Your Child Doesn't Understand what they Read. Dunce or Dyslexic?
A little understood effect of dyslexia is that a child doesn’t understand what they have just read and they can’t tell you about it. This isn’t necessarily picked up by your child’s teacher, and if it is, they may just say ‘ Oh, Ben can’t retell a story he has just read. That’s really strange because he can read well. I don’t understand why that is’. No interventions are suggested and you are left feeling a bit mystified.
Moving on through school, your child is facing important exams and they still can’t pick up information from what they have read– now this is a serious problem, you are scared for their future and you want answers right?
You have probably not considered that a child like this could have dyslexia, especially as you think they read quite well for their age*. Many teachers can be perplexed by this apparent conundrum and, on the whole, not be particularly helpful in pinpointing the problem.
So why does your child not understand what they have read? In the majority of cases, it is because they don’t make mental pictures of what they have read. Is that it? Yes, pretty much that’s it. The bad news is that they won’t start to make mental pictures unless they are instructed in how to do that. The good news is that this is easy to teach! If you are interested in looking up more about this, then take a look at the work of Nanci Bell who first worked out that good readers ,who understand what they have read ,make mental pictures from written words. You may think your child has a vivid imagination, but it doesn’t always hold true that they can make mental pictures from written words. It’s worth checking, isn’t it?
First, see if your child can make a mental picture of something they are familiar with, perhaps a doll or a birthday cake. Ask them to describe this to you in detail (for example including size, shape, colours, textures and so on) so that you can make an exact replica mental picture of what your child is picturing. Often, their pictures will not have that many details on them or they may simply not be able to do this at all. If they have real difficulty, then print out a simple picture for them to describe to you.
Once they have mastered doing this, move on to a simple sentence which is about an object . For example, ‘ The small zebra fish swam along the wide stream’. First ask them to picture the zebra fish and then move on to ask them to picture the stream. Then ask them to tell you what the sentence was about. As they become better at this skill, you can move onto picturing for 2 or 3 sentences at a time, then on to whole paragraphs before finishing with whole texts. Don’t forget to ask them to summarise after they have told you what they are picturing.
Once they have mastered making mental pictures, it will be easier to link information together from different sentences to make inferences ie to state something which isn’t actually said in the words. For example, ‘Ben was stung by a wasp. His Dad ran to the medicine cabinet’ – you are inferring that his Dad ran to the cabinet to get something to help with the wasp sting.
Once your child is making mental pictures they will probably start to understand why people enjoy reading and what the point of it is. So your child is not a dunce, they probably have dyslexia and need to be specifically taught this picturing skill.
I am committed to helping you understand dyslexia and how it affects your child’s learning. If you would like to know more about how to help your dyslexic child, please click here to join my Free Facebook group, Dyslexia Deb.
If you would like to learn more about how dyslexia affects reading and how you can help your child, click here to enroll on my online courses.
Would you like to discuss your concerns about your child with a specialist dyslexia tutor? Contact me to discuss arranging a consultancy meeting ( these can take place online).
* I would say that your child is probably not reading at their true level, schools are happy once they get to an ‘age appropriate’ level. If you did my reading checklist ( available from my Free Facebook group – join here) then you would probably uncover other reading issues which your child has managed to cover up, because they are bright.