Why Can't My Dyslexic Child Remember What They Have Read?

A little understood effect of dyslexia is that a child doesn’t remember 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

You have probably not considered that your 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 remember 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! As far as I am aware, it was Nanci Bell who first worked out that good readers ,who understand what they have read ,make mental pictures from written words.

The key problem is that your child isn't converting a printed word into a picture. A lot of people don't realise this can be an issue because they assume that all dyslexics think in pictures but there are a significant number who don't convert words into pictures when they are reading. You can test this out quite easily by asking your child some questions about the passage or book they have just been reading - can they simply retell you the story or what the article is about? This one question is often enough to uncover problems with remembering what they have read.

The solution to this problem is to help your child to make mental pictures for individual words - using words that easily link to pictures are good to start with. You want to make sure that your child is making a mental picture which is rich enough in detail so that you can picture in your head what they are picturing in theirs. Once they have mastered individual words, then move onto sentences, then paragraphs and so on.

Once your child is making mental pictures they will probably start to understand why people enjoy reading and what the point of it is.

Another key reason why your child may have difficulty remembering what they read is because they have a weak working memory.

There are two scenarios here which will mean your child won't remember what they have read:

1. They are having to sound out many of the words meaning that reading is not fluent for them.

2. They don't understand a lot of the vocabulary which is in the book/text/article.

For both of the above scenarios, your child will be using up 'space' in their working memory to work out what the words say and mean. All dyslexic students have a working memory which is poorer than the average child's, so it can simply be that there is no more room to allow them to remember what they are reading. The simple way to check whether this is the key problem is to read to your child and then ask them to summarise what you have read.

When you read to them, you are taking away the overload on their working memory and then you can simply check if they can remember what you have said.

This isn't 'cheating' and with the advent of technology there are many ways that reading can be made less problematic for your child. There are audio books, with services out there who translate school curriculum books into audio books; there is also text to speech software built into today's computers which will read out website text to your child. You can also purchase reading pens as a more portable way of having text read out whilst on the go.

I am not advocating for your child to just use technology without developing and improving their underlying reading skills at the same time - clearly there is a major advantage if your child can learn to read fluently and understand vocabulary. However, technology will allow your child to work at their true level of understanding and demonstrate their ability and knowledge in a subject without being subject to their working memory limitations.

To summarise, your child may not remember what they have read because they are not making mental pictures from written words or because they have a poor working memory. The key point about both is that these issues can be overcome and your dyslexic child can be successful at remembering what they are reading ( and may even come to enjoy it)!

Every dyslexic child can be successful. If you would like to know more about how to help them on the road to success, please click here to join my Free Facebook group.

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).

Would your child benefit from my Smashing Dyslexia Programme where they get to identify their strengths and see how these can be used to help them with their challenges? You can find out more about it here.

* I would say that your child is probably not reading at their true level and that they would show other dyslexic reading problems.

#dyslexia #rememberingtext #workingmemory #workingmemoryandreading


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