Limiting the limitation

Ask the Experts

June 10, 1998

Leo E. Otterbein, a licensed psychologist specializing in educational testing and placement of children, responds to this frequently asked question:

Can reading disorders be completely corrected?

Most reading weaknesses and problems can be corrected if a true disorder can be ruled out. But true reading disorders do not go away. They cannot be "fixed." Like any other inherent limitation (such as lack of athletic ability), training and practice can help, but in the end, such inaptitudes impose more or less lifelong limitations. So, even intellectually gifted children with reading disorders never reach gifted levels in reading.

The extent to which a child with a reading disorder improves can be reasonably predicted on the basis of two factors.

First, since most reading disorders run in families, the extent of improvement in a reading-disabled child can be estimated by the degree of improvement in a relative (usually a parent or aunt/uncle) manifesting a reading disorder.

If the child's father recalls struggling with reading as a child but now enjoys it reasonably, improvements can themselves be accelerated if there is evidence that the relative received no special instruction and still improved. If the child is provided with such instruction, then improvements are very likely to exceed those realized by the relative.

The other factor that influences improvement is the degree of response to remedial instruction. Severe reading problems resist intervention; no remedial effort seems to work well. But when the intervention produces measurable improvement in several months, the likelihood of sustained progress is greater.

In addition to these "predictions" of improvement, one can point to the general intelligence of the child, the degree of family support, the "timing" of corrective efforts (earlier or later in schooling), and the appropriateness of the corrective method itself. Like any other human limitation, a reading disorder's negative effects can be minimized.

And like other such limitations, a reading disorder does not preclude success, achievement and a personally satisfying life. Recognizing early that reading disorders do not "go away" can thus be peculiarly liberating. Needless disappointment, self-contempt and frustration can be replaced by the pursuit of realistic, attainable goals and the enormous enhancements to self-esteem that come from focusing on what one can do, not on what one cannot.

A reading disorder is not a tragedy unless one chooses to treat it as such.

If you have a question, or a suggestion, please write to: Ask the Experts, Reading by 9, Features Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278

! Pub date: 6/10/98

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