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How to Help Your Child with Learning Disabilities Learn to Read

Author and educator Grace May Chiu explains how parents can encourage their children to read, avoiding frustration caused by learning disabilities, in this exclusive interview. Grace May Chiu is the co-author of Bonding While Learning.

Interview by Allison Martin

What early academic concepts have you noticed that children most often have difficulty?

This answer will vary depending on the child and his/her specific learning disabilities, so while some academic concepts will come naturally for some children, the same concept will be difficult for others. Meanwhile, it's important to note that a love of reading can be nurtured with all children, regardless of learning challenges. For example, a friend of mine has a son with a neurological disability that makes it difficult for him to process while reading; nonetheless, this boy absolutely loves to be read to and it's a way for him to connect not only to great literature, but also to his parents. Another friend of mine has a child who is autistic. And while he has developmental delays, this child associates reading with family bonding time and looks forward to trips to the library.

What are some types of activities parents can do with their children to encourage a love of reading?

It's important to remember that instilling a love of reading is a process. It doesn't miraculously happen the moment you provide your child a steady supply of books, although that is a step in the right direction. A love of reading is most effectively modeled by parents who actually enjoy reading themselves. Without even trying, parents who love to read demonstrate the pleasure and excitement they receive when reading the sports section of the newspaper or discovering a favorite recipe in a cook book. If you don't like to read, or your child doesn't like to read, it's never too late to start. Reading isn't only about reading words, it's making meaning of things you care about. So if you're not the type of person who likes to read lengthy novels, don't worry—you will find that any hobby, interest, or issue is captured in print.

What are some ways to help children who seem to have trouble with letter sounds and identification?

Systematic phonics instruction is beneficial for many children who struggle; there are plenty of resources—books, videos, phonics kits—that teach letter sounds and identification in fun and engaging ways. Meanwhile, learning letter sounds and identification can also be reinforced at home and on the go. For example, when you're shopping at the grocery store, you can ask your child to point out cereal box names they recognize and identify the first letter of those cereal names. As your driving, you can point out street signs and read and sound out letters.

How can parents encourage their children in learning in a way that encourages closeness, without overwhelming or depressing them?

If you don't want to overwhelm or frustrate your child, it's important to set realistic expectations for your child—in others words, you should know what your child is capable of doing and how far you can challenge them.

For example, when reading a bedtime story, you want to:

  1. Make sure you're reading a book your child is interested in (if not, find another book);
  2. Know if your child is able and/or interested in reading with you (it's perfectly okay if you as the adult are the one reading, but you always want to provide your child opportunities to read); and
  3. Know how long you should read (before they get antsy or bored).

Again, the key to effective learning is knowing your child well. Know your child's interests (what will motivate their learning), their learning preferences (how best they learn), and their learning abilities (how far you can push them). If you're not sure about your child's learning preferences and learning abilities, it's often helpful to confer with your child's teacher.


Grace May Chiu is an educator and co-author of Bonding While Learning: Activities to Grow Your Relationship While Preparing for Reading Success, which provides practical activities to share with toddlers and preschoolers to encourage speech, early reading, and interactive communication.

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