Reading issues

Why Does My Child Have Trouble Understanding or Remembering What He Reads?

By Ginny Osewalt

I spend a lot of time every night helping my son do his homework. I try to be patient and never rush him. But we can read and re-read the same paragraph and he still doesn’t seem to “get” it. Why does my son have so much trouble understanding what he reads?

Ginny Osewalt

Special Education Teacher

It’s wonderful that you’re supporting your son’s reading endeavors. I understand your frustration—you’ve made a considerable investment of time and put a lot of effort into your son’s learning without seeing much improvement. Please know that you’ve been accomplishing a great deal just by showing your son how much you care.

The ability to gain meaning from sentences and paragraphs involves a complex blend of many skills and abilities. To give your son the right kind of reading support, it will help if you know exactly where the breakdown in his reading comprehension is occurring.

Decoding and Word-Recognition Issues

Decoding is the term for sounding out letters and words. Being able to match letters to their sounds is an essential step in learning how to read. In fact, decoding is the foundation on which all other reading instruction builds.

If your son can’t decode effectively, he’ll struggle to understand what he reads. Specific types of reading instruction can help him with this. Orton–Gillingham and other multisensory approaches are the gold standard for teaching struggling readers how to connect letters with sounds.

Reading Fluency

Decoding is very important. But sight words are important too. The more words your son can recognize at a glance (without having to sound them out), the faster he’ll be able to read.

Why does reading fluency matter? If your son has to sound out each word, it will take him longer to get through each sentence. This makes it harder to remember all the words in the sentence and understand how they fit together.

Seeing the same word several times is one way to help your son shift from sounding out the word to recognizing it by sight. That’s why reading the same passage multiple times can help him build fluency.

Reading Level

Even if your son has accurate word reading, he may be reading books that are too far above his current reading level. Teachers occasionally give reading assessments to help them understand how well a student is able to read and comprehend text. These assessments also give teachers important information about where a student needs help.

Talk to your son’s teacher about his reading level. You can ask his teacher to recommend books at his current reading level. You can also find books on your own.

Focus and Attention Issues

Attention issues are another reason why your child might have trouble understanding what he reads. Good reading comprehension depends on being able to ignore distractions.

If your son struggles with this, you may want to read about ADHD and executive functioning issues. These issues can affect his ability to hold key information in his working memory. Taking notes, highlighting important information and breaking down reading assignments into manageable chunks are just some of the ways that can help to lessen the load.

Comprehension Skills and Strategies

I often tell my students that “reading is thinking.” This phrase helps my students understand that good readers are active readers. It gives them permission to wonder things like Why is that character feeling this way? What will he do next?

You can teach your son to become a more active reader. Encourage him to ask questions and use tools like graphic organizers to make connections between what he’s reading and what he’s thinking.

Remind him that active readers also monitor how well they understand what they’re reading and re-read confusing portions of the text. Active readers look for context clues around a sentence or phrase. For example, pictures or the words in nearby sentences can help a reader understand the meaning of the words. Help your son become familiar with these strategies by modeling them as you read aloud.

Additional Supports

Be sure to speak with your son’s teacher to find out about additional supports at school, like academic intervention or reading remediation programs. Those kinds of supports might be all he needs. If you feel that your son needs more help than the general education program can provide, you may want to request an evaluation to identify the skills, abilities and areas of need that affect his learning.

Keep in mind that your continuing support and encouragement will have a lasting impact on your son’s education. Understanding your son’s reading issues can help you make sure he receives the most appropriate instruction.

About the Author

Portrait of Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt is certified in elementary and special education, with experience in inclusion, resource room and self-contained settings.

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