Reading and LDs

Boy leaning on books smiling

What is Reading?

Reading is a very complicated skill, and our use of the written word has had a massive impact on our world. We “learn to read”, usually up to grade 3, and then we “read to learn”. Reading is therefore central to success at school and beyond.

Basics of Reading

Writing uses abstract symbols to represent sounds and combinations of sounds to share facts and ideas. Reading is the process of taking and understanding information from written language, and the more we learn about how it all works, the more complex it appears. The skill of reading has two main parts: the mechanical elements (decoding), and comprehension.

Mechanical Elements of Reading

To successfully learn to read, an individual must learn:

– how to use spoken language,

– that spoken language is made up of individual sounds (phonemic or phonological awareness),

– the alphabet (or other character systems) – the names, sounds, shapes and formation of letters or syllables,

– the direction in which written text must be read,

– that written words are made up of letters and syllables,

– to recognize words on sight, and identify new words by using the rules of written language and context, and

– to do these things automatically, in order to be able to focus on the meaning of the writing (comprehension).


Once students understand and are fluent in the mechanics of reading, they can begin to really understand what is being read. Comprehension is thought to pass through stages just as the mechanical elements do:

  • first, students read for factual information
  • next, students learn to look for and find the main ideas of written text, and to compare and contrast ideas in text
  • finally, students learn to analyse and synthesize: to draw conclusions, and to make reasonable inferences

Reading and Learning Disabilities

There are many places in the process of learning to read where things can go off track. Like math, reading is an accumulation of skills, and missing out on an early element will impact later elements negatively. For example, if the mechanical elements don’t become automatic, comprehension skills can’t fully develop. Problems can occur at any of the learning stages mentioned above.

Sometimes you may hear the term “dyslexia” used for reading disabilities.  “Learning disabilities in reading”, or “language-based learning disabilities” means the same thing.

What Helps?

Start Intervention Early

Early screening and intervention can address difficulties in distinguishing the sounds in words, a skill that is necessary in order to put sounds with letters and letter combinations. Early remediation of this skill may be enough for some children who struggle to learn to read.

Students who have learning disabilities in reading will need ongoing remediation, alternative teaching strategies and accommodations, but early intervention can reduce secondary problems of frustration and effects on self-esteem. Later on, accommodations such as the use of assistive technologies can help students with reading LDs to access reading material at their grade level, while at the same time continuing to work on strengthening reading skills.