Learning disabilities is a diagnosis that is formally defined as a level functioning in a major language area at least two years below expected grade level. By the time an individual has reached adolescence, however, the issues become more complex than they were at the elementary level, so that the definitions become more specific to skill than grade level. There are simple things to look for to determine whether or not an individual has learning disabilities in the area of reading in order to develop a plan for instruction both at home and at school.
By the time an individual has reached the age of 13 he or she has experience with language, but may lack gaps in that language experience. This will show up with confusion in oral language or word retrieval. The individual may be quite fluent in oral language but show word finding problems, speech delays or difficulty comprehending the meaning of material which it is presented quickly. This is one piece of evidence for learning disabilities, but there are addition clues.
Ask the adolescent to read aloud. By the age of 13, in seventh or eighth grade most young people no longer read aloud in class. So it is difficult to determine whether or not he or she has word pronunciation problems. Watch to see if the individual reads in phrases or word by word, if endings are omitted, words left out, parts of words missing, or frequent substitutions of words that are similar in configuration. Adolescents with learning disabilities with sometimes show problems with syllabication. They will know, for example, the basic letter sounds but have trouble with separate elements and pronouncing endings and optional sound groups. Endings with -cious or -tious or syllabication, with requires the determination of individual syllables fused then into the whole word may be difficult, so the person has problems with unfamiliar words and so has trouble reading material that has a range that includes adult reading material. Keep in mind that in the common 7th or 8th grade text, a range of reading is required from 4th to 12th grade level, so the junior and senior high school student may know a lot of the words but have problems pronouncing new ones. Without this skill, they have trouble then knowing the word meanings and therefore the comprehension of the material.
Next ask the adolescent to read several paragraphs. Ask several questions that require recitation of detail and then at least one or two where overall comprehension is required and some level of abstract reasoning is required. An example might be the following sentence: “Mary went up the stairs to get dressed for an evening out at a nice restaurant and movie following. ” Details would include where did Mary go, why did she go upstairs, and where was she going afterwards. Abstract reasoning might be: give a title for the story about Mary or what do you think Mary would do if she got upstairs and found she didn’t have anything suitable to wear for a dinner date?
These are the types of characteristics that are found in reading that should be examined to determine the possibility of learning disability. This might be the reason the adolescent is having study skill problems and having difficulty with subject matter because adolescence is the time when separate study areas are presented with specific reading materials. By determining what the adolescent knows of basic reading skills, it will be easier to help the individual with material knowing that those basics need improvement, and after the diagnosis is made a proper plan to help can be developed.