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Cayman Parent | Articles | Expert Advice | CP Tips | Helping Children With Reading Difficulties

CP Tips | Helping Children With Reading Difficulties

The period between three and seven years is the most important time for learning, when children will commit to memory some 100 phonics rules and recognise up to 3,000 words. But with roughly 13% of school-aged kids suffering from learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and up to 40% of all students experiencing some degree of difficulty with learning to read, these skills can be difficult to master. – Emma McArthur

Children first learn to listen and speak, then use these and other skills to learn to read and write. However, there is no pre-programmed system in place for written words as this is not innate to humans. Billions of new connections must be built inside the brain connecting vision to the spoken system of language, before the real framework of reading can be taught.

Key concepts in learning to read include phonics, repetition, and self-esteem. The first stage in helping young children to read should always be based on a thorough knowledge of phonics; the sounds associated with letters or groups of letters. After this, comes repetition – children should be repeatedly exposed to high frequency words. And finally self-esteem – vital to build the confidence to tackle new words and develop a positive relationship with reading.

For those with difficulties in reading, problems may not be picked up until aged six, as prior to this, age disparity in ability is often attributed to developmental differences varying from child to child. It’s important to communicate with school teachers to flag up concerns and see if reading is at an age-expected level. If a potential problem is identified then help is available, either via a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or through the Special Needs Foundation Cayman – a non-profit organisation offering support to children with special needs.

girl reading difficulty Did You Know?


Top Tips for Helping Children Struggling With Reading Difficulties

  • Choose a high-low book for children with lower reading ages. These books are high in interest and low in vocabulary, so whilst the content is age appropriate for the reader, the text has been edited to suit a lower reading age.


  • Take turns in reading sentences. Especially if there are large chunks of text, which can be overwhelming to look at.


  • Paired reading is very effective. Start off reading together then gradually withdraw until the child is reading independently, but be ready to jump in again to help with difficult or unfamiliar words. This is a great way to support reading without damaging confidence.


  • When reading stories or large chunks of text, pause regularly to check for comprehension. After each paragraph or important development in the storyline, pause to see whether readers are managing to keep up with the plot. Decoding sounds and words can be all-consuming, leaving little time for keeping up with storylines.
  • Avoid complicated plots. They can cause confusion for the reader- straightforward stories are easier to follow.


  • Find content they can connect with. Struggling readers will find it easier to engage with topics and issues they can make personal or emotional connections with.


  • Help them focus. Make windows using rules or pieces of card to focus on the current line or paragraph


  • It’s not as simple as black and white. Black print on white paper can cause visual stress for those with reading difficulties. Different colour overlays are a proven way to minimise this.


  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t be too quick to apply labels such as ‘dyslexic’ or ‘dyspraxic’ if your child has not been assessed for it.


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