Photo of Lorna Kaufman, PhD

Lorna Kaufman writes about how Smart Kid, Can’t Read began.

It all began with Karen. I started my career as a 5th grade teacher in a Boston suburb. I loved it and would probably still be teaching the 5th grade if it weren’t for Karen.

Karen was a withdrawn, tearful 11 year old. The textbooks we used in the classroom were beyond her. I soon realized that Karen could not read! It had never occurred to me that by the 5th grade a student would not have this basic skill. Although she received help from a reading specialist, she was still not learning to read. I knew we were failing Karen but I didn’t know what to do.

The following year I entered a graduate program to study learning disabilities and reading problems. This began a journey that culminated in my work as a developmental psychologist. I evaluate children with learning disabilities and work with their families and schools to help them get the help they need.

I’ve evaluated children from all backgrounds and ethnicities ranging from children of working class families to children of privilege. I work with families of former US Presidents, Middle Eastern royal families, past presidents of Asian countries, university presidents, as well as children in foster care who are referred to me by the courts. However, most of the children I see are from average middle class families. I’ve seen countless children who struggle and who begin to think of themselves as “stupid”. They are not stupid: they simply struggle with reading. I’ve seen desperate parents take out second mortgages on their homes to afford special schools so their children can learn to read. I have spent many long hours sitting with parents to help them get the services they need from their public schools.

I have seen far too many Karens. It is clear that reading problems are widespread, and that parents’ resources are limited. It is not enough for parents to count on their school system to remedy their child’s reading problems. Parents need to understand the issues and advocate actively on behalf of their children. The most effective combination of skills for parents is knowledge combined with advocacy. Parents need to understand the results of reading research and how to personalize those results to meet the individual needs of their child.

I wrote Smart Kid, Can’t Read to help parents bridge that gap. They must understand that the help their child needs seldom comes without exhaustive effort on their part. They need to understand what to expect from their school system and how to advocate for the needs of their child. This is not an easy task. Smart Kid, Can’t Read helps parents to navigate the waters.

While developing my ideas for this book I organized parent focus groups to elicit feedback from parents who have been through the process of trying to get help for their children in the public schools. The central themes that emerged from those discussions form the backbone of this book.  This book is their message to other parents combined with my professional experience.

Lorna Kaufman