Basic Reading Skills

Is your child not reading well?

Is your child:

  • Struggling with poor reading performance?
  • Having trouble across subjects in school that require reading?
  • Struggling to learn how to read?
  • Failing to recognize letters?
  • Reading aloud slowly, inaccurately, and effortfully?
  • Working hard but still not a good reader?
  • Falling behind?
  • Avoiding reading for fun?
  • Bursting into tears if you ask him to read to you?


Watching your child learn to read can be an exciting time for many families. Reading is the place where all of our academic skills begin.

However, many children do not pick up reading as quickly as their peers do. Some children might soon begin to dislike reading. Given that reading is such a major part of the school day, if reading is really challenging, your child may then begin to dislike school.

This time can be scary for a family as you try to set your child on a path for academic and career success. When a child struggles in reading, his or her self-esteem may take a hit.

You might find that your child has missing assignments or low grades. It also could be that your child lacks confidence in his or her own academic abilities and becomes stressed or embarrassed when asked to read aloud.

Your child may cry or refuse homework, rendering homework time a war zone at your home.


Several potential signs indicate that your child may have a reading problem, such as reading that is effortful, slow, and inaccurate. Your child might struggle with decoding or with recalling how to sound out a word that just appeared in the sentence before. Your child may struggle to:

  • Recognize rhyming words (e.g., mouse, house)
  • Pronounce multisyllable words (e.g., “aminal” for animal)
  • Decipher words that sound alike or look similar (e.g., where, were)
  • Combine compound words (e.g. “bobcat” as “bob” “cat”)

If your child is bright but not performing well, a reading disorder may be present. For example, a child with an extensive vocabulary who is not reading fluently could be showing signs of a reading disability.

Regarding reading challenges, the first diagnosis to consider is Dyslexia, Specific Learning Disorder, with impairment in reading; or in schools, Specific Learning Disability. These terms all refer to reading challenges, though they are defined differently.

Dyslexia: This is a medical term which appears in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10). Dyslexia is the term that refers to challenges with word recognition, decoding, and spelling that are associated with processing deficits. Phonological processing, or how we process sounds and rhymes in words, is impacted in dyslexia.

When a clinician is diagnosing dyslexia, this diagnosis is based on reading challenges and accompanying processing deficits. Often, a psychologist will test phonological awareness, phonological memory, and rapid naming of phonological information. This diagnosis does not require reading to be below a certain cut point or grade level. Struggles with reading must be due to a true deficit in processing, not lack of education or experience.

Specific Learning Disorder, With impairment in reading: This is the term that appears in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual that psychologists use to make diagnoses. Dyslexia is a medical term for the same condition.

To meet the criteria, an individual must be performing below the expectations of either cognitive or age and grade level markers and have processing deficits. As you can see, these terms often may be used interchangeably.

Specific Learning Disability in Basic Reading, Reading Fluency, or Comprehension): This is the educational term for reading disabilities. The simple difference here is that the reading difficulty has to meet a certain cut point based on age and grade level expectations. It is not enough to struggle with reading and have phonological processing deficits when considering school services.

A child must also consistently perform significantly below grade level and show a lack of response to interventions provided within the school. SLD in schools has a higher bar, and thus a struggling student, particularly one in kindergarten-2nd grade, may not meet the criteria.


The light at the end of the tunnel is that many children and adults have reading struggles, and these challenges can be overcome with treatment. Early and intensive reading remediation can offer great hope for your child.

A learning disability in reading is generally lifelong but with intervention and support your child can do well. Many people with learning disabilities find a way to live with these challenges and thrive.

Additionally, technology can make academics more accessible, even for the struggling reader. Screen reading programs that read text aloud while your child reads the highlighted portion can be helpful. Dictation programs that allow verbal dictation that is translated into writing can help the struggling reader find a modality in which to complete academic work successfully.

School support: If your child is not effectively learning to read, it is important to talk to your child’s school. It may be that resources are available for intervention through the school’s Response to Intervention program. Significant reading trouble almost always requires remediation and intervention.

If you suspect your child has trouble in this area, it is wise to consult with your child’s school and request an evaluation. Seek tutoring resources outside of school as well, if you can, and learn about psychoeducational testing that may be available privately.

The school process for evaluating reading concerns can be slow and laborious so be patient and persistent. Your child may require a 504 Plan or IEP for services or accommodations like small group reading instruction, tutoring, extra research-based work in phonics and decoding, and use of multisensory strategies for reading.

Tutoring: Support at school may not be enough to combat your child’s challenges. Orton-Gillingham is a multisensory approach to reading that is delivered one-on-one or in a small group setting by a certified professional. Multisensory means using visual, auditory, and tactile information to teach reading. Using memory strategies, a tutor can help children memorize rules about spelling or decoding, recognize word families and see similar vowel patterns or word endings. Wilson Reading and LindaMood Bell are other research-based methods for teaching reading.

Try computer programs. Consider programs that read the text to a child while highlighting the words. Your child can listen to a story while reading along. Some reputable computer programs include:

Reading with parents: Parents can try paired reading or choral reading, which means reading together with your child, or alternating page to page. Do not let your child sit with a single word for more than three seconds before providing the word and continuing to read together. This pace will help your child enjoy reading by having a chance to comprehend the material instead of spending minutes decoding a simple sentence.

Provide lots of practice for your child with content he or she enjoys. Use video game or cartoon-themed books; find a version of your favorite Disney movie or go to the library.

Check out books in multi-format text that include read-aloud compatibility, and follow along with your child. Make reading a family activity, and make it fun.

Emotional support: Unfortunately, sometimes children who struggle with their learning tend to experience emotional symptoms. If your child is struggling with his or her learning, and you suddenly see a drop in his general happiness, motivation, or enjoyment of life, it is important to consider whether or not your child has depression or significant emotional distress.

If you see your child refusing or avoiding schoolwork, having tantrums, or giving up easily, these behaviors are red flags for emotional symptoms. In this case, you would be wise to consider an evaluation by a psychologist.


If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.

  • Writing problems: trouble reading can be related to difficulties with spelling, grammar, or organization
  • Math problems: trouble with reading can be related to difficulties with math facts, calculation, or word problems
  • Initiate: trouble with reading can be related to difficulties with getting started on tasks, particularly on non-preferred academic tasks
  • Self-Monitor: trouble with reading can be related to problems keeping track of one’s own progress toward a goal
  • Metacognition: trouble with reading can be related to problems with ‘thinking about one’s thinking’
  • Attention (Focusing): trouble with reading or with learning in general can be related to problems shifting or sustaining attention
  • Emotional Symptoms (Feeling): trouble with reading or with learning in general can be related to depression or other emotional symptoms: a decrease in general happiness or enjoyment in life; crying, tantrums, refusal of tasks


Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.

  • Dyslexia: problems with reading may indicate a learning disability in reading and associated difficulties with phonological processing
  • Dysgraphia: problems with reading may indicate a disability in writing, including challenges with organizing writing, spelling and putting thoughts on paper
  • Dyscalculia: problems with reading can be related to a learning disability in math, including understanding and remembering numbers, calculation, and understanding math concepts
  • ADHD: problems with reading can be related to a general attention issue
  • Educationally Identified Disabilities: problems with reading may indicate that a learning disability, such as Specific Learning Disability in Reading, may be identified at the school


If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.

  • CLEAR Child Psychology: to obtain a customized profile of concerns for your child or to consult ‘live’ with a psychologist
  • Psychologist or Neuropsychologist: to consider symptoms in context that may be related to visual spatial problems, attention, or learning
  • Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: to check child’s vision
  • Orton-Gillingham Tutor: to provide intervention with a credentialed tutor who has expertise in using multisensory methods to teach reading
  • Lindamood Bell Learning Processes: to provide intervention in reading, writing and math
  • International Dyslexia Association: to provide a resource for families with information on tutoring, teaching and training to support your child

These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:

  • Beery VMI sequence: Fine motor assessment (Clinical or School Evaluation)
  • WISC-V: IQ test (Clinical or School evaluation)
  • DAS-2: cognitive test (Clinical or School evaluation)
  • WIAT-III or WJ-IV: academic or achievement tests (Clinical or School Evaluation)
  • GORT-5: diagnostic reading test (Clinical or School Evaluation)
  • CTOPP-2: test of phonological processing (primarily School Evaluation)


[1] Anderman, Eric M. & Anderman, Lynley Hicks (2009). Classroom motivation.


[2] Shaywitz, Sally (2005). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level.


[3] Bell, Nanci (2013). Seeing stars: Symbol imagery for phonological and orthographic processing in reading and spelling.


[4] Bell, Nanci (2007). Visualizing and verbalizing: For language comprehension and thinking.


[5] Lindamood, Patricia (2011). LiPS: The Lindamood phoneme sequencing program for reading, spelling, and speech — 4th edition, complete kit (LIPS, 4th).


[6] Orlassino, Cheryl (2012). Blast off to reading!: 50 Orton-Gillingham based lessons for struggling readers and those with dyslexia.


[7] Orlassino, Cheryl (2014). A workbook for dyslexics, 3rd edition.


Image Credit:
Description: Reading boy in old boat
Image ID: #280563209 (Shutterstock)
By: Soloviova Liudmyla
Previously Licensed on: October 21, 2016
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for Clear Child Psychology

Back to: Home → Learning