Common Problems in Reading Faced by Older Students with Learning Disabilities

Reading presents particular difficulty for an older student who suffers from a learning disability. This article describes some of the more common problems learning disabled students face when learning to read.

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An older student with a reading disability faces a complicated cycle of difficulty: he can't read so he does do not like to read. When reading is laborious and unsatisfying, a student will avoid it. Over time his comprehension skills decline and he becomes a poor speller and writer. What probably began as a problem with word recognition becomes a general weakness with both written and spoken language. Effective instruction can stop and repair the learning gap and can impart the skills an older reader missed in the earlier grades. It's possible for a student to catch up completely in one or two years. Here are some of the root problems common to older reading disabled students:

Sound identification

Language-deficient children may miss the subtle differences in speech sounds that distinguish one word from another (pacific/specific; goal/gold; fresh/flesh; anecdote/antidote; cot/caught).


Students can learn the aspects of written language with which they are not familiar. These include subtitles, paragraph structures, connecting words and phrases, idioms, and figures of speech. If his written sentences are short, incomplete, or stilted, he can learn sentence expansion and construction. Each of these challenges can and must be met in age-appropriate ways

Print recognition

Recognizing printed words depends on the ability to connect speech sounds to letter symbols and recognize letter sequences accurately and quickly. The majority of poor older readers probably never picked up these basic skills but they can acquire them with patient, effective instruction. The techniques for teaching older students differ from techniques used with younger students. Older students should be placed in a learning environment appropriate to their social development.

Older students have experienced reading failure for many years so they need to be convinced that renewed investment of energy will be worthwhile. It can be embarrassing for a student to face a learning disability. Sensitive, professional help that respects the student's intelligence is very important.

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