Every child learns and develops at an astonishingly different rate. Beyond their predispositions, an array of other factors can affect your child’s developmental pace, including environmental influences such as their home life and exposure to different teaching styles.
However, if your child is having particular trouble learning and remembering letters, it may be a sign that they have a learning difficulty. About 5% of all school-aged children in Singapore require some sort of special education to help them progress their skills at a pace that works for them.
If you suspect that the trouble your child is having remembering letters is due to a learning challenge, here’s how you can notice potential signs of common complications and properly support their learning.
Identifying learning challenges in your child
While it’s understandable that learning challenges in your child may be cause for concern, it’s not always the case that your child has one.
However, if you notice repeating patterns, difficulties reading or trouble with other school work, it’s best to seek the advice of a professional.
Common learning challenges that may be affecting your child’s reading ability
These common learning challenges affect a small percentage of children all over the world. If your child can’t remember letters or is having a hard time, watch out for these signs and symptoms of learning challenges that can affect their reading ability:
Dyslexia is classified as a learning challenge that specifically affects a child’s ability to decode words and often first becomes apparent when a child is learning how to read. However, signs and symptoms can vary greatly depending on the age of your child and the level of education they have already received.
In school-age children with dyslexia, they may have trouble:
- Reading (below their grade level).
- Understanding spoken language.
- Remembering sequences.
- Difficulty spelling.
- Trouble sounding out unfamiliar words.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is categorised as two distinct types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness and hyperactivity. If your child is having difficulty remembering letters, it could be a sign of the former. Inattentiveness, or the inability to remain focused on a task, can affect your child’s ability to learn and retain information.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD include:
- Short attention span.
- Easily distractible.
- Difficulty listening.
- Appearing forgetful.
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to write. Specifically, it can present itself as:
- Difficulty writing in a straight line.
- Forgetting how letters are formed.
- Getting confused between upper and lowercase letters.
Visual processing disorder (VDP)
VDP encompasses an array of visual processing disorders, and each has its own unique symptoms. In children, general signs of a VDP may include:
- Difficulty differentiating between letters (and shapes or objects).
- Trouble seeing and processing letters in their proper sequence.
- Long- and short-term memory issues, including difficulty recalling letters, which make it hard to read and spell.
What to do if you suspect your child has a learning challenge
If you suspect your child is struggling with one of these learning difficulties and is showing one or more of these symptoms, it can make remembering letters hard. In turn, this affects their ability to learn effectively.
It’s always best practice to seek the help of a registered specialist or expert who is trained to recognise, assess and diagnose these learning difficulties in the early years.
Key reading milestones for children
With some common learning difficulties in mind, let’s take a look at key reading milestones for young children. Having an idea of these fundamental stages in their development can help you better understand their current abilities, recognise signs of potential learning difficulties they may have and be an extension of their school learning to support them as they progress.
- Letter name and letter sound recognition. This is likely the first thing a child learning to read will pick up and is fundamental for achieving the key milestones that follow.
- Word decoding. By this stage, children should be able to apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to “decode” unfamiliar words.
- Understanding the basic concept of print. As they continue to develop, children should start to understand the basics of print, such as how letters are formed physically and be able to write them down.
- Phonemic awareness. This subset of phonological awareness encompasses the ability of a child to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes in words while reading. For example, separating a simple word such as “hat” into three distinct sounds, or phonemes, for each letter.
- Sight words recognition. This milestone refers to a child’s ability to recognise certain words, called sight words, that show up often in text but cannot necessarily be sounded out. For example, “she” or “what”.
- Comprehension. This final stage is when a child has developed a fluent ability to understand and interpret what is read — either by them or spoken by someone else.
To ensure that your child is on track and progressing through these key stages, it’s crucial that you supplement their in-school learning with activities at home. In doing this, you can deepen their knowledge and reading skills.
How to support your child in their learning
When a child has difficulty reading, it can make learning frustrating. Parents should help their children practise their reading skills at home in fun and engaging ways to ensure that they’re making meaningful progress.
Here are a couple of ideas:
- Sight words and letter flashcards. Flashcards are a great way to help your child improve their sight word recognition and boost their memory.
- Guided reading. Reading a book aloud with your child will help them manage their focus while practising nearly all of the key stages we mentioned above.
It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines, and that children develop at their own pace. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech development, it’s always best to consult with a paediatrician or speech-language pathologist.