The Struggling Reader: 5 Things They Want You to Know About Them

5 Things the struggling reader wants you to knowAs a nation, we ardently campaign for the rights of individuals.  When it comes to accommodating people who struggle with reading, our classrooms and places of employment often don’t reflect that endeavor. We erroneously assume that everyone who sits in a classroom or a conference room should be called upon to read aloud. In an effort to build awareness, the struggling reader would like you to know a few things about them.

A reading disability is the silent handicapping condition. Corporations and college lecture rooms are full of adults who struggle with reading. They suffer in silence with the fear that someone will ask them to read aloud.

Because no visible indicator or apparatus provides a clue to an individual’s reading disability, it remains covert until that dreaded day when the boss calls on you to read excerpts from the annual report —ALOUD. Then, the social nightmare becomes a reality.

During Sunday school, my son endured ridicule because of his inability to decode words during a reading from the Sermon on the Mount.  At the time, I thought how nice it would be to embellish his wrist with an ID bracelet like the ones that people wear when they have a latex allergy. Trying to mitigate any future humiliation, I would inscribe the bracelet with his diagnosed disability, Convergence Insufficiency (CI).  I never quite got up the nerve.

Children and adults who struggle with reading spend time inventing ways to avoid reading aloud. I know because I have two kids with learning disabilities. Individuals with a reading disability enter a social gathering wondering if the evening will include games that require reading aloud like Pictionary or Catch Phrase or worse, Quote Me.

Most struggling readers know the routine and politely decline participation in the game rather than risk exposing their secret. If a polite decline is too much of an obvious giveaway, then they might get a refill on chips when it’s their turn in the game.

As a mom, I wanted nothing more than to get inside the brain of my struggling readers so that I could figure out how to make the world see life from their perspective. Unstintingly devoted as any mom would be, I advocated for them whenever possible by discreetly informing homeschool co-op and Sunday school teachers of their disabilities.

Still, some people just don’t get that not all children learn the same way. My kids who struggled with reading continued to be called on to read aloud.  They laboriously limped through sentences and stumbling on almost every word. They exhausted themselves trying to force their brain to unlock the phonetic code, but they couldn’t crack the code.

I learned to present information in various ways that met their learning needs.

  • No timed tests
  • extended time for reading
  • audio book for longer novels
  • less work from a textbook more hands on work
  • frequent breaks from reading
  • accommodations for college
  • narration activities
  • the use of graphic organizers

My son, who now attends college, muscles his way through the moments when a professor calls on him to read aloud. Because my son has a diagnosed disability, we acquired an academic accommodation so that if my son feels the need to use the accommodation for more time on exams, then it is available.

My son’s Vision Therapist mentioned to me that the majority of her patients are adults. The adult patients started Vision Therapy because their handicap prevented them from earning promotions at work. Often, the employee funds the vision therapy out of pocket.

Perhaps someday, employers will view a reading disability with the same awareness that we maintain for a physical handicapping condition.Companies might consider financial assistance in defraying the cost of reading therapy or provide products like Kurzweil technology.

5 Things the Struggling Reader Wants You to Know

What Every Struggling Reader Wants You to Know

1. They Have Learned to Cope With the Disability

Every struggling reader out there probably hoped that someday he would reach a certain age and the disability would magically dissipate like their adolescent acne. It was dreadful for a while but now its gone forever sort of mentality.

Reading disabilities don’t disappear; they are life-long companions. They can improve with therapy or strategies, but the struggle with reading never just goes away. Most often, the individual just learns to cope with the disability.

Millions of Americans struggle with reading. Chances are you interact with several people on a daily basis with a reading difficulty. If the individual has learned to cope with the struggle, then so should you as a friend, employer, or educator.

2. They are Intelligent Individuals

Charles Schwab, an entrepreneur, and advocate for individuals with reading disabilities, shares ” the real problem with kids who struggle with learning. … Some kids feel like they’re stupid. I want them to know that they’re not. They just learn differently. Once they understand that and have the tools to learn in their individual way, then they can feel good about themselves.”

Schwab’s timely Letter to the Editor of the Wall StreetThe Invisible Disability, is a must read for any individual who struggles with reading  Every employer should take the time to follow Schwab’s gripping story about growing up with an undiagnosed reading disability.


Studies indicate that as many 33% of students with LD [learning disabled] are gifted.  Students with a learning disability can learn and succeed in college. It takes proper recognition, intervention, and lots of hard work.

An article on PBS.org debunks the myth that individuals who struggle with learning possess lower IQs: “Children with LD have the mental machinery to do well, but because of the unique ways that their brains are organized to receive, process, store, retrieve and communicate information, they struggle to accomplish tasks that are necessary to success in school and life.”

3. Give Them Some Lead Time

It’s not that they don’t want to read aloud; it’s just that they can’t do it as well as most people. If you plan to call on a struggling reader to read aloud, he would appreciate some lead time. Often reading aloud is mandatory in the classroom and necessary on the job, but an employer should be willing to offer the employee with a reading disability some rehearse time.

Undoubtedly, it requires a little extra planning and communicating on the part of the employer. A willingness to go the extra step, though,  demonstrates that you view the disability as a part of the individual, but it doesn’t define them.

MAKE IT A PRACTICE TO NEVER CALL ON ANYONE TO READ ALOUD. In any given setting, proficient readers will outnumber the struggling reader so give all of the oral reading time to those who volunteer.

4. Consider the Individual Before Assigning the Task

Most individuals who struggle with reading struggle with spelling. Consider your employee’s disability before assigned him to take notes publicly on the dry erase or interactive whiteboard.

Assistive technology and educational technology offers numerous ways to present information. Make these products available to learning disabled students and adults.

Make it clear from the onset whether or not reading aloud is mandatory. Technology offers numerous ways to present information so make them available for everyone.

5. Offering Job Accommodations is NOT Enabling an Employee with a Disability

The term “reasonable accommodations” refers to changes in the workplace that enable people with disabilities to effectively perform the tasks associated with their job. The term “reasonable accommodations” refers to changes in the workplace that enable people with disabilities to effectively perform the tasks associated with their job.

Places of employment provide physical accommodations for employees with a physical handicap. So why not do the same for someone with a learning disability.  Accommodations for an individual with a reading disability may be as simple as:

A learning disability is no less of a handicap than a physical impairment. Educators, employers, church ministry workers, club leaders would never expect an individual with a congenital leg condition to perform a physical task involving the use of legs.

In the same light, we can’t expect the struggling reader to function normally in a world of words without offering assistance of some sort.

 

Dale Brown is a disability policy expert where she works with organizations in improving their products and processes for people with disabilities suggests using “Learning to Achieve” which is a suite of resources designed to build teacher effectiveness in providing instruction for adults with learning disabilities (LD).

It includes an integrated set of research-based resources and professional development materials available for self-study or trainer-led events. In a free, self-paced module, participants learn about testing and instructional accommodations appropriate for individuals with learning disabilities. It can be accessed at https://lincs.ed.gov/programs/learningtoachieve/materials.html.”  

Do you know someone who struggles with reading?  If so, how has he managed so far? Share your story in the comment section below.

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2 Comments

  1. Ashley F. on April 22, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Thank you for sharing this insight into the silent difficulties many people in literacy-based societies, like ours, face everyday. I just read an excellent book that discusses much of what you mention in this post and which could be a great resource for anyone who knows a struggling reader or struggles to read themselves (there is an audiobook available, if that is preferred). The book is called Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf. It offers a very helpful perspective regarding the brain’s processing of written language and how this relates to dyslexia and other written language disorders.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on April 22, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Thanks Ashley for this resource. I will be sure to check it out.

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