Welcome to 31 Days of Spina Bifida Awareness!
Doing research on reading comprehension issues as they relate to children with Spina bifida was interesting because there was no real reason given as to why the child has difficulty. Thanks to the overall research I did into executive function and other areas I can see that several things play into it. Becoming easily distracted by your environment makes it difficult to keep a train of thought going. Tackling reading material that is too difficult means a child has to sound out most words and cannot take time to pay attention to word meanings. Organization and sequencing difficulty makes it hard to remember the order things happen in a story well enough to answer questions about it.
For a little background on my own experiences with reading I’ll say two things. First, I am an avid reader and have been since early on. I remember reading chapter books with 300+ pages when I was 7 and loving them. Even with a busy home full of children I still manage to read a book or two each week just for me. I adore the written word and even see words in my head instead of pictures.
I am a homeschooling mother and four of my 7 children are now readers. My experiences with them have taught me that learning to read is a process! Three of those children needed direct phonics instruction that progressed slowly over time, at slightly different ages. Each has tackled the written word in different ways. The fourth child virtually taught himself to read around age 3. With the minimum of phonics instruction (what each letter says) he was able to read fluently and understand what he read. Reading was very much an intuitive thing.
From my research children with SB seem to be typical beginning readers – they learn to decode single words like most children. The problem comes when they need to read longer sections of text for understanding. They can read the words just fine. Answering questions on a paragraph, page, or chapter is not easy. They seem to go on autopilot during reading. They read word after word accurately without thinking about the meanings. When they reach the end of a few sentences they’ve forgotten the words and have made no mental word picture or running story in their head of what they’ve been reading.
The strategies to help with reading comprehension are many and boil down to one thing – becoming an active reader, avoiding that ‘autopilot’ button. A few examples:
- Active readers make predictions about what will happen as they read pieces of the story.
- They picture what is happening as they go along, creating a mental movie.
- They read comprehension questions first before tackling a passage. This enables them to look for information as they read, keeping them actively involved in reading. They will have an idea of things that may be important, for example are they looking for a date something happened? Or do they need to know information about what happened after the clock struck midnight in a story?
- In informational text a child highlights important points or new-to-them information.
- Re-reading is encouraged. If the child focuses the first reading on figuring out the words, a second reading will go more fluidly and they can focus on the meaning of those words.
- Reading out loud or listening to someone else read out loud can help a child focus. Audiobooks with a print copy to follow along in are an option.
- Studying vocabulary, especially when tackling nonfiction reading for school.
All of this is predicated by and should run concurrent with a reading home. Children need to be read to from the day of birth – often and with enthusiasm. Talk about what you’re reading. Stop reading the story and let them make predictions about what will happen next. Read some more! Even when a child is reading independently this reading aloud by the parent is priceless. There are the academic benefits (vocabulary development, storing elegant word patterns in a child’s mind from the best writers, exploring ideas together, developing attention span, improving a child’s mental picturing skills, discussing ethics, morals, and situations that arise in the story together). Even more there are the benefits of shared experiences living with characters as a family. You’ve traveled to Great Britain together with Paddington Bear, met pirates in Treasure Island, and seen Narnia together. Talking together about books is another way of practicing reading comprehension and it’s just plain fun!