Don’t Wait for Your Child to Fail

I just heard about Ted (not his real name). While staying with his aunt, Ted wanted to write a postcard to his parents. His younger brother quickly wrote his card, but Ted could not get past the first 2 words. He felt ashamed.


How can a child get to 9 years old and not be able to write the word ‘daddy’? All too often the reason given to parents is that their child is a late developer.


When did it become acceptable to wait for a child to fail?


We all develop at different rates, but this is not a valid reason to delay the provision of appropriate support. In fact, this is the very reason why we must individualise teaching, so it is set at a pace that suits the child. Help must be given as soon as there is any concern that a child is falling behind.


Research has proved that the earlier children get support, the less likely problems will develop in the future. As several studies have now documented, the poor first-grade reader almost invariably continues to be a poor reader.[1]


At Nessy we support a” preventive” rather than “remedial” model of intervention. Once children fall behind in the growth of critical reading skills, it usually requires very intensive interventions to bring them back up to adequate levels of reading accuracy.[2] The longer it is left, the more difficult it becomes to restore reading fluency because of the large amounts of reading practice lost by children each month and year that the help is delayed.[3]


Waiting for a child to fail not only makes the length of recovery longer and more expensive, but it damages their self-esteem. We must do more to stop children like Ted experiencing feelings of shame and embarrasment.


The first hurdle is identifying those children who need help. Providing specialist assessments to every child would be prohibitively expensive but low-cost screeners are now widely available. However, there is often a reluctance to screen every child when they start school because it is anticipated that a high number of children would be identified as needing additional help.


The next problem is that there are not enough specialist teachers to provide individual support to the number of children who would be identified by a screener. Technology provides a solution. There are computer-based programs that will help the majority of these children and allow teachers to target those with the greatest need.


Dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of


Ted was eventually assessed by a specialist and the results indicated dyslexia. However, all too often the assessments given by specialists are confusing to parents. Ted’s assessors did not like to use the word ‘dyslexia’ in case the child was labelled – but this misunderstands that people who are identified as having  dyslexia see it as a positive. Dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact it is a relief for the child to understand why they have been finding school difficult.


Knowing you have dyslexia gives you hope – hope that you are not stupid, that you can learn, and that there is a reason why you can’t understand words like other kids. The assessment suggested that Ted do extra work in the evenings. What Ted really needed was a specialist teacher trained to show children how to learn in a different way.


Just like Ted, when I was 9 years old, I couldn’t read or write either. This was many years ago, and it is deeply upsetting to me that it is still happening now. This is not an attack upon teachers, who work very hard under difficult conditions to help the children in their care. This is a call to action to ask: please, when a child starts to fall behind, don’t wait – find a way to give them help.


[1] (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998).

[2] (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1994; Vaughn & Schumm, 1996).

[3] (Rashotte, Torgesen, & Wagner, 1997).