Is My Child Just a Late Starter? by Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

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(When reading doesn’t start easily)

Originally Published Fall 2013

Finally receiving the new curriculum for the year can be an exciting time for a homeschooling mom. After having taught three previous children how to read, mom looks forward to teaching this fourth child.

But what if your fourth child, who is the same age as your other children were when they were eagerly reading, is not interested in learning to read, or is having great difficulty learning to read? Do you have this child tested? Do you wait? Will the reading just “click” at some point, if you wait long enough? How does a mother know if this is a “maturity issue” or if this difficulty is a sign of a learning disability?

As a special education teacher and homeschool educational consultant, this is how I approach the maturity issue.

These are the red flags I look for in a seven-and-a-half-year-old who is either avoiding or struggling with reading:

1 Boys

Research shows that boys tend to mature later than girls. Thus, if a seven-and-a-half-year-old boy is not interested in reading, I would just give him six more months to let his nervous system mature before I try formal reading lessons again.

Being a nutritionist as well as an educator, I would help the child’s nervous system to mature during this waiting time using natural means. Relying on the research done by Dr. Jacqueline Stordy in her studies relating the nervous system maturity (particularly in males) to essential fatty acid deficiency, I would give this child some fish oil supplements, which help to move the maturing process along. (For supplement details see “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain,” www.diannecraft.org.)

“No parent has ever said that they started interventions too early with their child.” —Sally Shaywitz, MD, Overcoming Dyslexia

2 Desire

Does your child have a desire to read? If the desire to read is not there, then I would give the child six more months for his nervous system to mature. However, if this child wants to read, but cannot remember sight words or the sounds of the letters, that is a sign that there is a learning block, and I would investigate professional interventions.

3 Speech

Some children have a significant speech delay and are struggling with remembering letter names or sounds. If that is the case, it would be a good idea to check into some reading intervention. An Auditory Processing problem often accompanies a delay in speech and can be helped by an intensive phonics program that uses more right brain teaching strategies, or tiles, or other methods that are out of the “norm” for regular reading instruction.

4 Alphabet

When a child easily learns to say and sing the alphabet, and easily remembers the names and sounds of letters, but is not interested in reading, then I would consider this a maturity issue.

However, if your child has an Auditory Processing problem, learning to say or even sing the alphabet correctly can be difficult. For such children, remembering the names of the letters when looking at them is also very difficult. That is when I would begin interventions.

5 Listening to Stories

If your seven-year-old is not even interested in listening to you read a story, give him six more months for his nervous system to mature. However, if he loves to listen to stories read by mom, or on tape, he is showing that he is ready for learning and would like to learn how to read himself. If he is struggling with the reading process, then I would see that as a red flag, and start interventions.

“Reading and writing are natural, if there are no learning blocks.” —Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP,Brain Integration Therapy; Right Brain Reading Program

6 Reading or Writing Reversals

When children are first learning to track their eyes from left to right over the page as they read and write, they may make letters backwards or read letters or words backwards. However, after six months of practice, the majority of children cease making reversals. Brain research now shows us that when a child struggles with this left to right process past age seven and a half, this is usually a symptom of a poorly established midline. While this can be corrected at home using various exercises, it is important that the parent see this as a red flag and take action. Without the interventions, the child likely will have to struggle longer than necessary.

Well-Intentioned Remarks

When we have a “late bloomer,” we inevitably hear the story about a child who did not learn to read until age eleven or twelve, but is a good reader now. Some late bloomers do learn to read without interventions, so why not wait all the time? Often the price the child pays in lowered self-esteem for so many years, while others are easily reading, can be too high. We now know more about how the brain processes information, and have access to wonderful early interventions that take the chore out of learning.

Bottom line: Learning does not have to be so hard!

Dianne Craft is a former homeschool mom with a master’s degree in education. Her books, The Brain Integration Therapy Manual, The Right Brain Phonics Reading Program, and her DVDs, Understanding and Helping the Struggling Learner, Teaching the Right Brain Child, Smart Kids Who Hate to Write and The Biology of Behavior have helped hundreds of families remove learning blocks in their struggling children at home. Visit her website, diannecraft.org, for many articles on children and learning, and to download her FREE Daily Lesson Plans for the Struggling Reader and Writer.