Q. My child is in the second grade of a private school and he still can't read. His teacher says he will when he is ready, but I see him get embarrased when he is around neighborhood children. The minute they talk about the comics or a new book, he looks away and the next thing you know, he is out of the room. Shouldn't I be doing something?
A. Yes, if only because you are embarrased too, and your child is bound to sense it. Besides, if there is a problem, the sooner it is recognized the quicker it will be corrected.
We recommend a teacher conference, three phone calls and a fine new book.
The conference comes first, a formal affair between parents and teacher which should carry no recriminations. You simply are there to gather facts, take notes and look over all of your child's papers and test scores, if possible in comparison with the work of the other children in the class, and against the national norm. If the whole class is having trouble, you have a teacher problem, to be carried to the principal.
Even if the teacher is at fault, both you and your child will want to know if he has a problem too. Your child will need some tutoring to help him catch up.
To get on the track, make an appointment with a reading diagnostic clinic, like Kingsbury Learning Center, 2138 Bancroft Pl. NW, which has both a full and a part-time tutoring program. For about $350 Kingsbury will give your child a battery of tests to discover his intelligence, his abilities and whether he has a minimum brain dysfunction that causes dyslexia-the catch phrase for a reading problem. One child may scramble the sounds in his ear, another may reverse letters, while still another will not be able to distinguish between say, a 5 and a 6, or will talk about "shaking the tower," when he means "taking a shower."
Tests also are given at many of the area's universities, such as George Washington, D.C., Georgetown, Catholic, Howard, Johns Hopkins, Hood, Westminster, Bowie and Maryland at College Park, whose Reading Center is one of the best with a fine intensive summer program, too.
The second appointment is with a pediatric opthalmologist, to be sure your child's eyes still work well. The size of the eye changes around 7-sometimes dramatically.
The third appointment is with an audiologist, which you will find at the first-rate Washington Hearing and Speech Society, a United Way agency at 1934 Calvert St. NW. This test is vital if your child mumbles or doesn't turn his head quickly when his name is called (especially in connection with the word candy: "Billy, you want a piece of candy?").
Ear infection, a sharp blow on the head, high fevers or of course a birth defect can cause a hearing loss for which a child may compensate so well that he reads lips without knowing it. More than 2 million school-age children have some hearing loss.
Finally, the new look: "Your Child Can Read and You Can Help" (Double-day, $10.95) by Jane Ervin, a Washington reading specialist. She not only explains the whole reading process but gives exercises that a mother or a tutor can use to help a child read. Even more valuable, this book tells what you have the right to expect of the teacher-and how to get it.
Marguerite Kelly, co-author of "The Mother's Almanac," has four children.