16 Tips for Encouraging a Struggling Reader Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

My curly-haired, almost ten-year-old daughter is spunky, empathetic, artistic, and creative…She’s also a struggling reader. Though she’s continued to receive slow and steady instruction in phonics since she was four or five years old, reading is an effort and a significant source of frustration for her. Maybe you, too, have a struggling reader who panics when it’s time to read aloud at school or home. Perhaps your child has labeled himself as a poor reader or student and is discouraged.  

image of a child sitting on a sofa with a copy of The Railway Children cracked open with the pages down and the spine and cover facing up.  The child has switched from reading to working on an embroidery hoop with in the pattern of a bee.

It’s important to address these concerns with your child’s educational team in order to identify the issues at hand and come up with a plan for specialized instruction and/or accommodations. 

For instance, many teenagers with low vision whom I worked with in the past hadn’t received braille instruction. Reading with their eyes was laborious, visually straining, and slow. It was no wonder they struggled with reading. Learning to read braille was the clear direction forward.  

For others, dyslexia is the issue. In this case, extensive phonics (an Orton-Gillingham program) in addition to braille is usually the path forward. 

Beyond academic support, consider how you can create a literacy-rich and literacy-positive home environment 

When Choosing Books 

  • Research the best series for struggling readers. Read the first in the series to them; if they want more, provide them with the second book in the series in print or braille (likely utilizing a refreshable braille display).  
  • If you’re helping your child choose a book, you may want to choose one on a topic they’re familiar with. This way they can focus on decoding instead of understanding the concepts. 
  • Encourage them to re-read a favorite book. This can help them build fluency.  
  • Let their interests lead the way! 

Before Beginning a Book 

  • If possible, give your child experiences with the subjects and settings in a book they’re reading. For example, if they’re reading a story taking place in the forest, take a day trip to explore the woods. Understanding the concepts and vocabulary found in the book will help with comprehension. 
  • If you’re asking your child to read, make sure it’s at a time when they’re not under additional stress, tired, or hungry.  

As Your Child is Reading 

  • If your child is reading an e-book, borrow the print copy from the library and describe any pictures to them.  
  • Consider looking ahead a few pages or chapters and talking about concepts or words your child hasn’t encountered. If your child finds this frustrating, refrain. 
  • If it isn’t an official reading or phonics lesson, don’t ask your child to sound out a word they’re struggling with. Tell them how it’s pronounced. Later, let them overhear you receiving help on word pronunciation so they understands we all need support.  

To Increase Practice 

  • Have your struggling reader read a book below their reading level. If they don’t want to read “a baby book”, perhaps they can read a book to a younger family member. This can help them gain confidence and fluency. 
  • They can read to a pet.  
  • Ask them if they’d like to read to a family member (bonus points for an easy-going grandparent) over Zoom. My daughter’s fluency increased when she read to my mom over Zoom four days a week for a month.  
  • Encourage them to start a book club—this can even be a virtual book club with others who struggle with reading. {Ahem, can my daughter join?!} They can read books on their own and discuss together. 
  • Have non-traditional reading material available such as magazines, cookbooks, joke books, and instructions. 
  • Make reading practice a social event—encourage letter or email correspondence to family and friends.  

Perhaps most important is my final tip (which I continuously shout from the rooftops): Read aloud to your child and make sure they have access to quality, age-appropriate audio books. Let them keep their hands busy tinkering or creating while they listen. This way they can access and enjoy books beyond their reading level. They’ll continue to be exposed to rich vocabulary and sentence structure, and their love of stories and books can develop at a rate independent of their reading ability.