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What Is Reading Comprehension Disorder?

What is reading comprehension disorder? In essence, it is a difficulty understanding or comprehending written material. It can manifest in various ways, such as being unable to follow a story, not understanding what is read, or having trouble with vocabulary and word meaning.

If you think your child may be struggling with this issue, it's important to get them evaluated by a professional. Then, you can put into place strategies to help your child overcome reading comprehension disorder. Keep reading to learn more!

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What Is A Reading Comprehension Disorder (RCD)?

An RCD is a learning disability that prevents your child from understanding what he reads. A learning disability means your child has trouble with academic skills even though tests show intelligence. For example, your child may read words easily but not answer questions about reading. Reading comprehension problems can range from mild to severe. Reading comprehension disorder is a reading disability in which a person has trouble understanding the meaning of words and passages of writing. Sometimes, a reading comprehension disorder is diagnosed by specialists as a specific reading comprehension deficit (S-RCD).

Some students with reading comprehension disorder have trouble learning to read and pronounce words, but grasping meaning from text is their main challenge. However, many students with this learning difference are fluent readers who have trouble understanding what they are reading. Therefore, if your child can read a passage aloud but can't tell you much about it afterwards, they might have a specific reading comprehension deficit.

Frequently Asked Questions

A learning disability such as dyslexia or difficulty with vision, hearing, or speech may cause difficulties in reading comprehension. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can make it difficult for a child to focus. Thus, he may be less motivated to comprehend what he is reading.

There are two types of learning disabilities in reading. Basic reading problems occur when there is difficulty understanding the relationship between sounds, letters and words. Reading comprehension problems occur when there is an inability to grasp the meaning of words, phrases, and paragraphs.

Although previous evidence for reading comprehension difficulties in children with ADHD has been mixed, this study suggests that children with ADHD have difficulty building a coherent mental representation even when word reading ability is controlled. This difficulty is likely related to deficits in working.

Providers usually use a series of tests to diagnose a reading disorder. They assess a person's memory, spelling abilities, visual perception, and reading skills. And you might also involve family history, a child's response to the instruction, and other assessments.

There are two distinct forms of reading disorder in children: dyslexia (difficulty in learning to translate print into speech) and reading comprehension impairment. Both forms of reading problems appear to be predominantly caused by deficits in underlying oral language skills.

What Causes Or Increases My Child's Risk For An Rcd?

Your child may have trouble concentrating long enough to get the full meaning from reading. He may have memory problems that prevent him from remembering new words. In addition, he may have trouble recognising the sounds that form words.

Several potential factors can contribute to a reading comprehension problem. Certain disorders put a person at higher risk for this specific type of reading disability.

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD may also struggle with reading comprehension, likely related to working memory challenges.
  • Autism: Some children with autism have hyperlexia: They are early readers, can decode words without difficulty, but have low reading comprehension.
  • Brain differences: Students with specific reading comprehension deficits tend to have less grey matter in the areas of the brain that control language processing and executive functioning, both skills that relate to reading.
  • Dyslexia: Kids with this learning disability have trouble decoding or connecting printed text to a spoken word. While some people with dyslexia have no problem with comprehension, others have trouble fully understanding a writing passage because of their slow or disjointed reading pace.
  • Poor early vocabulary skills: Kids who can read competently but have trouble grasping the gist of a writing passage are sometimes lagging behind peers on basic vocabulary skills.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of An Rcd?

Reading comprehension disorder is common. About 10% of school-aged kids have a specific reading comprehension deficit. For many kids with S-RCD, their reading challenges are first identified around 7 or 8 years old, though they can surface later when kids are expected to analyse more complex texts. Your child could have reading comprehension disorder if they show any of the following signs:

  • I was reading aloud with no change in tone or inflection.
  • I was reading quickly and easily but not able to summarise the work.
  • I cannot skim a longer work or skip parts of the text.
  • I am doing well on spelling tests but failing vocabulary tests.
  • Trouble recognising familiar words used in a new context, such as table used in a science class
  • Trouble understanding words that have different pronunciations depending on the context, such as record
  • Trouble recognising changes to a word form, such as the verb entertain compared with the noun entertainment
  • Challenges with basic reading skills such as word recognition
  • Difficulty understanding the important ideas in reading passages
  • Frequent frustration with reading tasks
  • Little trouble reading aloud but might read with little variance in tone.
  • Problems remembering significant details of what they've read

Showing No Interest In Reading

Avoiding reading and writing is one of the most basic signs of reading comprehension.

Much of this avoidance stems from a lack of self-confidence within individuals with a problem. These problems do reading and writing difficult and frustrating, to the point where people avoid them altogether.

One easy way to notice these issues among younger children usually comes with assigned reading.

As part of their school tasks, children may be required to read for a certain amount of time each day. If your child struggles to reach that mark consistently, this may signify that they avoid reading because of their struggles.

Difficulty Following Basic Directions

While following directions does not necessarily need to be a reading comprehension issue, it is a sign of comprehension problems in general.

For example, your child or family member may easily understand and follow along with "go to the car". But, when the instructions become, "Go to the car and grab me a water bottle", they may not follow all the directions.

This difficulty in following directions may be caused by what their brain perceives as an "overload" of information to process.

It may seem like the information goes in one ear and out the other. But, the problem is an inability to focus on all the information that manifests itself as a lack of attention.

Difficulty Pronouncing Or Recognising Words

One way that reading comprehension problems manifest themselves is as a difficulty when reading aloud.

It usually happens because people with these issues have difficulty understanding when reading. So, it is even more difficult for them to project these words out to a crowd or when delivering a message.

When you hear someone reading a news story aloud, you may detect these signs.

You may notice that they take a very long time to read it or that they may slip up on many common words. You might also see them struggle to convey the message in the way it was meant to be read or conveyed.

Issues Understanding What You Read

At its base, reading comprehension is understanding what you are reading.

For example, if I describe a blue house to you, you can visually picture this house. However, reading comprehension often has difficulty processing and understanding what they are reading and conveying it back in other ways.

One clear example of a problem with reading comprehension is not scoring well on a reading comprehension assessment.

Another example may be difficulty understanding what a corporate email says, following the directions, or processing the details. At Great Speech, we help improve a wide range of speech and language challenges, including reading comprehension. Schedule a free introductory call to get started in your customised program today.

Taking Long To Solve Basic Tasks

Another sign of reading comprehension problems is an inability to complete basic tasks.

This issue is especially pronounced if the person you are looking after makes many mistakes in the process, especially things that may seem silly to mess upon. It may be caused by difficulty understanding the instructions due to their comprehension problems.

Poor Penmanship

Dysgraphia is a disorder that makes it so that the person who suffers from it has very bad handwriting.

While some people seem to have bad handwriting, dysgraphia is special because it can be directly connected to other learning disabilities, especially those that impact the comprehension of words and letters.

Dysgraphia usually happens because patients have a difficult time writing and thinking simultaneously. Because of their learning disability, such as dyslexia, that makes it so that they need to focus more attention on what they are writing.

It leads to a lack of attention on the quality of the handwriting, which leads to significantly worse writing quality.

Family History Of Reading Comprehension Problems

Unfortunately, one of the biggest telltale signs of reading comprehension problems is its history in the family.

Most of these issues are passed down over generations and can even become more pronounced in the family over time. If you have a reading comprehension issue, your child may too.

On the other hand, if you notice any of these signs in yourself, you should notice if your parents also showed signs of these disabilities. So again, it may be a family problem you should try to be prepared for and tackle as soon as possible.

Students who have trouble understanding what they are reading may struggle for a good part of the school day. Any class that relies on reading, understanding, and explaining written material (such as language arts, science, and history) can pose special challenges for those with reading comprehension problems.

How Is An Rcd Diagnosed?

Your child's teachers may notice that your child reads well aloud in class but cannot answer questions about what he read. He may give simple answers or not give examples on a test or essay. Your child's word accuracy will be tested and compared with his comprehension accuracy. If his accuracy score is high but his low comprehension score, he may have an RCD.

How Is An Rcd Managed?

  • Language experts such as speech therapists or reading specialists may work with your child. The experts will help him build active and passive vocabulary skills. Active vocabulary means words your child uses to express his thoughts. Passive vocabulary means words your child reads or hears. Other specialists can help him improve his ability to concentrate and strengthen his memory. He may also be taught phonics. Phonics is used to break words into parts based on the sounds that form the word.
  • You may use an individualised education program (IEP) through high school graduation. The IEP identifies your child's learning needs and helps his teachers understand how to help him learn. The IEP may help your child build skills he will need after high school. He may be able to use other accommodations in college to help him continue to succeed. For example, he may be able to take tests without being timed.

What Can I Do To Help Support My Child?

  • Always encourage your child. Do not tell him reading is easy or give examples from the text. These types of comments may make him feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble.
  • Could you help your child build his vocabulary? Vocabulary is an important part of comprehension. Tell your child the meaning of new words he hears, or have him look up the words in a dictionary. Have him create a sentence that uses a new word. Context and repetition will help him remember new words more easily. Be patient as your child learns new words. He may need to read a word more than ten times before remembering and using the word easily.
  • Read often with your child. Read stories with your child every night before bed. Have him sit where he can see the words as you read them aloud. Point at words as you read them. Ask him to tell you what he thinks will happen next in the story. It will help him with word recall and story comprehension.
  • Have your child read to you. Have him stop often and tell you what he read. Ask him questions about characters, plot, or facts. Ask him for a summary of the main ideas he read. He may tell you about events in his life similar to what he read. Connections will help him comprehend the information and remember what he read. Have your child read outside of school and at home. For example, have him read road signs and names of familiar restaurants or stores as you drive past them.
  • Do not focus on grades. It is okay to praise a good grade on an assignment or test but not make grades the goal.

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how you may treat it. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Identifying Reading Comprehension Issues

If you believe your child has reading comprehension disorder, you'll want to have them evaluated by an expert. You can start by contacting your child's school principal or guidance counsellor for information on how to request an assessment. In addition, parents are legally entitled to have their child assessed for a learning disability that may require special education services.

Learning disability diagnostic reading tests can be used to determine what specific types of problems are affecting your child's reading skills. Through observations, analysing your child's work, cognitive tests, and possibly a language evaluation, a specialist like a school psychologist or a neuropsychologist can assess whether your child has reading comprehension disorder.

It is also possible for teenagers and adults to have a reading comprehension learning disability not diagnosed in childhood. Older students should ask their school's advising office for learning disability assessment resources. For adults, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) recommends contacting a psychologist, community mental health centre, or an LDA chapter to find a professional who can perform an assessment.

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Coping And Support

Like other learning differences, reading comprehension problems are often a hidden disability. As a result, parents, teachers, and peers may be unaware that someone is struggling with this issue, especially when their reading proficiency seems fine otherwise.

It often means that people with reading comprehension disorder must work harder to get their work done, which can be overwhelming. Children with learning disabilities also often know they are behind their peers in certain academic areas, affecting their self-esteem and motivation.

That's why reaching out to teachers and specialists when kids have trouble understanding what they are reading is key. For example, if your child is found to have a learning disability like a specific reading comprehension deficit (S-RCD), your child's teachers can work with you and local specialists to develop strategies to get your child the help they need to succeed in school. These strategies should be a part of your child's individualised education plan (IEP).

Some strategies to help a child with reading comprehension disorder include:

  • Graphic organising of written passages
  • One-on-one reading instruction
  • Oral language training (Children who received such training, which includes lessons in vocabulary, figurative language, and listening skills, had an overall improvement in their ability to comprehend written language.)
  • Pre-reading tasks and exercises


Kids and adults with reading comprehension disorders are no less smart than their peers. People with comprehension challenges have a general learning ability as high as, or higher than, those without learning disabilities. However, they have a deficit in this single area.

By getting help to improve their grasp on what they read, children can become more confident and capable in school and beyond. In addition, reading comprehension skills can influence a student's performance in the classroom and later in the workplace. Offering early interventions and providing support can help those who struggle with comprehension problems succeed—and get more enjoyment from what they read.

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