Speed Reading for Individuals with Learning Disabilities

A learning disability makes it very difficult to learn new skills, no matter what kind of disability it is. People with learning disabilities were often called “slow” back when that’s still considered an acceptable term instead of an insult. It’s because most of the time, individuals with learning disabilities were working at slower pace than their more normal peers. However, it does not have to be this way. Students with learning disabilities are given the same kind of standardized tests that their non-disabled peers are getting; and of course, their test scores are significantly lower.

However, a simple training course in speed reading for individuals with learning disabilities could be just what the doctor ordered.

Even for the non-disabled, the reading section on standardized tests is probably the number one biggest challenge on the whole-test. Not only do they have to read a boring passage, but they have to then answer difficult vocabulary questions. There’s a lot going on there, and it provides a huge challenge.

Let’s first talk strategy. Many teachers out there say that students with learning disabilities should look at the question, and then search back through the passage until they can find the clues that give them the answer. I think that this is a terrible strategy, especially for students with below average reading levels; because they lack the ability to highlight topic sentences and determine where content will be found. The better strategy is to read the whole passage through once, within three minutes; and then answer the questions, referring back only when there are exact line numbers to consider.

Three minutes is not a long time to spend reading, but it can be done; even if you have a learning disability. Speed reading is something that can be learned by anyone, and it works wonders.

The first thing to do is to practice identifying topic sentences; and identifying what you need to read, and what you don’t. This is especially true in the science and social studies passages.

If you can spot a topic sentence that’s fairly well-defined, rest of the paragraph can be skipped safely.

A good way to practice this strategy is to work with your student/child and ask them to identify a topic sentence in a paragraph. Make it easy and give them a whole lot with the first sentence being the topic sentence; because that’s what it’s almost always going to be in the ACT/SAT or other standardized tests. Then ask them to paraphrase that topic sentence. If they can do it well, then they can skip the rest of the paragraph. It may not be speed reading necessarily, but it can cut out a good fifty to one hundred words out of every single passage, and that really helps.

If your student has a learning disability that doesn’t really affect their reading ability, then you can work on training them in different speed reading techniques like subvocalization or on moving more quickly through the text.

However, if their learning disability extends to reading, you may need to work on more fundamentals before moving on to the actual speed reading techniques. If you work on vocabulary, introducing one or two vocabulary words to the student every day and working on word recognition with longer words that they already know, then this will give the student great building blocks for reading better.

Once they get to a certain point with this, it’s time to move onto speed reading itself, and the best way to teach them independence and to get them motivated about learning these techniques is with speed reading software.

Move slowly with these kind of techniques, and prepare as much in advance as possible. If I knew I had a student with learning disabilities who would have to take the ACT or SAT in their junior year of high school, I would probably start with the vocabulary building and word recognition exercises in their freshman year, with a healthy dose of work with topic sentences, and only start to work with speed reading techniques during their sophomore year. Having a learning disability doesn’t mean that they are completely unable to learn these techniques; but it does mean that they will take a longer time to assimilate them, and that it will take more practice to do so.