“I Don’t Get It. What Do You Mean?”

Understanding and Correcting Comprehension Challenges

My daughter has learned that volunteering to wait for the next flight when hers is overbooked is a good way to add to her travel funds.  And since she has an insatiable desire to travel, she makes a habit of asking.

When flying home from Japan a few weeks ago, she texted me this exchange with the airline agent:

Me:  “Hello, Is the flight overbooked today?”

Lady:  “Yes.  Overbooked.”

Me:  Do you need volunteers?”



I laughed so hard! I could just picture the scene and the airline agent cocking her head to the side thinking, “What is this crazy American talking about?”

This “confused baby” picture has been making the rounds on social media.  His look of “Huh? I have no idea what you mean” is adorable!  But for students trying to understand a lesson in class or study for a test, that feeling of complete confusion is not much fun.

Critical underlying skills for comprehension include:

  1. Getting a clear message – accurate discrimination of sounds and syllables; auditory memory; “hearing” the flow and intonation of the language; attention to detail
  2. Visualizing while listening or reading – People who comprehend well “make a movie” in their head as they read or listen.  It is not possible to remember every word that is heard or read, but if the language is stored as images, the content and meaning can be retained and remembered easily.
  3. Understanding the gestalt, or whole idea of material heard or read and seeing how the details fit into the big picture.
  4. Understanding the story grammar, or the key content elements in material that is read or heard including who, what, when, where, main idea, problem, and resolution.
  5. Analyzing and answering questions:  Analyzing exactly what the author is asking and understanding what type of response is expected for various types of questions.
  6. Verbal problem solving:  Applying visualizing and analyzing skills to information in order to understand vocabulary, relationships, author’s intent, and subtleties in the text.

Challenges with any of these skills may cause students to have difficulty following directions; misunderstand lectures, conversations, test questions, and information they have read; and may affect their vocabulary and expressive language.

A student with weak comprehension skills may rely on rote memory to write down everything the teacher says, or memorize his study guide exactly, resulting in very dense unhelpful notes and poor test scores.  Questions phrased differently than the study guide will seem like completely different information.

Comprehension challenges are tricky because they are often very subtle.  On the surface, these students seem to use and understand language like everyone else, but they may struggle with relationships, humor, and people’s intention, and may tend to be quite literal in their take on things.  They may appear to have attention problems because they miss details, misinterpret what people say, and lose their focus when listening or reading.  Our brain will quit paying attention to something that just doesn’t make sense.

Just as with any other learning challenge, making real and permanent changes will require identifying and developing the underlying learning/processing skills needed to support the learner – in this case, skills such as auditory processing, memory, visual attention, and visualization.

Do you have a child, teen, or adult in your life who is struggling with comprehension, learning, or attention?  Are you ready for a change?  Here’s your next step:

JOIN US for a FREE Information Night.

For information and RSVP go to www.learningdisability.com



“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author:  At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Teas, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers


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