Posted in Language Arts

What does it mean to be a Struggling Reader?

What does it mean to be a Struggling Reader? Posted on July 24, 2019Leave a comment

In the early days of this blog I called Michiel (previously Lil Man) a “struggling” reader. I was worried because I was an early reader and his older brother had no problems hitting all of his benchmarks (when he attended public school K-3rd grade) without issues. What could be the problem? The experts called late readers “struggling leaders” and I believed them. I started using the label. The more I used it, the more I believed it

I hate labels with a passion. Once you allow someone to define something for you, it is hard to break the rules and see beyond it. I believed the educational experts so much I labeled my kid. Doing that made it hard to see his inability to read as anything but a problem.

Two things that saved him

  1. His sisters were late readers.
  2. I reevaluated my expectations.

The twins also “struggled” to read in kindergarten. Luckily I was learning about this thing called homeschooling. I pulled the twins out of school over the way they were responding to their environment and my disagreement with the school polices. I attended every Parent Teacher conference and one of the things that stood out to me, was that the teacher said the twins were so far behind… and that I needed to read with them at home. Okay. I’m doing that already. Then the day after I pulled them out of school with minimal notice, I received an letter informing me the teacher recommended the twins be placed in special education services. None of this had ever been brought up to me before. And it was insulting to see the twins were approved for the class when I had friends being denied who were actively trying to get those services for their own children.

It also sent me a clear message that the idea of being a delayed or late reader somehow was the same as being mentally delayed.

Once I understood that early readers had no advantage over late readers-I stepped back from pushing the kids to read before they were ready.

I am not going to lie, it was nerve wrecking.I worried that I had misunderstood the research.

It turns out my anxiety was unfounded. The girls became readers on their own a couple years later.

Why Identifying a Struggling Reader IS an Issue

I understand the reason people are concerned with a struggling reader. A person who grows up unable to read and write struggles to be a part of society.

It’s also used as one of the indicators of abuse or a stressor they can’t handle.

I might be alone here but what if we didn’t used indicators of a “struggling reader” to address the problem? I mean. Shouldn’t we be using other metrics to determine there is a problem? Does helping a child read early fix the core root of the above problems? I don’t think it does.

There are studies showing a correlation between mental illness and illiteracy. And for some reason, as human beings we have a tendency to give more credibility and priority to the things that are negative over the positive. These issues generate fears of mental illness, delayed development, and illiteracy push us to prove the world we are okay.

We start to believe our children are struggling readers. But did we consider kids struggle because our behavior towards them instills a lack of confidence? When we buy into the shame game, the game that makes us feel inferior and deteriorates our children’s self confidence, we create a self-fulling prophecy.

Is Being a Late or Delayed Reader really an Issue?

I couldn’t keep buying into the idea that Michiel was a struggling reader. Instead I asked people who were delayed readers how that impacted them. And yikes! I found people who didn’t really read until they were 20. Sure school sucked for them. Most of what I found showed that due to the way the brain develops there was no benefit to reading early over reading late.

What I understand now is that our brains are wired differently. That 1 in 5 kids (and adults?) have dyslexia. That it is genetic. Which means if your kid has it, you most likely have it too. That was hard to swallow. I had joined several book clubs and while I loved reading, I could not read as fast as some of my friends. And this is crazy because my grandmother made me take a speed reading course. I can scan a page and tell you the gist in no time flat… but reading for pleasure is still a slow and steady journey for me. I kept an open mind about it but I wasn’t convinced. Returning to school for my bachelors degree required switching to classes with online textbooks. I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was when a professor caught me flipping my numbers in an accounting class but eventually I came to terms with it. I struggled with the idea of having a learning disability. And the idea that I passed this on to my kids. The kicker is when I looked around for “help” I discovered there was nothing for adults. And that just didn’t sound right to me.

I struggled until I realized the advantages of dyslexia.

People with dyslexia are highly creative. They tend to see things from a big picture standpoint. They can solve problems outside of the box. I’m still learning and reading but contrary to popular opinion, I no longer see delayed readers or dyslexia as a learning disability. I can’t say there was any one book or article that helped me to realize this. I kinda came to it on my own when I realized I liked who I am, the way I am.

As I learned to understand myself better, I learned to be more patient. I then used what I learned to help guide my kids on their reading journey. I accepted that this is who I am. This is who they are. No labels. No judgement. No unnecessary expectations. I left the shame and guilt game behind as I watched my late readers and my possibly dyslexic readers grow into confident readers.

We homeschool at the level of our children’s interests and abilities.

Our kids use this valuable time to learn about themselves and the world. I feel that allowing our children to read later, when they are interested in doing so, is part of that. Now. It is one less thing I have chosen to be anxious about.

In the next post I’ll share what helped us along our ‘learning to read’ journey.

For now I am interested in your thoughts. What do you think when you hear someone use the term “struggling reader”?

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