My child can read fine, but doesn’t comprehend, could she be dyslexic?

Sad really, but a child that can read well and doesn’t understand is not a typcial child with dyslexia. Why would this parent think this? Well dyslexia is the term most often used for a child who struggles in reading. Why did I know this child wasn’t a dyslexic? I knew because I did some testing which showed she had good word recall, good understanding  of phonics and syllabication and therefore not dyslexic. We will call her Susie for purposes of discussion.

Susie came to me about 6 months back and was struggling to understand what she read. She knew how to read the words, she was just unable to put them together in her mind for understanding. This always really throws parents for a loop. They are lost. Their child can read and sometimes even really fast but after reading it, they can’t answer the questions. Some parents, if the child is reading silently assume they didn’t really read it. Some if reading orally, think they weren’t paying attention. This just isn’t true. This girl was truly trying, paying attention and doing the best she could. She didn’t have meaning attached to the words. The words were just words. The next common question is “how did this happen?”

Think of a time when you were reading and finished the page you were reading and went to the top of the next page suddenly realizing that you didn’t remember anything you just read. Your mind was tuned out to the meaning side of reading and was just going through the motions of the words. Your mind must be trained to attach meaning to words.

Susie is a sixth grade girl and her comprehension is at about a third grade level. Susie is one that everyone has seen as a good reader and because she sounded good, assumed that meaning was there. Susie was good at hiding the lack of comprehension by listening to those around her and learning what they said the reading was about. What Susie has needed is someone to be talking with her about the stories she has read.

Just learning to read words, isn’t enough. I’ll come back to the process we took to close the gap for Susie, but first let’s talk about the general strategy for what to do for someone with a true comprehension problem, not dyslexic. If you see that your child’s comprehension is weak (sometimes in specific subjects) do the following:

1. Go find an interesting story at a level they are able to comprehend. You can test this by having them read a page aloud and then tell you what the page was about. You want to be sure and request that the retelling is in sequence. If this isn’t attainable on the first try, then they need to reread thepage silently stopping at the end of each paragraph and telling you what that paragraph is about. This give a natural way of learning the concept of main idea.

2. As the comprehension improves, increase the number of paragraphs they read aloud until they are able to read an entire page and then tell the story in sequence.
*Note: You can teach some self-help skills here by providing your child some sticky notes to use in school where at the end of each paragraph (s) or page they make a note on the sticky of what took place or what the most important ideas on the page were. These make for excellent notes for studying later. Just pull them off and place them in a notebook for studying.

3. After being able to comprehend an entire page read orally, then they should move to reading the entire page silently and then recall what has taken place on the page.
4. If they are not able to tell a story in sequence after trying to read the whole page silently, go back to paragraphs at a time that are read silently and retell what wwas in each paragraph. This will want to be built on starting at 1 paragraph, then two, then three then a whole page at a time until the entire page is able to be read silently and recalled.

5. It is always a good idea when working on comprehension to stop at good times throughout a story to ask questions about what they expect will happen next and how a story will end. This helps focus the mind on the meaning of the story.

In Susie’s case, here was the action plan.

We started with mid-high second grade level material as she was testing at the third grade level, but I needed to build trust and confidence. We took the process above and followed it with a book she was interested in above. She only stayed at that level for about 3 weeks. We quickly moved up to the third grade level and with each few weeks moved up a level moving at the pace that worked for her. Moving up too quickly can cause a frustration level that is too high. Comprehension building takes consistency and commitment.

It is important to note that an essential skill in a tutor is for the tutor to train the parent what to do to tutor the child themselves, because the tutor only meets with the child so many times a week. Comprehension building must be worked on daily.
For Susie, the parent’s assignment was to have Susie read several pages per day orally from the books we were using to build comprehension and taught the parent to use the strategy above. Over the course of 6 months, we have moved from the second grade level material and now the assignment is for her mom to have her read several pages from her homework each day stopping every so often to check to make sure she has understood what she has read.
Susie is using a variety of note taking skills to help keep her focused on the meaning but will soon be reading silently most of the time, just keeping track of her own understanding. This is the ultimate goal.
What causes set backs? Many times everyone will start out on the right track to improve comprehension, but building this skills requires daily work. You can not skip days. Skipping 2 or 3 days in this process can take a child back an entire month of progress. This means that you can’t take weekends off or holidays and particularly Christmas Break. If so, you will be pulling your hair out come January. This doesn’t mean you have to do school work throughout the Christmas break, it just means have some high interest books or magazines that your child is interested in. Have something you read in the evening before bed. Yes, even middle schoolers like reading at bedtime. Take some of the time and have them follow the process for a couple of pages and then take some time for you to read allowed to them. At first they might buck the idea, but seriously, I have been working with middle schoolers for ten years and they absolutely love to be read to. Take advantage of the time though and stop to discuss what is going on in the story or what they think will happen next.

Need Tutoring: Check out my post on: Kids of the King Tutoring Services


18 Responses to “My child can read fine, but doesn’t comprehend, could she be dyslexic?”

  1. 1 Matthew January 15, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Hi, I am 23 years old and in college. Nearly all of my life, throughout grade school, middle school, and high school, I have had this same exact problem, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t do it. Because I just can’t understand and comprehend, I think that is where my ADHD and/or obsessive compulsive disorder plays a critical part in my learning ability to do this. My obsessive compulsive disorder causes me to have to be able to do something perfect or I just can’t or won’t do it at all.

    Anyhow, I have this issue whether it is with reading, or with someone actually reading it to me, since I can’t comprehend, I guess my focus loses interest or something, I don’t know. Anyhow, I completely lose my focus and concentration on what I am reading, or what people are reading or even saying to me sometimes, and it is uncontrollable, random, and often every couple of minutes, most of the time without me even knowing about it. I also seem to have that same focus problem with thinking. When I am trying to think about something, and an idea comes up, and I start thinking about it, I tend to lose my focus on it, forget exactly what it was I’m doing, and end up having to start all over again..

    I have even tried to focus myself on actually focusing without losing the focus, but that doesn’t even work. It is like I lose focus on my focus of the discussion or reading. It does not make the least bit of sense to me, and it is rather difficult to clearly explain exactly how it feels. When I do lose focus, its like I go into this day dream trance or something. Some would think that you are actually day dreaming about something, but the truth is, when this happens to me, I’m not even day dreaming about a thing. It’s completely blank, and I tend to feel as if I was sleeping, or not even alive, unaware of my surroundings, my existence, etc. (meditating without actual meditation?)

    Anyhow, I just recently started college just this past Monday, the 12th of January 2009, and I am still having this very same problem. I know that it is going to have a major effect on my learning, and unfortunately, I don’t have much time to get this together and fix the issue. Is there anything shorter that you can suggest, if my problem has any sort of relation at all to this? I can read things perfectly, but just can’t comprehend or understand them. Also to mention, depending on the subject, if you give me multiple choice questions, I can actually sometimes answer them all correctly, due to my photographic memory. The only problem is, even with that photographic memory, I can’t do anything with it to remember any bit of what I read, or to attempt to comprehend what I read, so it is definitely not helpful in this situation, or I just don’t know how to use it correctly.

    The only thing I can really understand is the things that I already know, and with that, I am not really learning anything, or at the least, learning anything new that I need to learn or want to learn. I hope you have a solution to my problem as well.

  2. 2 everyonecanlearn January 24, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Here are some ideas for you. It sounds like you need some strong note taking skills for class and some note taking skills to use while reading as well. I don’t know your personal learning style so I can’t clearly answer exactly what may help you, but here are a variety of things to try. The basic point is you need to become active in your listening, doing something with what you are learning, hearing, reading.

    1. Mind mapping. Have you ever learned how to use mind mapping. You sound like a visual learner so it might be good to learn this for taking notes in class. It is visual and uses pictures. Here is some info on mind maps. Google mind maps or mind mapping to see how to do it and use it. There is some free software that if you have a laptop and are carrying it to class then you can use it for note taking.

    2. Use T notes. For new topics or subheadings in text books. You draw a T on your page. On the left hand side of the T you place subtopics as teachers present them or they are presented in your reading. You can use pictures or words. then on the right hand side of the T put details using pictures or words about what they are presenting in the lecture or in the textbook.

    3. Use sticky notes when you are reading. After reading something that appears important write it down on a sticky note leaving it in the textbook. You can then pull them off and put them on a sheet of paper for reviewing to study for school. This can help with literary reading as well. At the end of each page, two pages, whatever is needed, making sure you remember what you just read and drawing a picture or quick sentence that puts in short what you learned on that page. Pull them off and you have a long summary of the story or chapter in a textbook.

    4. KWL notes. What you know, want to know, what you learned. Draw 3 columns and put a K above the first column, W above the second column, and L above the third column. Before reading, read the title of the chapter you will be reading. Think about what you know about the topic and put what you know or even create a mind map of what you know already about that topic. Then create some questions with question marks on your mind map on things you want to know about the topic in the W section of the KWL. Then when you are reading when questions are answered, fill them in. When you learn something interesting, fill it in the learned section, etc.

    It is always important to connect what you are learning to things you already know. What can you relate things you are learning to things you already know or strange connections that come to mind for you. For instance. When learning about the Earth’s core, I sometimes connect this with kids to a hershey kiss with an almond in the middle. Sounds like a strange connection but it is connecting it to something that they already know. Finding connections is essential.

    If you haven’t ever read “A Survival Guide for Kids with ADHD” by John F Taylor, it could be a good read. I am not real familar with resources for adults as I work with children, but I can see where this guide could help an adult with ADHD as well. I have heard that a book by Kathleen G Nadeau is good for college students called, “Survival Guide for College Students with ADHD or LD” but haven’t read it myself yet. You might want to check it out.

    I hope some of this is helpful. Please except my apologies for the delay in my response. I have been pretty swampped recently.

  3. 3 Nancy April 18, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Hi –

    My daughter is 5 yrs old and will be 6 in August. I was told by her K teacher that she is reading at the level of an 8.5 yr old but is struggling with comprehension. When she was in PK they said the same thing (same school). Some examples were, when she finishes a story, if questions are asked right aftet she reads it, she can answer some questions related to the story. But if some time has passed and questions are asked she will raise her hand to answer the question, but the answer is totally not correct. I am not sure how to handle this – we read together and I stop her after a short paragraph and ask her a question, most of the time she gets it – what do you think maybe her problem?

    • 4 everyonecanlearn October 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm

      I have been out of pocket but am now back and should be here regularly. If you still haven’t gotten help, here is some information. I am working with minimal info but my thoughts are:

      She is reading mechanically fluently but
      1. She doesn’t have the vocabulary to retain the information and needs background and vocabulary building for the story before reading it.
      2. the reading material is really too high for comprehension and she should work on a lower level in order to build her comprehension skills and work her way up.
      3. She may just have retention issues. Things to do to help with this:

      a. connect reading to prior knowledge before and during reading.
      b. have her answer why she is reading what she is reading. Establish this with a purpose. Create a KWL chart. What you know, want to know, and then what she learned from reading.
      c. Flip through the story, look at pictures talk about what’s in it and what she is curious is happening in the story. Write it down, see if your right, write the answers to the questions you came up with before the story.
      d. Create mind mapping, creating pictures of the learning. Here is a resource for understanding what mind mapping is and some examples:

      3. She has a long term memory issue. This will require testing to determine this. Normally you would try things above before testing a student for this. The end result ends up being using techniques above first anyway but there are a few other things you would do if it is a brain development issue.

  4. 5 Shelby Hood November 30, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Just want to keep informed of this subject as my daughter has the same issue as do I.

    • 6 jean August 1, 2012 at 3:46 am

      My 8 year old grandson reads 3rd grade level. But sometimes when asked a question, his answer has nothing to do with the story. We have to work on comprehention all the time. Also in a group discusion he will say something that has nothing to do with the topic. Should we be concern or is this typical. He plays well, age appropiate. Eats well. Does not always follow direction, cries if he thinks are not fare. Should we be concern.

  5. 7 Michelle April 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    i have an 8 yr old son that has a very short attention span. He has not been diagnosed with ADHD yet anyway! He has had the problem of comprehension since he started school. He can read but has the same problem as the other posts i read which is being able to answer questions pertaining to what he just read. He can tell you what the story was about just fine in his own words but if he has to take a test with multiple choice he usually marks the wrong answer and does not seem to know how to go back and scrim through what he just read to find the correct answer. Its really affecting his math with word problems…he can add and subtract and multiply all day long but put math into words and he is lost. Teachers have helped him by staying after school and working with him and tutoring him on an individual basis but i have’nt seem much results and im getting worried they will keep passing him along grade after grade and he will always struggle cause the curriculum goes very fast these days.

  6. 8 Cindy May 31, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    My daughter is 10. She was diagnosed with ADHD 1-1/2 years ago. Several years ago her teacher told us she was struggling with math. We sent her to Silvan (a tutoring school). After testing and several months they said it was her reading comprehension. She was then tested by the school and privately for ADHD. She has been on medication (we have tried 3 different kinds) and none of them seem to help the comprehension issue. It is helping the focus, but not comprehension. I don’t know what else to do for her. I think she could be bi-polar as well because she has highs and lows that seem to be (not) what you would consider normal behavior. I have finally taken her off the ADHD medication so she can be evaluated by a pediatrician before school starts again. She has been placed in special education classes, which I still do not think that is helping with what she needs. Your advise/guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  7. 9 wins June 7, 2011 at 11:29 am


    My son is 11 year old. He reads fine and does not seem to have problems in tackling new words. The problem actually starts on the fact that he just cannot remember or comprehend what he has read nor does he understand what is being taught/spoken verbally at school. Since English is not the spoken language but a medium of instruction at school only…I am quite confused as to what exactly is the problem. This is posing major problems academically.

  8. 10 Nishitha May 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I have the same problem with my daughter who will turn 5 this september. She can read words, separate, but when I ask her to read a sentence in a story, she struggles reading them together and comprehending it. Is it too early to worry? I can ask her to read a word like “smells” and “like” and ” trash”. She can do that putting some effort, but when I ask her to read the sentence like “smells like trash” she has to go through the words again. She does not remember the words which she read just a few seconds ago. I am worried. Could this be a problem? I am really hoping it is not. She is not in any kindgergarten, but will start this september. She can read words, write words, count to 100, knows colors and shapes and everything, can add and subtract in her head upto 20. Please let me know. Should I test her for any comprehending problems?
    Her first language is not english and she started talking in english only for the past 8 months.Please reply

  9. 11 Mary wu November 20, 2012 at 2:01 am

    My son has the same problem. He reads but is not comprehending. He is in grade 2 and is struggling with math problems. Do you have some suggestions how to help him. He also has issues with remembering.

  10. 12 Niki June 17, 2013 at 5:56 am

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  11. 13 promovare google August 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

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  12. 14 Safina November 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    My 9 yr old daughter has major comprehension issues. She reads beautifully, and fluently but again cannot retell you any part of the story or answer questions. She has been diagnosed language impaired and sees a speech pathologist 3 days a week at school. Personally, I don’t see this is working and I am literally at a loss as to what to so. She was already retained in the 1st grade and it seems like she will be retained again in the 3rd grade. She has FCATS(Florida based tests) that she needs to pass for her to move on to 4th grade, and I just don’t think she will pass the reading areas. I feel like I have hit a wall and don’t know what to do anymore. If anyone has any recommendations pls let me know. I just don’t know what to do anymore.


  13. 15 Angie November 12, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Hi, My daughter is in 3rd grade, I am trying to find out what is wrong and were she struggles, She has scored above average iq score and does very well in tests but in class work something goes completley wrong. she will answer completley opposite answers to the question that was asked in the book. She is on Ritalin 10mg once in the morning but I have spoken to the teacher who has said this work is done in the morning so should still have the effect of the meds. Her reading has also been scored and its of the level of a child a year older but yet it seems to me like she actually does not understand the meaning of what she has read.Could this be correct?

    • 16 everyonecanlearn September 9, 2014 at 3:28 am

      Yes, it can absolutely be correct. Testing has many limitations. I have seen many kids that test on the programs at school to be 10th grade level and are fifth graders but when you sit down and read with them, they miss things you would never imagine by filling in a word completely wrong that is essential to meaning but somehow on a test can score high.

      These kids need attention that focuses on someone listening to them read on a regular basis and helping them to develop their own self awareness of what they don’t know or understand. Once they begin to recognize that feeling that happens right before their listener stops them, they can become self aware and taught to look things up and ask questions. These kids get ‘left behind’ because they can get perfect scores on tests but not really understand what they are reading. It sounds crazy, but it’s real. Take regular time 5-10 minutes a day listening and catching those errors. Talk about what they felt right before they pronounced a word wrong they should recognize or fill in an off the wall word. They will begin to recognize it like a 2 year old potty training who finally recognizes when they need to go to the restroom. Some take longer than others. However most of these kids with this issue have very high coping skills and are very intelligent. They learn quick with a little tender touch.

  14. 17 Arianne September 8, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Thank you

  15. 18 Jeanne July 10, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Your article on reading comprehension is excellent. I am still reading it but, before I go further, I would like to suggest to the author that either parent can help the child. Only mom is mentioned and in today’s society mom may not be there, there may be shared parenting, or dad may be in charge of the kids school work.

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Lynnette Crawley M.S. Ed

As an educational consultant, I work with families, students, adults, parents, teachers, schools and corporations in relationship to the many disabilities affecting their lives. Many times all anyone needs is a little coaching, direction or tools to close the gap between where they are and where they should be. Making progress is not good enough. We must be closing the gap. Email:

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