Reading Problems: Nonfluency

Nonfluency May Be an Indication of a Language Deficit or Learning Disability

Schoolgirl having difficulty reading
Schoolgirl having difficulty reading. Getty Images/Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures

If you know what a fluent reader looks like, it seems logical that you'd know the characteristics of a non-fluent reader. However, kids who have reading problems with fluency aren't necessarily the exact opposite of kids who can read fluently. 

Lack of reading fluency is symptomatic of a language deficit. Language deficits are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling and writing. The language disorder that comes most readily to mind is dyslexia, which is a difficulty in learning to read.

But many students who have problems with reading have spoken language problems as well, and for that reason, language deficits or language disorders are the more inclusive ways to speak about these issues.

For teachers, spotting language deficits in students is the first step in addressing issues that can impact the way these children function in the classroom and at home. Without proper intervention, these children will often be at a significant disadvantage. Use this list of common symptoms to help identify children who may be subject to language delays. Then, follow up with parents and professionals such as a speech language pathologist.

Spotting Nonfluency in Reading

Consider these warning signs when assessing a child's reading, both silently and out loud.

  • The child reads slowly and with difficulty, both orally and silently.
  • She doesn't use expression and intonation when she reads out loud.
    • He is unable to see and process more than one word at a time.
    • She decodes words sound-by-sound rather than by phonemes or context. In other words, nonfluent readers frequently rely on phonics as their sole reading strategy.
    • The child doesn't always self-correct when something sounds wrong. Instead, nonfluent readers often try to "push through" just to get done reading more quickly.
      • She mouths or says words under her breath when reading silently. While this is a valid strategy for beginning readers, as children get older it drastically slows down their reading speed.
      • He needs to reread text to gain understanding or comprehension.
      • She has difficulty moving forward when interrupted by a word or phrase that needs to be decoded.

      The good news is that even if your child shows some of the characteristics of a nonfluent reader, he doesn't have to remain one. If a teacher suspects that a student is exhibiting language deficits, it's important to support that child early, as the gaps in learning will only increase over time. The teacher and parents or caregivers should meet with a speech-language pathologist, who can evaluate spoken and written language ability. With school-based interventions and reading activities at home, your child can gain both reading fluency and a lifelong love of books.

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