Dyslexic Children have Difficulties with Instructions

I had an interesting chat with a mother about her son and her belief that he might be Dyslexic. During our conversation she talked about his difficulties with instructions in his classroom.

One situation she mentioned was a classic example of a Dyslexic child misunderstanding instructions.  The child’s teacher wanted the grade one students to draw a picture of themselves. Our mother’s son drew a picture of the student sitting beside him. The teacher was upset with him and said he didn’t listen to her instructions to draw a picture of himself. The boy said the teacher had told them to “draw what they see” in reference to a self-portrait. Dyslexics can be very literal, especially when instructions are not clear and he followed her incomplete instructions “literally” because he had no other context, experience or information to follow. She was  confused by his answer – he said he “drew what he could see” which was the boy next to him; he obviously couldn’t draw himself because he couldn’t “see himself”.

The teacher’s instructions were very abstract, incomplete and conflicting for a grade one Dyslexic child. On one hand she is saying to draw a self portrait (“what is a self-portrait?” the child is probably wondering) and then she says “draw what you see” while talking about drawing pictures of themselves.  The only context he can connect to at this point is drawing pictures of people. She might have said “draw a picture of yourself as you think you look” and then this Dyslexic grade one student would know exactly what she meant.

The teacher’s use of the word “self-portrait” is abstract and then adding the idea of “draw a picture of how you see yourself” or “draw what you see” is above the development of an average six year old’s mind. Most of the children would probably respond to the part of the teacher’s instructions about drawing a picture of themselves but not focus on “self-portrait”  or “draw what you see” because they wouldn’t understand those “big picture” concepts.  Left brain dominant learners are more logical and sequential and will focus on the details they understand and can follow which would be a picture of themselves.  The Dyslexic child is a deep complex thinker however, thinking in the “big picture” and trying to follow her overall concept and its meaning.  This will probably be difficult because it deals with understanding what a psychological view of oneself is. This idea would be above the level of most six year old children. Dyslexics are always looking for the context and deeper meaning in instructions and these children can often see several possibilities. So he might not understand a “self-portrait” and ” draw what you see” in regards to how he sees himself visually or psychologically. He would more likely focus on the only “big picture” idea he could comprehend in the teacher’s directions which would be “draw what you see” in reference to a portrait or picture of a person and that would sensibly be his neighbour.

Another example of a Dyslexic child following directions literally was a seven year old boy we assessed.  We asked him to copy over a dotted letter and he started to trace the dots but not tracing the letter. He “literally” did what we asked.  Then we made our directions more clear and showed him what we wanted.

So if you find your Dyslexic child does not understand what you are saying or asking then maybe you could try to be more complete and clear with your words or ask the child what they think you meant so you can correct what they have confused. I believe practice of this type of clarity with words will help to avoid misunderstanding that can be beneficial in any situation with anyone.

Karey Hope
Founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

6 thoughts on “Dyslexic Children have Difficulties with Instructions

  1. I follow your blog and learn something new almost every time I read it. I have taught grades 3-8 with a strength in literacy. A year ago, I had the opportunity to teach a 50 yr. old man how to read. I did not know early literacy strategies except from book knowledge & I definitely did not know about dyslexia. We learned together…I learned how to teach literacy using right brain strategies & he learned how to read/write for the 1st time.

    From this experience, I am a right brain advocate & voice. (not to mention self- realization of being a right brain processor)

    Here’s his story:

  2. my 9 year old is a dyslexic. Church, school, home- we think he is very naughty and misbehaving. He is poor in academic,in reading and very slow in copying what is written on the blackboard. But he is very good in drawing and painting and he can fix his old toys. He is often daydreaming. He loves stories in books but hates to read as if he is very allergic into reading. He is always upset and cry if forced to read. But as I have research, I found out that there are lot of famous people with dyslexic and it includes Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso. I think my cousin will be a great person in the future too. I hope God would grant my prayers. 🙂

  3. Hello Jean;
    Everything you mention are issues that can occur due to Dyslexia. There is so much you can do! His misbehavior is generally due to frustration. If you want direction on working with him to help with his problems, let me know. I have 3 grown dyslexic children who are very successful. I am dyslexic, my ex-husband, my father and several of our relatives are so I understand the issues. Dyslexia is a learning difference and when he is shown how to learn his way he could become a happier and more successful little guy.
    God bless and hope things go better!
    Karey Hope
    Dyslexia Victoria

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