How COVID-19 has impacted struggling readers—and their parents
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our normal lives, roles and routines in countless ways. One important change is that it has led many parents to become far more involved in their children’s educations. For many parents this closer involvement has led to surprising—and sometimes concerning—discoveries. They’ve noticed that their child is having much more difficulty reading, writing, and spelling than they’d previously realized. They had thought, based on what they had been told at parent-teacher conferences, that their child was “doing fine” or “at grade level”. But those optimistic assessments seem hard to square with the struggles sounding out words, or reading aloud, or comprehending reading passages, or spelling, that they are now seeing first-hand. These struggles are clearly too important to ignore.
It’s not surprising that many parents make such discoveries, because problems mastering basic literacy skills are common. Learning or attention problems affect the development of basic literacy skills in up to one third of students. Unfortunately these problems often go unrecognized or are misidentified. Yet proper identification is crucial, because students with such challenges require a variety of special helps that are tailored to their needs if they are to learn to read and write effectively.
How parents can help their struggling readers
For many parents, finding out how important it is to identify and manage their child’s literacy challenges only adds to their feelings of confusion and inadequacy. Fortunately, such feelings are unnecessary, because practical and effective steps are available that can help most children improve their literacy skills. The COVID pandemic’s demand for social distancing has not surprisingly changed the ways parents pursue some of these steps, yet good alternatives are still available even for families on tight budgets.
Step 1: Get a handle on the challenges
The first step is to get a handle on challenges facing the student. The gold standard is a one-on-one evaluation by an assessment professional, like a neuropsychologist or educational psychologist. Although these evaluations will generally provide the most information, they do have several downsides. First is their high cost, which can range from $800-8000, depending upon the practitioner and the geographical region. Second is the long waiting lists that many practitioners have, which in many areas can mean waits of many months. Third is that they typically involve face-to-face encounters, though regulations have recently been passed to allow “online” or “tele-assessment” in an increasing number of cases.
In situations where a formal assessment cannot be obtained in a timely fashion, online or app-based screening tools can help to fill the gap. The best of these tools can immediately help to identify the sources of a student’s literacy challenges, and point to steps that can aid with these challenges. I’ve previously described some of the characteristics of a good screening test (https://neurolearning.com/2019/06/18/questions-a-good-dyslexia-screening-test-should-answer/), and the Dyslexia Screening Test App we’ve developed at Neurolearning SPC (http://neurolearning.com/) provides a good example.
Step 2: Targeting helps for reading challenges
The second step is to pursue the interventions identified by the testing as the one your child needs. A good assessment, either from a professional or a screening tool, should provide a set of recommendations and resources based on the results of testing that will identify specifically the kinds of training, technological tools, and other steps a particular child needs to make progress with their literacy challenges. For many students, working with a tutor for reading or writing can be enormously helpful. Many tutors are now equipped to do online or “distance” tutoring over the internet. But there are also good options that parents can implement themselves, and a good assessment should provide a guide to such resources.
For more helpful information on the importance of screening for dyslexia in struggling readers please visit our blog at http://neurolearning.com/. You can also visit the website of our partner organization, Dyslexic Advantage, at http://dyslexicadvantage.org/. This site contains lots of useful information about teaching struggling readers at home, including a new online video course for homeschooling parents of dyslexic students: https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/product/homeschooling-for-dyslexia-online-course/.