Signs & Symptoms

Verbal Comprehension

Is your child not comprehending the teacher’s lesson?

Your child may say that he or she gets lost in class. He may say that he hates it when people talk too much. She may say that she just doesn’t understand what is going on in school.

Your child may feel like ‘word work’ is ‘a lot of work’. Some children simply do not have a way with words. Children with poor vocabulary or word knowledge have problems with verbal comprehension. They may struggle with new concepts in school.

Children with poor comprehension may know the meanings of words but struggle to provide the definitions.

They may have trouble explaining which words go together or share a common category. For example, cats, dogs, and horses all go together because they are all domesticated animals. This skill is called categorical knowledge.

Your child may have trouble finding a similar word to explain her ideas due to poor knowledge of synonyms or grade-level vocabulary. If your child is struggling with vocabulary or general comprehension, he or she is likely to have difficulties in school, particularly in language arts.

Children who read fairly well, but who do not understand what they read, could have comprehension problems. If your child cannot tell a story back to you after reading it or cannot answer questions about a book that you read together, he or she is struggling with comprehension.

It may also be that your child learns a lot on topics of interest but gleans very little from content learned in school. Alternately, although your child might understand and remember non-fiction, factual, and black-and-white materials, he or she may struggle to read fiction books that have a more open-ended and abstract nature.

Children with poor verbal comprehension generally have a harder time writing. Your child may have trouble writing because the concepts in his brain just don’t quite make it onto the paper.

It may be that he or she can think of the words but is not quite sure how to spell them or how to construct complete sentences. This skill is called encoding ability or written expression. It is often the case that a child with verbal comprehension problems can share many creative ideas verbally but struggles to express them in written form.

Problems in comprehension may or may not impact social skills. In younger children, verbal comprehension may not be as important because conversation is less essential to social interaction. A young child can play and interact on the playground without talking too much. However, as your child gets older, he or she will be expected to understand what other kids say and to follow a fluid conversation by making comments, sharing emotions, and drawing meaningful conclusions.

Your teenager may need to discuss a favorite movie or a song with a friend. If your child has poor comprehension skills, he or she may not be able to follow along in the discussion or maintain a social interaction.

What do challenges with Verbal Comprehension look like?

  • Struggling with reading and writing?
  • Unsure of the right words to express ideas?
  • Not understanding what teachers or other adults are saying?
  • Forgetting new vocabulary or spelling words?
  • Having meltdowns over writing homework?
  • Getting lost when introduced to new materials in class?
  • Not following directions?
  • Needing to ‘see it’ rather than hear it explained aloud?
  • Having problems completing assignments in class?

Why is Verbal Comprehension happening?

Verbal comprehension is the ability to understand written and spoken words. Within this area, we have skills like categorical reasoning, which is knowing how words are alike by assigning them to common categories (ie. an apple is like a banana because it’s a fruit).  Vocabulary, and being able to define common words is a part of this area. Verbal Comprehension is sometimes measured on an IQ test. The verbal part of an intelligence test is called Verbal IQ (VIQ) or Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI). Because comprehension is important for learning, someone with these challenges may have trouble in several subjects. For example, language arts, world history, foreign languages, and social studies may be difficult.

How can I manage Verbal Comprehension at home?

The good news about deficits in verbal comprehension is that these skills are highly impacted by exposure. That is, if your child struggles with vocabulary and word knowledge, it may be that he or she just needs more explicit practice.

Activating background knowledge: Teachers can introduce new topics by showing pictures, maps, or information about places the child already knows about or has been to before. These cues will trigger the brain to relate something unknown to something known. Providing connections to background information and giving context to new learning can help children grow in their comprehension.

Visual learners: Visual learners tend to really appreciate pictures, images, and visual models. In class, non-verbal prompts are best [2]. For example, the teacher can point to what to do next or physically model how to do a task. Providing checklists, graphic organizers, and visual schedules can also aide in comprehension for a visual leaner.

Kinesthetic learners: have to ‘feel it’ to get it. Teachers can give manipulatives, objects, and experiential opportunities to help them learn best. The teacher might tap your daughter’s paper, hand her materials, or pat her on the back. These physical, non-verbal prompts can be much more effective and less distracting than verbal directions.

Kinesthetic learners tend to learn better when they can integrate motor movements with their learning. Doing a ‘walk and talk’ or doing jumping jacks for each spelling word may help. Kinesthetic learners may learn new spelling words by writing them in the sand.

Some kinesthetic kids learn best while hiking around outdoors. Knowing that your child is a visual or kinesthetic learner, rather than a verbal learner, can go a long way to help make learning fun and to avoid frustration.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Verbal Comprehension?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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