Suspect a Problem?

When a child is having a language or reading problem, he just may need more time to learn language skills. Some children might have trouble seeing, hearing, or speaking, while others may have a learning disability. If you suspect a problem, it's important to get help quickly.

If your child is in school or preschool and you think she should be doing better with her language skills, ask for a private meeting with the 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 child is doing and what you might do to help.

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 child might qualify for help from a speech and language therapist or other specialist, or qualify to receive materials designed to match his needs. You can learn about your special education rights and responsibilities by requesting a summary of legal rights in your native language from the school. To find out about programs for children with disabilities available in your state, contact the National Information Center for Children and Youth 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 provide the right help as soon as possible. When a child gets such help, chances are very good that he will develop the skills he needs to succeed in school and in life. Nothing is more important for your child as he goes through school than your support. Make sure he gets any extra help he might need as soon as possible and encourage and praise his efforts.

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

  • Starting at age 3 or 4: Does your child remember nursery rhymes and can he play rhyming games?
  • At about age 4: Does your child have difficulty getting information or directions from conversations or books that are read aloud to him?
  • Kindergartners: Is your child beginning to name and write the letters and numbers that he sees in signs, books, billboards, and other places?
  • At age 5: Can your child play and enjoy simple word games that use alliteration, in which two or more words start with the same sound? For example: "Name all the animals you can think of that start with 'w'."
  • At ages 5 and 6: Does your child act as if he understands that spoken words can be broken down into smaller parts (for example, noticing big in bigger)? Does he seem to understand that you can change a small part of a word and make it something very different (for example, by changing the first letter of a word like cat, you can make hat and bat and so on)?

Remember that children learn in different ways and at different rates. It is often difficult to measure how well they are learning.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

AMERICA READS CHALLENGE: Read*Write*Now Partners Group (1997). Checkpoints for progress in reading and writing for families and communities. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.

Barr, R., Kamil, M.L., Mosenthal, P.B., and Pearson, P.D. (Eds.) (1991). Handbook of reading research: Volume II. New York, Longman.

Burns, M. Susan, Griffin, Peg, Snow, C.E. (Eds.) (1999). Starting out right: Guide to promoting children's reading success. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Clay, M.M. (1979). The early detection of reading difficulties (3rd Edition). Heinneman, Auckland, New Zealand.

Hannon, Peter (1995). Literacy, home, and school: Research and practice in teaching literacy with parents. Falmer Press, London, England.

Hiebert, E.H., and Raphael, T.E. (1998). Early literacy instruction. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort Worth, TX.

International Reading Association (IRA) and National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1998). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children--A joint position statement of the IRA and NAEYC. Washington, DC.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1996). Technology and young children ages 3 through 8--An NAEYC position statement. Washington, DC.

National Center for Education Statistics (1999). The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)1998 reading report card. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.

Snow, C.E., Burns, M. Susan, Griffin, Peg (Eds.) (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Teale, W.H., and Sulzby, E. (Eds.) (1986). Emergent literacy: writing and reading. Ablex, Norwood, NJ.

DeBruin-Parecki, A. with Perkinson, K. & Ferderer, L. (January, 2000). If You Think There's a Problem. Helping Your Child Become A Reader. U.S. Department of Education.


You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.


My 2nd grader reads flash cards fluently but struggles to read sentences. He also struggles to sound out words. We've did a lot of tutoring and extra help after school. Any suggestions?

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney