Q&A: Demystifying and overcoming reading challenges with Elizabeth Nadler-Nir (Part 2)

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Respected speech-language therapist Elizabeth Nadler-Nir unpacks the common and uncommon reading challenges experienced by children, and how Oxford Reading Safari – a unique, personalised and online reading programme – addresses them. She also provides practical advice for parents who may be seeking reading help for their child.

Which reading challenges do Oxford Reading Safari (ORS) address?

ORS addresses about five different types of reading challenges.  One of the most common types is a problem reading the words accurately. These readers might read lots as lost, beginning as being or saw as was.  These readers have a problem being able to sound out words and remember them for next time. This is called 1. a decoding deficit. Often readers who have decoding deficits have difficulties identifying the sounds in words. They then have trouble matching these sounds to the letter patterns. For example, the word out has the /ou/ sound, just like in the words house and mouse.  People with a decoding deficit struggle to identify the sound and match it to the letter patterns.

Another less common challenge is 2. a rate deficit. These people seem to read, really, really, slowly! They rely too heavily on sounding out words. They do not seem to remember whole words, even if they have seen them many times.  Some readers with a more severe dyslexia might have problems with 3. both decoding and rate which means they will need a great deal of input to become better readers.  ORS provides both structure and targeted practice for these readers. In fact, I have used ORS for up to 3 years with some reading challenged people.  Both rate and decoding deficits are mechanical reading challenges.  These readers might have good understanding of vocabulary and language when speaking. However, we know that if the mechanics are weak, it will be hard to comprehend what is being read.

The fourth and more common type of reading challenge is 4. a reading comprehension challenge. Many of these readers learn to read words quickly. They are mechanically strong readers. They seem to read accurately and fluently BUT they do not engage with the language, so they do not understand the content. Reasons for weak reading comprehension range from being a second language learner who simply does not yet have sufficient vocabulary in the language being read – to weak concentration – to more severe language challenges which are usually dealt with by speech and language therapists.

The fifth challenge is what I call 5. the mixed bag – where there is a bit of everything – weak reading accuracy, slowed reading rate, vocabulary skills that need some boosting and generally a reluctance to read because it is difficult! ORS can give these readers a boost too, stimulating all areas.

If a parent is worried that their child might be falling behind in their reading, what steps should they follow?

The very first step would be to talk to your child’s teacher. If there is a family history of dyslexia or learning challenges, then it is even more important to catch it early, as reading challenges often run in families.  The teacher could give you books and point to resources and tips on how to practice reading with your child.  They might point you to extra lessons and groups that exist within the school. They should also know the correct referral channels for more severe cases. This might involve a referral to an educational psychologist or a language and literacy therapist.

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