Marcus frequently misunderstands oral directions. There are many children who have this issue. The underlying cause can be difficult to figure out. Consider what has to happen in his brain when he hears, “Marcus, would you please get the plates and silverware out, and put them on the table?” He has to first hear the words that are spoken, process the words in his brain, understand the meaning of the words, and then finally determine whether he needs to take an action.
Assume that Marcus is paying attention and hears the words correctly (meaning his ears work fine and he does not have an ear infection preventing him from hearing). Does he know what you mean by “plates and silverware”? Does that mean the good china normally reserved for company? Could it mean paper plates left over from the picnic? Or maybe it’s the everyday dishes. Some children process this information within seconds, while others take much longer. He might never even get to the silverware options! If Marcus looks at you like he doesn’t understand your request, he may be processing all the options and trying to decide which makes the most sense. Often, we as parents see that he is not taking an action and immediately start giving him more directions which adds to his confusion.
If this scenario is familiar to you, here are some things you might try.
- Give fewer instructions at one time. “Marcus, would you get the plates down?” Then wait long enough for him to figure out which plates you are talking about before making the next request.
- Speak more slowly so that Marcus does not have to process quite so quickly.
- Teach Marcus how to ask for help when he doesn’t understand you. Have him practice saying, “Mom, I am not sure what you are asking me to do. Can you help me?”
If children have a history of never understanding what others are telling them, they often give up. They quit trying. With these simple suggestions, they begin to regain confidence in their ability to understand what they are being asked to do.
For more information on a related topic, read "Is It An Auditory Processing Disorder?"