What Are Reading Difficulties? | How to Identify If Your Child Has One?

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Inside: What are reading difficulties? How do you know if your homeschooler has one? Read this article to find out and download a checklist of symptoms to look for.

You’ve decided to homeschool your child and are very excited to start! You’ve spent lots of time searching for the right curriculum and preparing your school area. It’s the first day of school, and everything seems to be going great until you notice something strange when you try to teach your child to read.

You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know something’s off. Why does he keep forgetting that one letter in the alphabet? Why can’t he remember the word “the” when you just went over it so many times in the last few minutes? These are just a few signs of a reading disability.

What are reading difficulties?

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What are reading difficulties and how do you determine if your child has one? While I don’t claim to be an expert, I do have a master’s degree in special education, and I also have a dyslexic child I homeschooled the entire time and have successfully graduated.

I spent many years studying and experimenting with different methods and techniques. We used five separate reading programs before I found one that really worked for him.

In this article, I’m going to give an overview of different types of reading disabilities there are.

I’ve also created a downloadable checklist of symptoms for each one that may help you determine if your child has one. You can find that at the end of this post.

Table of Contents

What Are Reading Difficulties?
Is My Child Smart?
Students with Learning Disabilities
Different Types of Reading Disabilities
Statistics About Reading and Success

What Are Reading Difficulties?

When a child has difficulty learning to read, it could be a sign of a learning disability. The definition of a learning disability, in general, is a weakness in the brain that interferes with the ability to learn. This neurological dysfunction can prevent a child from being able to receive, process, and respond to information correctly.

It can be extremely troubling for kids with disabilities to learn to read. What comes so naturally to most children takes way more work for them when the information isn’t presented in the way they process it.

Reading Difficulties

The majority of children will begin reading by memorizing whole words. These are usually the sight words you see over and over again in children’s books.

As longer words are introduced, the ability to sound out words is needed. The child must see and hear individual sounds, blend them together, and learn rules to do this.

This is often where the break down can occur, although some children won’t be able to learn sight words easily either. Depending on the disability, any one of these steps can be a considerable challenge.

Learning to read is a very complex process, and it depends on specific areas of the brain to do it. If your child isn’t receiving or processing information correctly, it can hinder his ability to learn to read.

The following is a short list of concepts he may have trouble with:

  • Finding rhyming words
  • Isolating words into their syllables
  • Putting sounds together
  • Determining the first sound in a word
  • Remembering the order of sounds in a word
  • Losing his place while reading
  • Very chopping when reading passages
  • Rubbing his eyes
  • Skipping words

Is My Child Smart?

Before we go any further, something I want you to remember is that your child is very smart! He just needs to learn in a different way.

Just because the school system determined many years ago their method of teaching reading was the best way, and anyone who has to learn differently should be labeled, doesn’t make it true. It’s not one way or the highway.

Children with learning disabilities generally have average to above average IQ’s and have some area(s) where they excel. They are often gifted in the creative arts, math, and science.

Students with Learning Disabilities- Some Other Characteristics They May Display

A child who has a learning disability is likely to display other characteristics than just reading problems. Some are more noticeable than others because of how it affects their temperament.


Children notice when they are not able to do the same things as their peers. This can cause a lot of stress, especially if they are in the school system. This is one of the advantages of homeschooling because they are not continually comparing themselves to classmates.

Students with Learning Disabilities

Also, children with reading issues who go to school every day, often have to spend additional time after school working with their parents or going to a tutor trying to develop better strategies for reading.

A child who is homeschooled is going to have all of this built into his normal daily routine and can have his free time just like everyone else. There’s less chance for him to stand out and feel different.

Frustration and Meltdowns

There’s a such an imbalance between what these children can and can’t do it can cause major frustration. They may be so good at some things, yet struggle so much with something else.

Often times they may display negative behaviors such as outbursts, or even have meltdowns and cry. This kind of behavior has a negative impact on school and your child’s desire to learn.

Memory and Attention Issues

You may see some indications of memory problems. Something like continually forgetting a letter in the alphabet or a number when counting is common. Not being able to remember the names of coins. It could even be as simple as not remembering which door is the front and which is the back, or which knob in the shower is for the hot and cold water. These were two things my son really had a problem remembering and had to ask me all the time.

Paying attention during learning is vitally important, and many of these children have shorter attention spans. This makes it difficult for them to concentrate and learn skills quickly. When you add in the effects of electronic devices they may be on nowadays, this makes the problem even worse.

Writing Impairments

Dysgraphia is a disorder that affects a child’s fine motor skills and handwriting. This can often occur along with dyslexia or other written or oral language learning disabilities.

Writing Impairments

Some signs you may notice are:

  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Pencil grip is tight
  • Difficulty getting words onto paper
  • Unable to draw or copy pictures

Struggles in Math

There can be a disability in math as well. This is another disorder you may notice because it often accompanies other ones such as dyslexia.

Dyscalculia is a brain disorder that hinders a child’s ability to understand math concepts. Some examples may be trouble remembering math facts, difficulty counting or identifying numbers, or have trouble solving simple math problems.

Poor Gross Motor Skills

Many of these children will display poor gross motor skills and appear very clumsy or awkward when participating in sports and physical activities. This wasn’t the case for my son. In fact, he is an excellent athlete, and this is an area he excels in! Just remember there are exceptions to everything and each child is unique.



Something interesting I learned while getting my master’s degree in special education is that children who have learning disabilities, specifically language disorders, tend to be ambidextrous and are at a higher risk for being dyslexic than their right-handed peers. This isn’t always the case, but it’s something to take into consideration if your child hasn’t chosen a dominant hand and is having a reading problem.

For a more complete list of symptoms, be sure to grab the downloadable reading difficulties checklist I have created. You can get it from the form at the bottom of this article.

Different Types of Reading Disabilities

Most reading issues don’t show up until around the age of 7 or 8. Although there can be early signs you may not recognize because you assume anything out of the ordinary is due to age, and it can be. Looking back, you may realize some of these were early signs.

It would be so wonderful if there were one specific thing causing your child’s reading problem, making it easy to identify. However, it’s not that simple. There are several types of reading disabilities, and each comes with its own set of symptoms and difficulties. Below is a description of each:


This is one of the most common reading disabilities. About 15% of Americans are said to have it. Dyslexia is a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes information. These children are described as having a problem identifying and remembering words accurately. They are also usually poor spellers and struggle with decoding.

For the dyslexic child, the process of understanding written symbols and their sounds takes a lot of effort. They must work much harder than the average child to get to a point where reading words become automatic. Once they can read words automatically, they can become fluent readers. Unfortunately, all of this has to happen in a specific part of the brain that doesn’t function correctly.

Information must be presented in a different format for these children to truly grasp it. This is why a regular classroom setting is not the best environment for them. What works for everyone else, is not going to be effective for them. It’s not a lack of instruction. It HOW it’s being taught.

When words are taught alone without context clues, the dyslexic child has extreme difficulty reading them. They rely on the clues in the story to help them figure words out. Little words like a, an, and the are even more challenging to read because there aren’t any context clues to help them figure out their meanings. When they come across these words, their brain literally stops and is blank. A lot of time and practice must be spent giving these types of words meaning so they have something to anchor them to when they come across them in the text.

As with words, reading sentences and paragraphs are very choppy as well. They depend on the wrong techniques to help them decode, and it prevents them from becoming fluent. Because of that, reading comprehension is also affected. When a child’s reading comprehension is not developing, they are limiting the number of vocabulary words they learn and also not building good background knowledge, which are all vital elements in becoming a good reader.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

This can also be called Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). APD is a hearing related disability that affects how children process the information they hear. There is a problem with how the brain interprets sounds and words. When this is caught early, there is a lot that can be done to prevent speech and language delays or problems later in school.

These children do not have hearing problems when tested in a quiet environment. The problem arises when other noises are going on in the room, which prevents them from distinguishing between certain sounds and can cause them to be easily distracted. They may find it hard to follow conversations or have difficulty with directions.
Language Processing Disorder

This is an impairment that affects how a child communicates with spoken language. One child may not be able to get his thoughts in order to explain something clearly. While another may have difficulty understanding what someone is saying, keeping his attention, or following directions.

This type of disorder is more common than many realize. It is thought that up to 5% of children in America have some form of language disability. Once again this disability is a brain disorder but in the area that processes language.

It is critical that language disorders are caught early. If not, they can cause problems that carry into adulthood. Social situations can be awkward or too embarrassing, causing people with this disorder to avoid them. Difficulty maintaining attention may interfere with tasks in the workplace. Not being able to express oneself or follow directions can have a significant impact on being able to function in the real world.

The two types of situations I have listed fall into either the expressive or receptive categories. However, some people suffer from a combination of both. Either one can affect any area that deals with language such as speaking, reading, writing, and spelling.

Here is an online test you can use to try to determine if your child has a language processing disorder.
Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

A non-verbal learning disability is a very underdiagnosed brain disorder which causes a problem recognizing and understanding non-verbal cues. At one time this was considered a rare diagnosis, but it is now becoming as common as dyslexia. Many children with this disorder are often misdiagnosed with ADHD because the symptoms of inattention and impulsivity are so similar.

The non-verbal cues they miss include both body language and facial expressions. In addition to that, these children have poor spacial, visual, and organizational skills, along with impaired motor performance. On the other hand, they tend to have excellent verbal skills and do quite well in school during the elementary years. It isn’t until the middle school years that the problem starts to surface when rote learning transitions to abstract learning.

This disability can affect reading comprehension when the student is not able to identify the overall idea of reading passages. This is because they can’t see the big picture. They also struggle with reading between the lines and making inferences.
Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

A visual perceptual or visual motor deficit learning disability is the brain’s inability to be able to process visual information. This causes an interference with the child’s ability to understand the information he sees or being able to draw or copy something. Children with visual perceptual/visual motor deficits often have disorders in other language-based disabilities such as dysgraphia or non-verbal learning disabilities.

The inability to process what they are seeing carries over into math, reading, and writing because they have such a hard time telling the difference between numbers, letters, and symbols. They often lose their place while reading, hold a pencil with a grip that is too hard, have poor eye/hand coordination, and have issues when cutting. In addition, they struggle to remember what they have read or don’t recognize what they are looking at.

There are a lot of modifications that can be made for this disability that can help. One of the best places to start is with a behavioral optometrist. This type of eye doctor specializes in determining not just if your child can see something, but rather how he perceives what he is seeing. The optometrist can assess the areas that are weak and offer training and therapy suggestions.

I took my son to a behavioral optometrist after reading about it online, and she was the person who ended up diagnosing him with dyslexia. They do way more than just check for 20/20 eyesight. It is well worth your time to take your child to one if you suspect he has a visual perceptual/visual motor deficit or any reading problem, even if you have to travel to find one. These doctors are amazing and will be able to shed some light on the difficulties your child is having and how to best help him.

Statistics About Reading and Success

Reading is very different from speaking. Spoken language is usually second nature to children because they listen to everyone around them and they naturally imitate it.

Reading, on the other hand, must be taught to children. It isn’t something that automatically happens. Some children pick up on it more easily than others, but for the majority of kids, it takes some work.

In fact, statistics show that only 20-30% of children will actually learn to read easily once they’re given instruction. That leaves a huge percentage of children who are going to find this task very difficult!

To Read or Not to Read by The National Endowment for the Arts is a report put together about the status of reading in America. It’s based on information from a wide range of sources. Their results stem from extensive studies and surveys conducted by educational groups, federal agencies, and businesses.

When data is collected by such different groups, the results are usually entirely different. This wasn’t the case when all the results were gathered. There was a very obvious conclusion. Reading is on the decline in America!

They found that many Americans just aren’t spending time reading like they use to. In addition, reading comprehension is declining. This downfall is having a serious effect on our culture, society, responsibility as citizens, and the economy.

What does this have to do with our children who have reading difficulties? A lot!

When reading is on the decline, children with reading disabilities may not be getting the early exposure that’s proven to increase their chances of success.

This is a quote taken from Medical Daily: “Children who don’t receive enough assistance in learning to read may also be missing out on the important, intelligence-boosting properties of literacy.”

“Children who don’t receive enough assistance in learning to read may also be missing out on the important, intelligence-boosting properties of literacy.”
Medical Daily

When children are read to from an early age, it can give them an overall advantage as opposed to those who aren’t. This will be especially helpful if reading problems do arise down the road.

Here are some alarming statistics about those who don’t read well and how it can have a significant impact on their lives.

  • Greater chance of dropping out of high school
  • Have lower-paying jobs than their peers
  • More likely to be unemployed
  • Not as active in the community
  • Greater potential to become a juvenile offender

When our children are hindered by a reading disability, they’re already at a disadvantage. If reading is difficult and they have a negative experience, their desire to read will diminish.

I’m not saying there’s no hope and your child is going to fall into this group. I just want to point these out as a wake-up call to be proactive.

There’s no reason for your child to be a statistic if you’re providing the help he needs and the simple act of reading to him can be a big step in the right direction.

Is it going to take more work and time than your average child? You bet! But you can overcome and increase your child’s chances for a better future. He is not doomed.

Resources to Learn More About Learning Disabilities

 I have put together an article with resources and solutions for reading disabilities. It cotains links for:

  • Books
  • Websites
  • Curriculum/Programs
  • Online Programs
  • Tools
  • Games
  • Audiobooks/Online Books

Conclusion for What Are Reading Difficulties

Learning disabilities are a brain disorder and they can’t be cured. But there are methods your child can be taught to present information in a new way that makes sense to him and give him success.

As your child matures and he learns better techniques, he’ll naturally make adjustments that help him acquire new information more effectively.

I know this is a very loose interpretation, but it’s similar to adults who have to make modifications in the way they do things. Do you have a hard time remembering things, so you have to make lists to help? Do you highlight information when you read because it makes it easier to identify the main point? You’ve learned how to adapt in areas you are weak, and your child will learn to do the same as you teach him ways to do that.

As you and your child work together to overcome these problems, try to build up his confidence. Make sure you praise him for any efforts and successes he has. Balance that our with constructive criticism in the areas that need work.

Letting him know you understand that it ‘s difficult but still keeping high expectations will show you believe in him.

Every child is different, and it’s important you realize we all have strength and weaknesses. Recognize those strengths and continue to build on them.

At the same time, identify the weaknesses and learn everything you can to develop the techniques necessary to overcome them.

Do you have a child who struggles with reading? If so, what are some of the symptoms you are seeing? What materials have you found that are helpful?


16 thoughts on “What Are Reading Difficulties? | How to Identify If Your Child Has One?”

  1. Hi Heidi, this is such a great article with lots of detailed information about reading difficulties. You have covered it really well. I don’t do homeschooling but it is something I’m planning to do in a few years with my son. I would like to take a year off work and during that time travel, so homeschooling could be the solution to continue his education while we travel. I like so much that you mentioned that every child is smart, they just learn in different ways and schools not always have that flexible environment to accommodate every style. I’ll download your resources 🙂 Thanks so much.

    • Thank Thais! Taking a year off sounds wonderful and perfect for homeschooling. What a fantastic experience that will be for him! I’m so glad you have enjoyed the article and are going to download the resources.

  2. Dyslexia refers to continual problems in studying to examine. A not unusual false impression is that someone with dyslexia sees or writes letters and numbers in a reversed or backwards manner. … Dyslexia often consequences from difficulties with the auditory processing part of language and hinders correct, fluent phrase analyzing.

    • You are so right! Most people think dyslexia is a letter or number reversal problem and it is so much more! And yes, the auditory processing disorder is actually a form or dyslexia from a hearing standpoint. Thanks for reading my article.

  3. I love the fact that this post was created to help people figure out if their children has learning disability, I was at a point in my life a teacher and I experienced a lot of cases like this in my class, but then I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but after reading this post i realized that a lot of the fell under the dyslexia category but concern now is since it has no cure because it’s a brain disorder, what can be done to improve their learning and reading skills?

    • You are right there is not a cure, but if the information is presented in a different way, their brains will process it much better and eventually they can become fluent readers. There are curricula out there to teach reading with the proper techniques that do this. It takes more work on their part but they can have success.

  4. I was a home schooled kid, although, I thankfully never had learning and reading difficulties. I knew so many people who did when I started public school around 8th grade. It was quite sad how many kid had problems reading, and the classes for kids with learning and reading difficulties didn’t even try helping them. I know a few people who have kids with learning and reading difficulties and I will point them here. Thank you for spreading much needed information. 

    • Thank you ! I appreciate you sending people to my post. It is amazing how many children have a learning disability these days.Parents need to know there is help!

  5. Thank you for this amazing post. I am from Thailand, back in 1990 there was no such thing as dyslexic, maybe people have heard of it but it was not recognized by the Thai society. I have to be honest, in a 3rd world country back in the 80s-90s these type of child development was not a popular, money making field. It was tough for me where no one understands what I went through. My parents and my siblings just assumed that I was just a bad seed that couldn’t do well in school. They just made me rewrite the words over and over again until I get it, but most of the time I would missed some of the words.

     I found out later when I moved to the States in 2003, that I was dyslexic. Thank you to the team of very understanding high school teachers who understand what I went through. They were very patient and still help me graduating high school.

    Your son is very lucky to have you and now he can read, you did a wonderful job and I have to congratulate you on that. I will share your post to all my friends that have just became parents 🙂 so they know what to do. 

    • Thank you very much and I appreciate you sharing my article! What’s really interesting, and maybe it has changed since I got my degree in special education, is that there isn’t much taught about identifying dyslexia. That is why I didn’t catch it at first. I hope that has been changed and teachers are able to identify it much quicker now. There is so much that can be done to help children with it.

  6. Hello,

    This posis very insightful. I’ve always thought of homeschooling as something obscure and unusual. It turns out that many people are doingit with success.
    Identifying that a child might have reading disabilities is crucial, especially on an ealry stage.
    I didn’t know about dysgrphia either so it was very interesting to learn about it.
    Great info here! 🙂

  7. Hi Heidi – we homeschool and I have a son (almost 9) who has definitely been much slower to pick up on reading, spelling, also ambidextrous, etc. You mentioned there are curriculums that cater to this? Are there also In home tests or does it need to be done in a school setting? He is reading now, though not as fluent as his younger sister. And will still miss a word here and there. We are seeing slow but steady improvement in spelling and reading, but he is behind grade level for sure… at what point do you recommend looking into this? If a child has signs of dyslexia, will it follow them their whole life if not “helped” in childhood? Or do the wheels turn on and things click at some point? Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Hi Katherine! At almost 9, I’d say it’s probably time to consider dyslexia or some other reading disorder. There are programs out there that would definitely benefit him. For spelling, I highly recommend All About Spelling. It is multi-sensory and based on the Orton-Gillingham method, which is the method used to teach dyslexic children. My son (dyslexic) and my daughter (who most likely has an auditory processing disorder) used this and had great success. I have written an in depth review about it here: https://theunexpectedhomeschooler.com/homeschool-spelling-programs-is-there-anything-different-out-there.

      For reading, I can’t say enough about the Stevenson Reading! This is the program that really turned my son’s reading around. Their approach is unlike anything else we tried and made perfect sense to him. He picked up on reading immediately with it. You can call their company and talk to the creator of the program and he will help you figure out which level is best to start with. Here is the address for their site: http://www.stevensonlearning.com/stevenson-reading/.

      As far as home tests go, you could try this site: https://www.testdyslexia.com/. I haven’t used it myself but it is an online screening. I’m sure they’re probably trying to sell something at the end, but it says there is no information collected and results are given on the screen at the end.

      Unfortunately, a learning disability is for life. However, just like we adults learn to adapt to areas we are weak in, children will learn to do the same. These programs will present the information in a way they learn best and they will make huge strides. They will also learn techniques for those adaptations that will help. They may have to work harder, but it doesn’t mean they won’t have success. There are so many people out there with dyslexia that you would have never imagined! I just learned the other day that Tim Tebow (homeschool kid turned NFL football player, in case you don’t know him) was dyslexic. If you do a search, there are a ton of famous people who are/were dyslexic and have gone on to do great things. I hope this helps!

  8. This is such an awesome article. My child is having some learning difficulties and this article is so helpful to have a good understanding of all learning difficulties. I will share is post with other parents I know who have kids with such problems. I am so thankful to you for this amazing post.


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