Advice for Reading Comprehension at Home, by Bob Cunningham

By January 11, 2016 June 20th, 2018 Experts Blog

I’ve always found it ironic that a child with a Non-Verbal Learning Disability can have such difficulty with reading comprehension. Some other time I’ll talk about why the “non-verbal” part of the LD label doesn’t quite capture the difficulties these kids have. Today, though, I want to offer some advice that can be used in school or at home for working on those reading comprehension issues

Reading usually comes easily early on for kids with NVLD. They have no trouble with phonics, they develop strong vocabularies and they have a great memory for details. This lets them get far into elementary school and often even into middle school before any reading trouble emerges. But when difficulties surface, they can be a really big blow because your child and parents have always thought of reading as an area of strength.

Little boy in glasses reading a book

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Expectations for reading change. Questions become more abstract. Recalling specific details becomes less significant and recognizing themes and things not explicitly stated, like the main idea, characters’ motivations, and types of conflict, becomes essential. The need to know the “what” and even the “how” is superseded by the consideration of the ambiguous “why.”

A common way to think of this shift in reading is that it is no longer enough to see the individual trees, you also have to see the whole forest. Because seeing the big picture, or forest, does not come naturally to kids with NVLD, this is a critical area that needs to be scaffolded for them by teachers and parents.

Here are four ideas to try:

  1. Select non-fiction because it’s more likely to grab your child’s interest, but focus your discussion on the people or other “characters” in the book. Ask the same questions you would about characters in a novel. Examine relationships among characters and point out the same kinds of connections in your child’s immediate world. This compromise between comfortable expository text and uncomfortable narrative questioning will reduce the stress for your child.
  2. Avoid visualization strategies for important things to remember, which place demands on areas of weakness, in favor of rote-language strategies that access cognitive strengths. Try pneumonic devices, rhymes and lists. Also consider having your child listen to nuanced parts of the text or watch a clip from a movie so that he or she can actually see the scene, because imagining it might not be possible.
  3. To help with identification and understanding the main idea, show your child how to build a case. In other words, work from the trees to the forest to build a big picture. Have your child write down the one or two most important things from each session or section. Then, at the end, ask him or her to combine those thoughts into a theme. This is backwards from the way it is done for most kids, where they are asked to identify the main idea and then find support for their answer.
  4. After each section of the book or each session of reading, give specific suggestions for how to talk about the book with other kids and with adults. Practice what your child can say to engage others in conversation about what’s been reading!

Bob Cunningham – Expert Advisor

Head of School at the Robert Louis Stevenson School

Full biography

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