Holding Back My Dyslexic Son

Please give me your thoughts on holding back a first grader who has been diagnosed with developmental dyslexia. My son turned seven in February, and is very mature for his age. He has poor reading skills and his self-esteem has been totally deflated this year due to his struggle with reading. He is being tutored on alphabetic phonics four days a week and this will continue throughout the summer. He will be making a move from a private school into public school. If we choose to hold him back will this do even more damage? It concerns me that his peers will be so young. I would appreciate your input on the pros and cons of this situation. Thanks.


Retention is definitely a complicated issue -- one that deserves careful consideration and a fair amount of research.

With all of the research that has been done on the topic of retention, a more definitive conclusion should have been reached by now. However, there are children for whom retention worked and other children for whom retention failed. Rather than looking at the research solely, I think it is important to also weigh your child's particular considerations.

Children who are good candidates for retention are generally younger students who lack the maturity and social skills needed to be successful in academics. The students who are struggling academically and who also have birthdays close to the cut-off date are usually those who are considered for retention. Retention is also more effective for younger children, particularly kindergarten and first graders, than for older children.

Retention has lost favor with many educators because there is some evidence that retention does not work for most students and may in fact add to their continued troubles with academics. What educators do favor are other interventions -- ways in which a child may be brought up to grade level in reading or other academic areas. Instructional strategies and specialized programs such as Reading Recovery (a one-on-one reading program) and Success For All (a small group reading program) are popular alternatives to retention, allowing a child to advance with his peer group while still getting the instructional support that he needs to become a better reader.

Let's look more closely at your own child now. His February birthday would make him significantly older than the youngest person in his class should he repeat first grade. I share your concern about him being more socially advanced than his classmates, especially since you describe him as being very mature already. While repeating a grade would put him at the top of his class academically, it may not be to his advantage socially. He is receiving some intervention in the form of tutoring on phonics, which will support his growth as a reader. You may want to supplement this by investing in any one of the quality phonics/reading programs available today, such as "Hooked on Phonics" or "The Phonics Game." Check with his tutor for her recommendations. There is also a great deal of excellent software on the market that could improve his reading skills, such as "Kid Phonics2," "Reader Rabbit," "Interactive Reading Journey," and "Carmen Sandiego Word Detective." With all of this assistance available to your child, it is reasonable to assume that he can and will become a more successful reader.

To assist your decision-making process, you may want to make an appointment with the principal at your son's new school. Explain your concerns about your son's dyslexia and the interventions that have been tried with him. Ask about programs that the school has that your son might benefit from, including peer tutoring and small group instruction. You may also want to ask if there are specialists or classroom teachers who are experienced in working with dyslexic children. You will probably get some good information from the principal and it will help you feel more comfortable with your decision regarding your son's grade placement.

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