What Is Reading Comprehension Disorder?

Boy having problems with homework
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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 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 just have trouble understanding what they are reading. If your child is able to read a passage out loud but can't tell you much about it afterward, they might have specific reading comprehension deficit.

Signs of Reading Comprehension Disorder

Reading comprehension disorder is common. About 10% of school-aged kids have specific reading comprehension deficits. 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 analyze more complex texts. Your child could have reading comprehension disorder if they show any of the following signs:

  • 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

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.

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 counselor for information on how to request an assessment. 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, analyzing 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 that was not diagnosed in childhood. Older students should ask their school's advising office for resources for a learning disability assessment. For adults, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) recommends contacting a psychologist, community mental health center, or an LDA chapter to find a professional who can perform an assessment.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are a number of potential factors that can contribute to a reading comprehension problem. There are also certain disorders that 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, which is likely related to challenges with working memory.
  • Autism: Some children with autism have hyperlexia: They are early readers, able to decode words without difficulty, but have low reading comprehension.
  • Brain differences: Students with specific reading comprehension deficit tend to have less gray 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 mainly 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.

Kids can have reading comprehension difficulties that relate to challenges they face with other diagnoses such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism.

Coping and Support

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

This 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, which can affect 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. If your child is found to have a learning disability like specific reading comprehension deficit (S-RCD), your child's teachers can work with you and local specialists to come up with strategies to get your child the help they need to succeed in school. These strategies should be a part of your child's individualized education plan (IEP).

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

  • Graphic organizing 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

A Word From Verywell

Kids and adults who have reading comprehension disorder are no less smart than their peers. People with comprehension challenges have general learning ability that is as high as, or higher than, those without learning disabilities. They simply 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. 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 out of what they read.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.