I have a great example of what should be done when your first grader starts showing signs of struggling with reading acquisition. Actually, in this case, our young lady was showing some signs of reading problems last year but mom gave her a bit more time to see how first grade would start out.

Early intervention is the key.

Soon after school started (we start early here in Middle Tennessee!!) mom noticed that her sweet daughter S. was not doing well with reading. Of course, she reached out to the school team initially. Suffice it to say that was not a smooth ride.

Now, let me say that I am a huge supporter of teachers. They are in a noble profession with great responsibility to help educate our young. And…far too many of our teachers are not equipped in terms of their education, training and experience to understand how to effectively address early emergence of learning issues. Primarily, they are not SUPPORTED to receive the right education in university, they are often overwhelmed and do not have the resources to move quickly with a child who is struggling and they do not get the professional development necessary to arm them with the right tools to help. And then there is the law.

Regardless of the changes made with IDEA regulations and beginnings of implementation of RTI, the Wait and See Model still prevails in far too many schools. I will say that some schools who have forward thinking leadership and well trained staff are working very hard to have appropriate policies and procedures in place to catch our struggling kids early so they can intervene. More often than not though you find vestiges of the “They have to fail first before they are eligible for services–which, by the way, will likely be inadequate.”

So, what did S’s mom do about her daughter’s reading problems?  She took charge and rallied a team of support on her own.

Here’s what she did:

  1. Contacted the school and expressed her concern about her daughter’s performance.  Already, S. was exhibiting signs of distress and avoidance.  As was her legal right, she requested a meeting with the school team.  Delays and miscommunication ensued.
  2. Arranged for a screening at the local university that included an assessment of S’s phonological processing, word fluency and decoding skills and comprehension skills.  This was not a complete assessment but it armed her with enough information to begin tutoring intervention.
  3. Explored tutoring options (also available at the university clinic where they had the screening) so that she could get S. into tutoring as soon as possible.
  4. Reached out in her network and learned of several practitioners, consultants and clinics who dealt with learning issues so she could choose the right treatment for her daughter.
  5. Continued contact with the local public school in which S. is enrolled and is following IDEA protocol to seek more in-school services for her daughter.  That process is ongoing.
  6. Compiled a list of books, websites, videos, etc.  to INFORM and EDUCATE herself about learning problems so that she could make informed, rational decisions about her daughter’s care.
  7. Joined a local chapter of a national organization that lobbies for policy changes in the law at the state level.

The key here is that mom moved quickly to educate herself, assessed available services in the community for reading problems and started intervention for her daughter immediately.   Mom is doing a great job.

One key lesson is, in my professional opinion, do not wait for the school to act.  Take charge and marshall resources in your community.  Even if you are lucky enough to have a strong, properly educated and supported team in your school do not sit back and let them be the experts.