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Lorraine Driscoll examines Reading Comprehension Difficulties

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Here is the latest column by Lorraine Driscoll: In my last article, I wrote about how poor working memory affects learning disabilities. Poor working memory can have a significant impact on the ability to decode and comprehend written text. Up to 70% of students with learning disabilities in reading score ‘very low’ on working memory.

Working memory can be compared to a video recording where both the visual and auditory aspects of the experience are recorded with little effort. Just as a good photographer decides what to capture, your child needs to be able to do the same when reading.

If your child’s auditory working memory is weak, they might sound out every word they see because their auditory working memory isn’t allowing them to hold onto sound parcels long enough to be able to read the words fluently.

Visual working memory allows your child to recall the appearance of objects and symbols in their mind’s eye. Since 50% of the words in the English language are not phonetically correct, working visual memory is even more essential to remember how words look and are spelled. It is for this reason that weak visual memory can be a major source of breakdown with decoding and reading comprehension.

Weak visual memory often presents in the form of poor spelling, not recognizing letters or a word that was read earlier and poor reading comprehension. When visualization skills are weak, creating a film or picture in the mind’s eye of what was read is challenging if not impossible—and this deficit can be a major source of poor reading comprehension.

When working memory is weak, phonics and high frequency words are not automatized. This means the working memory must devote its energy entirely to the task of decoding instead of reading comprehension. I see this situation regularly in my office—teenagers who can read nearly every word, but have no idea what they just read.

Visual and auditory working memory can be developed with various exercises and activities which I will outline in greater detail in my next article.

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