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Reading Comprehension and Speech Therapy

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My son, who is eight, has had a speech problem since he was a toddler. He has been held back in school this year and remains in the second grade because of his reading comprehension. He has taken speech therapy since kindergarten, but I am puzzled. Why would they hold him back now if reading comprehension should have been realized by the first grade? Did the school slide him by without noticing, or did it take for him to begin to read to figure that he had a problem in this? When he first started second grade, he had the reading level of a kindergartener. By the end of the year, he had the reading level of a first-grader going into second grade, which was a big accomplishment. But I still am puzzled about his reading comprehension. Shouldn't that have been part of the speech therapy, and if so, why didn't the therapist pick it up?

I would very much appreciate your comments about this. Thank you.

A: It sounds like the reading problems did begin to show up as your son began to read more. Comprehension problems would not have been easy to spot when he was younger, since at that stage, he would have been learning about letters and letter combinations and how they sound (phonics). Comprehension comes later. If the speech therapist was working on pronunciation (what she may have called articulation) then the emphasis would have been on your son's ability to make certain sounds, and not on his understanding of language. If, however, she was working on communication skills (your son's ability to understand and use language), then the comprehension problems may have been identified. However, if he was still reading at a beginning level at the time, the connection to reading comprehension may not have been made. This may have happened later.

Most studies don't support the practice of retention, especially for children with learning disabilities. The focus should be on meeting a child's needs in a developmentally appropriate setting (e.g., his own grade), but this is sometimes very difficult. Since your son seems to be benefiting from the reading instruction he has been getting, the school may have felt that holding him back would give him the time he needs to "catch up." This is good news, since it means that there is probably no underlying problem (such as a learning disability) that is getting in his way. He just needs more time and practice. Unless he's upset by spending another year in the same grade, then retention may help give him the skills he needs to be successful in the coming years.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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