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Special Needs

The Key to Helping Kids with Reading Problems: Work Smarter, not Harder

Mary didn’t know where to turn.  Her daughter Jessica was a smart kid when it came to everything except reading.  As long as there wasn’t much reading involved, Jessica really enjoyed her math and science classes.  Reading was always a challenge, but Mary figured eventually Jessica would just catch up.  By the end of third grade, Jessica’s reading problem had caught up with her. After scoring very low on the state’s reading test, Jessica’s teachers wanted to hold her back a year to get her more help.  Mary knew that would crush her daughter’s self-esteem, but she also knew her daughter needed to learn how to read.

I wish Mary’s experience was a unique one, but it’s not. Hundreds of parents come through our website everyday, often with a very similar experience.  We’ve put together their concerns into our top seven reading challenges we hear from parents:

Top Seven Reading Challenges

  1. -  Problems with sight words and pattern recognition
  2. -  Low self-esteem from reading problems
  3. -  Feeling that they are the only people with this challenge
  4. -  Child skip words or lines when reading
  5. -  Difficulty reading and children avoid reading
  6. -  Fear of being held back a grade
  7. -  Frustration with phonics and tutoring programs that don’t seem to help

Let’s walk through each one and talk about some answers.

1. Problems with Small Sight words and Pattern Recognition

Struggling students are often right-brained students who struggle with sight words (e.g. and, the, but, than, then, etc.) and have difficulty when they see a word in one paragraph and do not recognize it, even when they see the same word a few lines later.  As Dr. Linda Silverman says in her book “Upside Down Brilliance” “Phonics instruction does not need to be eliminated altogether, but sight word vocabulary needs to be built first.  Then whole words or syllables can be compared and the pattern recognition capacities of the visual spatial learners can be brought to bear”. – Note what Dr. Silverman refers to as a visual spatial learner we call Gifted students Operating with a Learning Disability, or GOLD students.

2. Low Self-Esteem from Reading Problems

Students often feel stupid because siblings and friends can read much better than they do.  Several ways to address this feeling are to recognize that:

  1. -   Very smart people like Disney, Edison and Einstein had learning related issues
  2. -   33% of the students in school today learn differently, may have reading related issues and many are their friends
  3. -   Students who learn differently can learn to read and they often do very well in life – ask Richard Bronson, who runs Virgin Records and Virgin Air, or Charles Schwab who started a very successful business

Most parents are astounded to learn that:

  1. -  Almost 90% of the first graders with word identification issues will be poor readers in 4th grade
  2. -  Over 70% of the students with a reading disability (dyslexia) will still have a reading disability (dyslexia) in 12th grade
  3. -  55% of the children of college graduates are reading below grade level in 8th grade

3. Feeling that You are the Only Parent with this Problem

We have met many very successful parents whose children are GOLD students, have reading difficulties and have often been subjected to traditional phonics-based methods. Successful parents often are delighted to realize that their child has the creativity and problem solving skills needed to succeed and the problem at hand is how to improve their reading comprehension and survive school and standardized tests.

4. Skipping Words or Lines When reading

Vision problems exist in 60% of the GOLD students we’ve seen.  These problems include but are not limited to:

  1. -  Skipping words are lines when reading
  2. -  Problems copying off the board
  3. -  Challenges with spelling and/or math facts

What’s worse is the traditional screening by physicians and schools often miss vision related issues. 

We recommend parents either go to a Developmental Optometrist; you can find the ones closest to you at or go to a Pediatric Ophthalmologist.

Before spending money on vision therapy we would recommend coordinating your efforts with an educational specialist – often by pursuing a vision and an education program simultaneously you can improve results and control your costs – more information is available at

5. Child avoids Reading

Most GOLD students avoid reading like the plague.  Before embarking on a reading program, there are several ways to make reading more enjoyable:

  1. -   Find books your child likes (e.g. if your child likes cats read about cats, and childlike sports read about sports)
  2. -   To the bulk of the reading herself having them read one out of five pages at first then increasing their share to two out of five a few weeks later, and then slowly increasing their burden
  3. -   Go to the library and takeout books on tape – for those with vision issues, there is a program through your Public Library called Talking books, where they will provide you with both tape recorder and books.

6. Child Held back due to Reading Problems

The logic of having a child simply repeat the same year that they just failed has never made any sense to me.  Simply doing more of the same thing is not going to help a child’s reading.  The only sure thing holding a child back will achieve is taking a bite out of the child’s self-esteem as they see their classmates move on to the next grade, leaving them behind.  This is the right time to try a new approach to your child’s learning.  A school that asks to hold a child back a grade should admit what they are really saying- we haven’t been able to educate this child, but we think we can do better the second time around. 

7. Tried a ton of programs, none of them worked

Most tutoring programs work on the notion that if you put a child in a one-on-one environment for long enough, they will learn to read.  Other phonics based programs are simply not designed for to teach the way many students learn best.

There are as good movement to add more visuals to some phonics based programs (The Lindamood Bell Program ®) and more visual-hands on programs like the Davis Dyslexia Program ® and our 3D Learner Program ®.

Investments in these programs can be quite significant, and we recommend that parents compare the options, while considering:

  1. -  Does the program teach the way your child learns best?
  2. -  Does the program teach sight word mastery and pattern recognition?
  3. -  With the help you improve your child’s attention, vision, and self-esteem?
  4. -  Will they help you identify the other professionals you need to work with?
  5. -  Will you learn how to help your child succeed both at school at home?
  6. -  Would directly help you with your child’s teachers and school?
  7. -   Is there the right chemistry where you feel the professionals can make the difference for your child yourself?

Mira Halpert M.Ed. and Mark Halpert, Professional Speaker, provide educational programs, teacher in-services and parent empowerment presentations.  For a free learning survey on a child go to

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