Why the wait-and-see approach fails struggling readers and other children with learning differences
- A wait-and-see approach to learning can set up a child for a lifetime of reading and academic struggles.
- Delaying intervention can lead to poor grades, a negative attitude toward school, behavior problems, and low self-esteem
- Parents should not ignore warning signs of reading delays
We often set children with learning differences up for failure through no fault of their own. Many school teachers take a “wait-and-see” approach to learning, believing that students who are struggling academically will simply “grow out of it” or catch up without much intervention. This approach can be disastrous for children with learning differences like dyslexia. They can hit a wall by third grade, known as the 3rd grade wall, when students are supposed to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
Teachers might observe that a student is “getting by” with good grades and tell worried parents to just wait and see. Thus, instead of being proactive, the school will be reactive, which can be disastrous for students struggling with learning differences. We discuss why the wait-and-see approach to learning is the wrong approach and why early intervention is crucial.
Is your child struggling to read?
Children learn to read at different paces. Some “get it” right away, while others, like those with dyslexia, struggle with concepts like decoding and phonetics. Educators might recommend a wait-and-see approach for slower readers, believing that everything will click at some point.
Taking this reactive approach is very unhelpful. It’s essential to tell the difference between slower learning and severe struggles due to a learning difference like dyslexia. Children with dyslexia are often extremely bright and will develop creative coping methods to hide the fact that they aren’t actually learning to read. Eventually, their coping methods will no longer work, and if they aren’t receiving proper, scientific-based teaching on how to read, they will struggle for the rest of their academic careers.
How dyslexia affects reading
Dyslexia is a neurological condition that impacts how the brain processes written language and speech. Children with dyslexia struggle to recognize and remember letters and words. This can cause challenges with reading, writing, and spelling.
It’s easier for kids to mask their reading difficulties in the early grades. Dyslexics don’t have issues with intelligence, but rather a gap between their ability and achievement. By third grade, these differences become more apparent as students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
Students left to their own devices in a wait-and-see approach fall behind. If they don’t get help, they’re in real danger of struggling for the rest of their school careers. They are even at a higher risk of not graduating.
Why teachers rely on the wait-and-see approach to learning
Teachers sometimes don’t even notice that students are struggling when they’re dealing with large class sizes. If they do hone in on students with learning differences, they probably aren’t equipped to handle them. Why do educators often rely on the wait-and-see approach?
First, not all classroom teachers are equipped to help struggling readers. Second, they might not be familiar with scientifically-based reading methods like Fast ForWord®. Finally, teachers can’t devote all of their time to one student. Scientifically-based reading programs require explicit, sequential, continuous attention, which is simply not possible in a typical classroom setting. There are often time and budget constraints and a lack of resources.
Many students with dyslexia and other learning differences are clever enough to figure out how to compensate for a lack of reading skills. These students present a particular challenge in the classroom. Since they can mask their reading struggles and still maintain good grades, classroom teachers might not recognize when these students have hit a learning wall.
Some teachers recognize that particular students will eventually hit a learning wall, but their current performance doesn’t qualify for intervention. In other words, their hands may be tied, with the “wait-and-see” approach being the only option. Unfortunately, this is a totally wrong approach for children with dyslexia.
Signs of dyslexia
To help someone, you first have to identify that they need help. It’s important to know the signs that point to dyslexia in your child. Most children are diagnosed once they reach school age, but you can spot signs even earlier.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Delayed speech
- Difficulty pronouncing words and mixing up words and/or sounds in words
- Trouble retaining letters, words, and numbers
- Reversing letters and numbers (they read “saw” vs. “was”)
- Reading below grade level
- Struggles with rhyming, associating sounds with letters, and/or sequencing sounds
- Trouble processing information
- Trouble following multi-step directions
- Avoiding or becoming easily frustrated from reading
- Struggling to read aloud
- Frequent spelling issues
- Trouble with math problems
- Difficulty summarizing a story
- Struggling to learn a foreign language
- Lack of coordination
Dyslexia doesn’t present with the same symptoms in all children. Symptoms also vary by age. Here are more age-specific ways to evaluate your child for dyslexia.
Why early reading intervention matters
Early reading intervention is essential for children with learning differences like dyslexia or ADHD. Children who struggle with reading early on rarely catch up on their own with no outside help. The problems will just continue to accumulate as the child gets older.
A 1986 paper documented something called the “Matthew effects.” This paper associated a failure to acquire early reading skills with a host of consequences, including:
- Negative attitudes toward reading (Oka & Paris, 1986)
- Reduced opportunities for vocabulary growth (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985)
- Missed opportunities for the development of reading comprehension strategies (Brown, Palinscar, & Purcell, 1986)
- Less actual practice in reading than other children receive (Allington, 1984)
It’s clear that early intervention is key for struggling readers to achieve in school. Without it, they run the serious risk of getting lost in the shuffle. Learning struggles in childhood most often continue all the way to high school graduation if not corrected early.
What if you believe something is wrong?
As a parent, you have unique insight into your child’s physical, mental, and developmental well-being. You may sense something is wrong, even if there’s been no diagnosis or his/her teachers or your pediatrician have dismissed your concerns. You may have been told to wait and see if your child catches up.
If your gut is telling you to keep pushing, do it. Be an advocate for your child so they can benefit from early academic intervention. If you don’t, there’s a high probability that no one else will take an active interest.
How can The Learning Lab help
As we’ve stated, if your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia or another learning difference, it’s essential to get them help as early as possible. The wait-and-see approach is simply not going to work because they’re not suddenly going to grow out of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a cognitive condition that affects how the brain processes letters and words. It’s not a problem related to unintelligence, laziness, or stubbornness.
The Learning Lab is your early intervention specialist. We can help your child learn to read and give them the tools to take charge of their learning. We implement science-based programs to help struggling learners, which include:
Our I3 Lab provides one-on-one academic remediation in reading, writing, and/or math skills. We use evidence-based curricula and programs that incorporate a multi-sensory, explicit, sequential, and systematic approach to instruction.
Our programs include but are not limited to:
- Barton Reading and Spelling System©
- Lindamood Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing
- Lindamood Bell’s Seeing Stars
- Foundation in Sounds ™
- Touch Math
- IEW: Institute for Excellence in Writing
- Wilson Just Words®
- Winston Grammar®
Children who struggle with reading typically need help mastering foundational cognitive and language skills. Our Fast ForWord® program provides an intensive intervention that helps build foundational skills and rewires the neural pathways needed for reading and writing skills to be mastered.
We incorporate scientifically-based reading software. These programs focus on common issues facing children with dyslexia, CAPD, and ADHD, helping them learn critical cognitive and academic skills, including:
- Phonemic awareness
- Reading comprehension
- Reading fluency
- Semantics and mechanics
- Morphology (recognition, understanding, and use of word parts)
- Cognitive Skills: Memory, Attention, Processing, and Sequencing
Our Homework Lab ensures your student learns the executive functioning skills to consistently get homework done. No more overdue projects lost at the bottom of the backpack! Our homework program breaks the cycle and teaches critical homework management skills.
We work with you and your child’s teachers to help get homework done and done well. We also teach organizational skills, study skills, and executive functioning skills, such as time management, planning, and problem-solving.
Contact us to break the cycle
If your child is struggling academically because of learning differences such as dyslexia or ADHD, it’s important to get help as early as possible. Using a wait-and-see approach is not only unhelpful, but it can also be detrimental. You, as a parent, know when something is wrong, and it’s time to take steps now to fix it.
The Learning Lab in Ft. Lauderdale and Davie offers support for children and teens who need help in reading, writing, and math. Our goal is to prepare your child for a lifetime of learning while helping him/her close academic gaps. We grew up as misunderstood learners who couldn’t simply “try harder.” That’s why we started The Learning Lab.
We believe that learning is a whole-child experience that involves the heart, body, and mind. Our programs can be conducted one-on-one or in small group settings and are individualized to meet each child’s learning needs. Contact us today for more information.