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Ask Squiggles: Is My Child a "Late Bloomer?"

YokyWorks students know him as Mr. Squiggles. Now he's here to answer your burning questions about reading development!

Dear Squiggles,

My daughter just turned seven. While she knows her letter sounds and has some sight words, I noticed that she is very reluctant to read out loud. When I can convince her to read to me, she reads very slowly and makes lots of mistakes. Sometimes she guesses at words and when she realizes what she’s reading doesn’t make sense, she gets stuck in the middle of the sentence and can’t sound out the words.

The other day, she was reading one of her favorite books by herself. When I asked her questions about what happened in the story, she got quiet for a moment then started telling me about something else that had happened to her that day.

When I asked her teacher about her reading during our parent teacher conference, he said that my daughter was a “late bloomer” but would likely catch up if just given more time to develop her skills.I really value her teacher’s opinion, but I hate seeing my daughter struggle to keep up with her peers. Do you think that if given more time the delays in my daughter’s reading development might resolve themselves?

Confused Parent


Dear Confused Parent,

You are not alone in your confusion. I often get questions from parents and teachers alike about whether they might be able to take a “wait and see” approach with a struggling reader. Until fairly recently, it was widely believed that so-called “late bloomers” would just “bloom” into their reading if given more time to mature. It is not uncommon for education professionals like your child's teacher to use this "developmental lag" theory to justify delays in recognizing reading problems and/or diagnosis and to rationalize why the “late bloomers” are not catching up to their peers in reading.

Your reluctance to wait for your child's reading to mature is certainly justified. Trusted research on reading failure calls into question the existence of “developmental lag” and proposes a different line of thought - students who’s reading development lags behind their peers’ have deficits in the foundational skills required for reading.

Since, according to the "skill deficit" theory, struggling readers will only improve with targeted interventions, taking a “wait and see” approach will be actively detrimental to their reading development (Juel, 1988; Francis et al. 1996; Shaywitz et al.,1999). Within this framework, a child with an identified deficit in their auditory/speech perception skills, which impacts the ability to “sound-out” words, will not improve in this area without a targeted auditory/speech perception program.

You shared that your daughter “guesses at words” and “gets stuck in the middle of the sentence and can’t sound out the words.” This tells me she is already encountering decoding problems, which will only make it harder to comprehend what she is reading as passages become more difficult. As Keith Stanovich demonstrated, in reading “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (Stanovich 1986). Within this framework, not only do the slow starters decline in their reading abilities over time but the skills gap between the slow starters and the fast starters continues to widen.

The good news is that with early screening, which allows us to identify and remediate specific skill deficits in children struggling to read before they fall deeply behind their peers, all of these effects are preventable.

Your daughter is still at the beginning of her reading journey. If her skill deficits are identified and addressed with targeted interventions, you can feel confident that reading acts as a gateway to her learning rather than a barrier.




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