When Older Kids Struggle to Read

Teachers and parents are often on the lookout for disabilities in children just learning to read, but a new study suggests that adults should keep an eye on the skills of slightly older children as well.

By Thomas Sexton, published on September 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

Teachers and parents are often on the lookout for disabilities in
children just learning to read, but a new study suggests that adults
should keep an eye on the skills of slightly older children as
well.

In a study of 161 fourth- and fifth-graders, researchers from Bryn
Mawr College in Pennsylvania and Haskins Laboratories in Connecticut
found that less than a third of the 31 children suffering from
late-emerging reading problems--those that appear in the fourth grade or
later--had been flagged by their schools. A third of children with
late-emerging reading disabilities had poor reading comprehension but
showed strong word recognition, a pattern rarely seen in kids with early
reading problems. The study was published in the Journal of Educational
Psychology.

"It's unexpected. No one's looking for it," says Hollis
Scarborough, a senior research scientist at Haskins Laboratories and
coauthor of the study. She says late-emerging reading disabilities can be
quite abrupt in onset, but are often dismissed as a temporary slump in
learning. This oversight can lead to problems that may become
particularly debilitating in high school and college if left
unaddressed.

Past studies have found that children with early reading
disabilities tend to struggle primarily with identifying individual
words, possibly because it is difficult to detect comprehension problems
in very young kids. The current study found that children with
late-emerging problems suffer in roughly equal numbers from word
identification problems, comprehension problems or a combination of the
two.