Reading Challenges

When Reading’s a Real Struggle

Reading’s a big challenge for a lot of super-smart kids—and grown-ups, too! There are a few reasons why reading might be tricky, but the most common explanation is something called dyslexia. People who are dyslexic don’t hear sounds in words as easily as other people, which means they have a hard time matching letters to the sounds those letters make. Because of this, reading can be really tough.

How does it feel?

“I like reading a lot, but when I come to a big word that I can’t figure out, I get really, really stressed. Like I want to yell, ‘Ahhhhh!’”
–Zola, age nine

“It makes you feel dumb. You feel like you can’t do anything.”
–Chloe, age twelve

“It’s really hard for me to read the words, so I only read if I have to. I would read for one minute if I could have an hour of computer time.”
—Sean, age eight

What helps?

“If you’re stuck on a word, keep on reading and then you can figure out the word that you missed. Also, take a break, calm down, and then go back to reading later when you’re not as stressed out.”
—Lanie, age ten

“I look for patterns or rules, like the silent e rule, or the vccv pattern, or compound words.”
—Zola, age nine

“I use my hands to only see that word on a page. Bigger text helps, because there’s more space in between words.”
—Chloe, age twelve

“Slowing down and breaking up the word helps. Don’t hesitate to read out loud. If you get something wrong, you just move on.”
—Ethan, age twelve

What to Do When Reading’s Really Hard

Ready to hear something that might surprise you? Tons of people have dyslexia—about one out of every five people! In fact, lots of your favorite athletes, movie stars, musicians, and other world-famous, super-successful folks are dyslexic. Ever heard of a guy named Steven Spielberg? Muhammad Ali? Tom Cruise? Yep, they’re all dyslexic. Reading was really hard for them when they were kids, but they didn’t let it stop them from dreaming incredible dreams and working hard to achieve them. Guess what? It won’t stop you, either! You just need the right kind of help.

1.   Work with a special reading tutor:

For some kids, learning to read the way most people do, by sounding out words, just doesn’t work very well. The great news is, there are other ways to read. Your parents or school can find a special reading tutor for you, someone who’s an expert in special reading systems. The tutor will teach you awesome strategies like how to break words down and find patterns in them; before long, reading will start to make a lot more sense.

2.   Read with your ears:

Reading print books can be tough, but listening to audiobooks—which are read aloud by people—well, that’s a whole different ball game. Whoever said you need eyes on paper to read, anyway? You can listen to just about anything—not just books, but also magazines, websites, and even homework!

3.   Use tech tools:

Audiobooks are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology that can be helpful. If handwriting’s a big problem, you can type on a keyboard. If spelling’s stopping you in your tracks, you can dictate your work to an electronic device. If taking notes in class is the challenge, snap a picture of the blackboard with a camera.

4.   Know that everyone learns differently:

Some people with dyslexia have said that their difficulty with reading made them think they weren’t smart. This could not be further from the truth! In fact, most people with dyslexia are really smart. Dyslexia does not mean that you don’t learn as well as other kids; it just means you learn differently.

And everyone learns in slightly different ways. Some people learn best by hearing information, others by seeing it, others by moving their bodies around and others by working in groups.

If you need things that other kids don’t—extra time on a test, to get reading material in advance, to use a tech tool—don’t waste a second worrying about how that makes you different from the rest. After all, anyone who is extraordinary is always different.

5.   Celebrate your strengths:

Sure, having a hard time reading might make life tougher in some ways, but it also is the reason why you’re so incredible at other things. Dyslexia is the reason Steven Spielberg turned to filmmaking, and it’s what made artist Patricia Polacco throw herself into her drawing. People with dyslexia are some of the most curious, creative, talented people around. They’re amazing at solving problems in new and exciting ways because their dyslexia has given them plenty of practice doing just that.

Remember, if something’s important to you—whether it’s scoring the lead in the school play or writing a book—you can absolutely achieve that goal. Just be creative, stay determined, and get the right people in your corner to help! Walt Disney said it best: “If you can dream it, you can do it.