March 01, 2010

Sight Word Damage


*This post was originally written for and posted at Latter-day Homeschooling.
When I first started homeschooling I choose curricula for my children without getting guidance from the Lord.  I tried 3 different reading programs and each time, within a matter of weeks of the program I experienced a stupor.  Not a stupor of thought per say, but a stupor of action.  Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what. Finally due to anxiety over my daughter’s inability to read at 9 years old, I turned to the Lord for help.  He led me to a program I had read about before. It was something very different from what I knew and there were NO sight words.

We began the program I felt led to, and within a short period of time, my non-reading girl could spell words.  She could take a word and break it down into individual sounds. However, she still could not read. At this point in time her younger brother took off with his reading just like magic.  We pressed on, expecting his sister to eventually do the same thing, but it didn’t happen.

Through this new program, she had learned her phonograms and could break a word down really well – she could hear dog and say and write down /d/ /o/ /g/.   but she didn’t even try to put those sounds back together to figure out the whole word.  When I held up a picture of a cat - she would ‘read’ cat and if i held up a written word -  she would see it as an abstract image or symbol to “read” (just like the image of the cat) instead of parts/sounds to put together.  She knew some sight words (from the previous reading programs) so she could quickly spout those off, but if the word wasn’t a sight word, she guessed - not using the sounds in the word - but by the pictures on the page in the book.

My daughter was really struggling with reading.  When I would work on reading skills with her, she would become very upset and often cry.  She guessed at words instead of trying to sound them out.  A simple word like rat she would guess to be mouse. Even after she had “read” hat in the previous sentence.  She could do the more difficult task of taking a word/sounds apart to spell, but she couldn’t blend them together.  Again, I went to the Lord.  And as always He sent help.  I searched the internet with her ‘symptoms’ and happened upon this website that talked about Sight Word damage. I had never heard of sight word damage before then.  My daughter had every symptom and it was evident by this simple test you can do at home:
  • Find an article from a publication or copy off a page in a book. 
  • Use a sharpie to mark out all the sight words.  The remaining words were decodable. 
  • Have your child read the paper. 
  • If your child has been handicapped by sight words, you should notice right away.
Mattison couldn’t read any of the words. I was speechless. Yep -  No doubt about it – She had Sight Word Damage!

Even though this program we were now using, had helped her tremendously , she needed some additional intensive therapy for this problem.  I don’t know how I came across this wonderful sight, but what a blessing it has been.  It’s called Decode ABC. It retrains the way your child looks at words. Through simple short daily exercises, children are retrained so they can read.  In this program your child will not read real words.  All the words are nonsense words so there can be no guessing.  They are being trained to look at words differently than they have before. We use this in addition to our other program.  Her progress is amazing!

Many reading programs use a large list of sight words to help children learn to read, despite this many children do learn to decode through constant exposure to the written word.  Once children figure out how to decode, their reading takes off and their ability improves by leaps and bounds.  However some children, especially those with fantastic memory skills, auditory processing issues, or signs of dyslexia can actually be damaged from sight words.

If you suspect your child has sight word damage, don’t give up.  The Lord will lead you to the resources you need to teach your child if you let Him.


  1. Very interesting article as I never heard about sight word damage but I can understand how some children may be susceptible. Wondering if you introduce the letters of the alphabet and their basic sounds prior to the sight words then followed by the chucks if this would assist in preventing sight word damage. Both of my children have excelled in reading using this method which combines both phonics and sight word instruction.

  2. Actually learning to decode first (using sounds and phonograms) will definitely prevent this. The programs I initially tried, taught sight words from day 1. This is what caused the problem. Had we started with our other program - Spell to Write and Read, I believe we would have never had this challenge at all. My daughter has the memory of an elephant and can remember things so well, that she never made an attempt to sound out words, she relied on her memory of the image of the words. It's not an uncommon problem. Many children appear to read well until about 3rd or 4th grade when the vocabulary increases significantly in leveled reading material. When memory will no longer hold all the new words, these children appear to have dsylexia or poor reading skills even though they were "excellent readers" just the year before. I have a nephew that is a living example of this. As i mentioned in the post, many children learn to decode just by being immersed in the written word. My oldest learned to read pretty much on his own this way before starting kindergarten. Some children are more at risk for this than others, I plan to spread the word to help others.

  3. Dana,
    I've looked over at the online site for deCode and only see the free online part. Where do you purchase the entire program from? and how much is it? or are you just using the free part. This looks like a great resource for 2 of my children.

  4. Hi Chari, The free part is all you need. I have emailed back and forth with the person running the program (Tom) and it's a great program. He is happy to assist you with anything.

  5. Decode ABC has changed to ABC Decode from what I can tell. You can find it here:


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