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Families and Literacy:

Problem Areas in Literacy Development

If You Think There's a Problem

When a child is having a language or reading problem, the reason might be simple to understand and deal with or it might be complicated and require expert help. Often, children may just need more time to develop their language skills. On the other hand, some children might have trouble seeing, hearing, or speaking. Others may have a learning disability. If you think your children may have some kind of physical or learning problem, it is important to get expert help quickly.

If your children are in school and you think that they should have stronger language skills, ask for a private meeting with their teacher. (You may feel more comfortable taking a friend, relative, or someone else in your community with you.) In most cases, the teacher or perhaps the principal will be able to help you understand how your children are doing and what you might do to help them.

There is a law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—that may allow you to get certain services for your child from your school district. Your children might qualify to receive help from a speech and language therapist or other specialist, or they might qualify to receive materials designed to match their needs. You can learn about your special education rights and responsibilities by requesting that the school give you—in your first language—a summary of legal rights. To find out about programs for children with disabilities that are available in your state, contact the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. 

The good news is that no matter how long it takes, most children can learn to read. Parents, teachers, and other professionals can work together to determine if a child has a learning disability or other problem, and then provide the right help as soon as possible. When children get such help, chances are very good that they will develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. Nothing is more important than your support for your children as they go through school. Make sure they get any extra help they need as soon as possible, and always encourage them and praise their efforts.

Watching Your Child Progress

As a parent, you can learn a lot about your children's learning and watch for signs of possible problems. Here are some things to look for and to discuss with their teacher:

  • Starting at age 3 or 4: Do your children remember nursery rhymes, and can they play rhyming games?
  • At about age 4: Can your children get information or directions from conversations or books that are read aloud to them?
  • Kindergartners: Are your children beginning to name and write the letters and numbers that they see in books, on billboards and signs, and in other places?
  • At age 5: Can your children play and enjoy simple word games in which two or more words start with the same sound? For example: "Name all the animals you can think of that start with 'D.'"
  • At ages 5 and 6: Do your children show that they understand that spoken words can be broken down into smaller parts (e.g., by noticing the word big in bigger)? Do they seem to understand that you can change a small part of a word and make a different word (e.g., by changing the first sound and letter of cat, you can make hat, sat, mat, bat, rat, etc.)?

Source: U.S. Department of Education.

Problem Areas in Literacy Development