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December 2017 Subscribe to the Struggling Learner newsletter >>

Homeschooling a Child with a Nonverbal Learning Disability | Part 2: Reading Comprehension

Joyce Blankenship Joyce Blankenship

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by Joyce Blankenship
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Editor’s note: This article is part of a three-part series on homeschooling children with nonverbal learning disabilities. Click here to read Part 1 on math, and stay tuned for Part 3 on handwriting.

The voice on the phone sounded perplexed.

“I just don’t understand it! My 10-year-old daughter has no problem sounding out words; in fact, she reads beautifully. She can recall facts about the story, but when I ask her to tell me the story’s main idea or to predict what will happen next, she just stares at me blankly. How can I help my daughter to really comprehend what she reads?”

As an HSLDA Special Needs Consultant, I realize that this mom’s lament is a common concern for a parent homeschooling a child with nonverbal learning disorder (NLD).

These kids are often early readers, experiencing few problems with decoding. However, when the text they are reading becomes less concrete (usually after 3rd grade), they often find it difficult to comprehend what they are reading.

To understand what we read, we need to be able to read between the lines and see the bigger picture behind the words. Recalling facts about a reading passage can be a breeze, but abstract skills such as understanding the main idea, linking cause and effect, drawing conclusions, and making predictions do not come naturally. They must be taught purposefully.

One effective way to improve reading comprehension is to teach your student to visualize. This involves creating mental pictures by transforming the words he reads into images in his mind. Generally speaking, the more these images involve the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch), the greater your child’s comprehension of the material will be.

Here are a few brief steps (outlined by Dianne Craft in her article “When A Child Doesn’t Remember What He Reads”) you can take to help your student develop this important skill.

  • Step 1: Read to your student. Look for material that is descriptive and will hold your student’s interest. You can tell him he is creating a movie in his mind. Read a few sentences and then ask him to describe in detail what he is “seeing.” It’s also good to direct his gaze upward as he describes his movie. Recent brain research tells us that we can cause our right brain (the hemisphere that governs our visual imagery) to become more responsive by looking up with our eyes.

  • Step 2: Have your student read aloud to you. Try to choose a reading selection that is easy for your student, so he can concentrate on mental pictures rather than sounding out the words. Repeat the process from Step 1, having him describe the details in what he is “seeing.” As this gets easier for him, you can increase the number of sentences he reads before you ask him to describe his movie.

  • Step 3: Have your student read silently. Stop every few lines so that he can tell you about the image he has made in his mind. If he gives an accurate description, he can read to the end of the passage and then rewind his movie to tell you what he has read.

The Power of Questions

A second strategy you can employ to help your student derive greater meaning from reading is to teach him to ask questions.

My daughter is learning California history, and last week she started the chapter in her history book titled California Gold Rush. But before she began reading, I asked her, “What do you know about the Gold Rush? In which part of California do you think it occurred? Why do you think this event is called the Gold Rush? What changes did it bring to California?”

I did not expect her to know all the answers to these questions, but I wanted to engage her interest in the text, pique her curiosity and give her a reason for reading. I also wanted to activate any background knowledge she may have had about the Gold Rush.

Since our family visited California last summer, I knew that she had some familiarity with the state, including its culture, geography and major cities. I wanted my daughter to make connections from her own experience to the text that she was reading. In this way, she would have a foundation, or a “hook” upon which she could hang new facts, ideas, and concepts.

As your child’s teacher, try making it your goal to help your child establish these connections as he reads. Remember, good readers think about what they are reading and how it fits with what they already know.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to model reading strategies that you use as an adult. During family read aloud time, show your child what a good reader looks like by verbalizing the strategies you naturally employ as you are reading.

Make comments such as: “This story reminds me of that book about Vietnam that I read last year,” “I think I know how this story is going to end up,” or “I believe that the protagonist acted the way she did because . . . .” Draw on your child’s strength in learning through spoken language. Guide him in asking questions as he reads and making connections with what he already knows.

We hope that these strategies will be helpful as you seek to enhance your child’s reading comprehension. For more practical ideas on how to systematically and explicitly teach your child reading comprehension strategies, be sure to check out the resources below.

In next month’s newsletter, we will cover teaching handwriting to a child with NLD.

Resources

“When a Child Doesn’t Remember What He Reads” by Dianne Craft

“Give Your Child the Keys to Unlock Meaning” by Faith Berens

Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking by Nanci Bell

The Making Connections Series

7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It! by Susan Zimmerman and Chryse Hutchins

Member-only: Aristotle’s “Ten Categories of Being”” for Mental Imagery and Comprehension by Carol Brown, HSLDA special needs consultant


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