Reading difficulties can be the result of many factors. Some have to do with instruction or the lack of instruction; other problems are related to the family or community environment of the child. Still other problems may be more organic in nature, a biological or physical factor. Researchers note that about 10 percent of the problems related to adolescent reading struggles are those with a learning disability. Another growing segment that fall outside current "regular" classroom instructional models is related to non-English speaking students. Adolescents who are recent immigrants constitute a large and growing proportion of the “adolescents at-risk of dropout.”
Organic reading difficulties generally fall in one of three categories: DECODING—COMPREHENSION—RETENTION. Children who have trouble learning to read are more likely to have problems around decoding and comprehension.
Lately much attention has been focused on dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disability which makes it difficult to read by translating sounds, or phonemes, to letters and letter combinations. Children with dyslexia often have problems with recognizing simple words, breaking words down into the individual sounds which form the words, spelling words, and to making the connection between a word and its sounds. Because problems with decoding makes reading a more difficult and slow task, a lack of reading comprehension can be a major issue as well. These children generally have average or above average intelligence.
The good news is that children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities that interrupt their ability to read CAN learn to read with proficiency. However environmental factors increase the child's frustration and motivation making the task overwhelming even with the best instruction available. Therefore, it is important to apply other best practices to children with learning disabilities, too.
Measures that best predict readers with disabilities from average readers are phonological analysis, rate of reading, and spelling. Children with reading disabilities may improve in reading accuracy but often remain slow readers, lacking automaticity. The predictor that best determines whether a learning disability will be overcome is economic class. Persistently poor readers come from disadvantaged schools. Research indicates that about 60 percent of children with early reading disabilities have reading deficits at follow-up several years later. This is a high rate of persistence given that another 20 percent of these children may be borderline poor readers at follow-up. About one-third of the problem of reading disability is genetic, and two-thirds is environmental. (Shaywitz, 2005)
A very excellent resource to learn more about the basics of dyslexia and exercises to experience reading from the perspective of a child with dyslexia are included at: Misunderstood Minds and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.