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When you love to read, but your child doesn't

A book-loving mom shares her frustration and success in getting her dyslexic son to enjoy books.

By Melinda Sacks

It is Sunday evening. The dishes are done, the dog is walked, and the laundry is folded. It's the ideal time to relax with the New York Times, and my husband and I sink into the couch and each grab for our favorite sections. At the same time, our 15-year-old son, Alex, reaches for the remote control.

It is a nightly struggle between two adults, both avid readers who love a good novel as much as Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, and Shape magazines, and our son, who hates to read. For Alex, the idea of relaxing has nothing to do with books. In fact, he considers reading a form of torture, something he is forced to do at school, and avoids at all costs from the moment he arrives home.

Reading is "stupid," "boring," and "for nerds," according to our son, who is severely dyslexic. By the time he stumbles through a page of text, painstakingly sounding out difficult words with the strategies he's learned after years of tutoring and remediation, it is no surprise that the larger context is lost. And of course any pleasure he might derive from the story is also long gone.

How does a book-loving parent cope? Is it appropriate to give up the campaign to get one's child to read, and accept the fact that some people will never read for pleasure?

Dealing with "helpful" suggestions

When our friends or other parents hear how much Alex dislikes reading, they can't seem to help themselves from giving us suggestions. What they probably don't understand is that the tips that are useful to kids who find reading easy most often don't resonate for a struggling reader.

Some of the most common suggestions include:

  • Have we tried reading aloud to him? (Of course, how do you think he finished Of Mice and Men, and Harry Potter?)

  • Have we gotten him books that reflect his greatest interests — motorcycles, cars, animals, sports, music? (Yes, we have a library of books on mammals, motor vehicles, famous musicians, and beloved sports heroes.)

  • Have we thought of comic books or magazines that focus on his passions? (Check out the bookshelf in our son's room — Guinness Book of World Records, subscriptions to Car Action and Drummer magazines, stories of action heroes, and comic book compilations fill the shelves.)

Each of these purchases holds some interest at first, at least while we are at the bookstore. But the persistence required for a struggling reader to get through any one of these publications is more than Alex can muster.