecting school tasks are visual, auditory and motor deficits.
- ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by age-inappropriate levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. It affects 3-5% of the population and often occurs with other conditions.
- Developmental Disabilities (Mental Retardation): Mental retardation is diagnosed by an IQ below 70-75 and limitations in daily living. It affects approximately 3% of the population. Of this group, 87% are mildly affected. Children with mild mental retardation may just seem a little slower than others in learning new information and skills.
The good news, according to NICHD, is that 90-95% of reading problems can be corrected with early intervention and proper instruction. The Appalachian Educational Laboratory offers parents some general advice for helping their children with reading difficulties:
- When it comes to reading, (directed) practice makes perfect.
- Never force your child to read orally in front of his or her peers.
- Choose reading material on subjects of interest to your child.
- Speak distinctly and expressively when reading, clearly enunciating words and sounds.Inflect your voice in accordance with punctuation.
- Help make reading enjoyable. Children with reading difficulties usually don’t like to read and don’t get sufficient practice to become fluent.
Experts agree that as a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher when it comes to reading. The most successful readers are those children who have been read to a lot. It is best to read to your child early and often. Reading aloud to children helps them see that a book is a wonderful thing. When reading aloud to your child, try these strategies:
- Stop frequently to help your child make sense of the story.
- Ask him or her to name pictures, complete the sentence or predict what will happen next..
- Be patient about repeating the same story over and over. Children may be able to begin seeing patterns and figure out how reading works when requesting the same story repeatedly.
- Set aside a regular time to read to your child every day
- Follow the words with your finger so your child develops a sense that the words go from left to right on the page.
- Encourage your child to join in while you read. Pause to let him or her fill in a rhyming word or repeat a line.
- Begin teaching the letters of the alphabet, starting with the letters in your child’s own name.
In addition, it is important to expose your child to books. Keep books in your house and visit the library frequently. The National Education Association reminds parents to set a good example as a reader. Let your child see you read at home every day, whether it is a magazine, newspaper in hand or online.
About the Program
Some kids seem to be doing fine… they like going to school and are learning to read, write and spell. Then around the fourth grade, some seem to hit a wall – and learning stops. Watch this story to learn about learning challenges that appear as students get older, and how we can help bridge the gaps.