Children with reading difficulties benefit from the same thing all children benefit from — excellent reading instruction tailored to their needs. But sometimes kids who struggle need more.
Several people may be able to provide your child with extra help:
- Classroom teachers
Your child's teacher may be able to provide more intensive instruction
- School specialists
Specialists at your school — such as the reading specialist, speech/language pathologist, or special education teacher — may be able to provide extra assistance
The school, another organization, or private tutors may be able to provide your child practice with reading or more intensive help
- Professionals in private practice
Educational psychologists and other professionals in private practice may be able to provide an assessment, diagnosis, and/or a plan for helping your child
- Reading clinics
University and private reading clinics may be able to provide an assessment, diagnosis, and/or a plan for helping your child
Help from private tutors and others outside of the school may be very effective but also quite expensive. Some public school services, which are free, are only provided if a child is diagnosed with a learning disability, the most common of which is difficulty with language and reading.
If you suspect your child may have a learning disability (or ADHD), the best place to begin seeking help is your child's school. Public schools have professionals trained to make a diagnosis. They do not charge a fee for these services.
If you disagree with the school's diagnosis, you have the right to ask for further testing or to seek a diagnosis from a professional in private practice. Similarly, if the school does not think it necessary to assess your child, you may want to seek a diagnosis from a professional in private practice.
Remember, in order to qualify for special education services or accommodations, your child must have a diagnosis that clearly shows he or she has a learning disability that meets the criteria defined by law. In general, federal law says that a person is eligible for accommodations when a documented disability significantly interferes with a major life activity such as learning. Most states use criteria related to the discrepancy between a child's ability and achievement. Federal laws also set clear guidelines on what special education accommodations must be provided.
The bottom line is that it's important to know upfront what services are available from the school and how a child's eligibility for those services is determined.
Sometimes kids just need an extra dose of reading help. Many schools provide tutoring support that includes one-on-one reading instruction. To make sure that your school has a high quality tutoring program, ask these questions:
- How are the tutors trained?
It's important that the tutors understand the goals and purposes of the lesson.
- What is the structure of the tutoring session?
Good tutoring programs use a lesson plan that is based in the best reading research.
- How frequently will my child receive tutoring?
Students should be tutored at least twice a week, for 45 to 60 minutes each time. Some students will need more.
- Are the students assessed regularly to determine progress?
A reading specialist should supervise the assessment program.
- What types of materials are used during the tutoring sessions?
Students should be carefully guided through books that are written at their reading level.
- Does the content of the tutoring session support my child's classroom instruction?
- Does the content address my child's specific needs?
If your child sounds out words well but struggles with vocabulary, the tutor should spend more time on word meanings than phonics.
Even with good classroom teaching and extra help, its possible that your child may continue to struggle with reading. Special education may be the answer — and it's required by law for students who are identified as having a learning disability.
You or your child's teacher suspects a problem and requests an evaluation by the school.
With input from you and your child's teacher, a team of school professionals completes a full evaluation of your child. This same team &emdash; which may include a school psychologist, a speech-language pathologist, and a reading specialist &emdash; reviews the results to determine whether your child is eligible to receive special education services.
If your child is eligible, you and the school team develop your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP), as required by law. Annually, or more often, you and the school review the IEP and its impact on your child's progress.
If your child is ineligible, continue to push the school for help. If your child is not eligible but still struggles with reading, the school must figure out what will work for your child. You can also turn to private testing.
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The U.S. Department of Education developed this brief guide for reading tutors. It lists ways that tutoring helps both the learner and the tutor, and provides practical tips that can help tutors be more effective in their work.