Reading Comprehension Problems

Causes, Symptoms, and Support

Reading a book in school.

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In This Article

A learning disability in reading comprehension affects the learner's ability to understand the meaning of words and passages. Students with this issue may also struggle with basic reading skills such as decoding words, but comprehension is the greater weakness.

Some students with a learning disability in reading comprehension can read aloud with little or no difficulty pronouncing words, but they do not understand or remember what they've read. When reading aloud, their words and phrases are often read with no feeling, no change in tone, no logical phrasing, and no rhythm or pace. Their reading abilities may seem fine, but they may understand very little of what they just read.


There are a number of potential factors that can contribute to a reading comprehension problem. For example:

  • A learning disability in reading comprehension likely involves difficulty with the language processing and visual reasoning centers of the brain. This may be owed to an inherited condition or developmental differences. Difficulty with hearing, speech, or vision, or a lack of appropriate instruction may also be involved.
  • Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty recognizing speech sounds and relating these sounds to letters. While it is often associated with reading problems, dyslexia can also impact reading comprehension. Because dyslexia makes reading much more difficult, it can also make it much harder to understand what has been read.
  • ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) can make it difficult for an individual to concentrate on what they are reading. Because their attention is not focused on the material and they are frequently distracted, people with this disorder may also struggle with reading comprehension.


There are a few different signs of reading comprehension problems. People with a learning disability in reading comprehension:

  • Have difficulty understanding the important ideas in reading passages
  • Have trouble with basic reading skills such as word recognition
  • May read aloud with little trouble, but do not understand or remember what they've read
  • Have weak phrasing and fluency
  • Frequently avoid reading and are frustrated with reading tasks

Naturally, reading comprehension problems affect many academic areas. Students who struggle to understand what they are reading may experience deficits in a variety of academic areas beyond reading and writing. Any class that relies on reading, understanding, and explaining written material, including language arts, science, history, and related topics, can become a struggle for those with reading comprehension problems.


Evaluation can provide information to help educators develop effective strategies for helping students with reading comprehension problems. Typical strategies focus on using pre-reading tasks, mediated reading instruction, graphic organizing, and improving comprehension and retention.

Teachers use assessment information to identify the specific types of reading problems a student has, and they choose effective strategies to correct the problems. This information is included in the child's individualized education plan (IEP).

Student progress is measured over time and adjustments are made as needed.


Like other learning disabilities, reading comprehension problems are often a "hidden" disability. Other people may be unaware that others struggle with this issue, especially since their reading proficiency seems fine otherwise.

People with a learning disability in reading comprehension have general learning ability that is as high as, or higher than, those without learning disabilities. They simply have a skill deficit in this single area.

This often means that people with learning disabilities must work harder to get their work done. They may appear as if they are not putting forth the effort, when in fact they are just overwhelmed. Children with learning disabilities often know they are behind their peers, which can affect their self-esteem and motivation.

All students with a learning disability are at-risk for being underestimated in their abilities.

Testing and Assessment

Learning disability diagnostic reading tests can be used to determine what specific types of problems are affecting the learner's reading skills. Through observations, analyzing student work, cognitive assessment, and possibly language assessment, educators measure progress and can develop IEPs.


If you believe your child has a learning disability in reading comprehension, contact your school principal or counselor for information on how to request an assessment. If school staff are unable to help you, contact your school district's special education administrator for assistance.

For students in college and vocational programs, their school's advising office can assist with finding resources for assessment and accommodations for their learning disability.

It is possible for adults to have a reading comprehension learning disability, though they weren't diagnosed in childhood. 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 for you. LDA's website also contains helpful information for people of all ages.

A Word From Verywell

Research published in 2011 suggests that kids with reading comprehension problems may benefit from oral language training. Children who received such training had an overall improvement in their ability to comprehend language.

Reading comprehension is not just an important academic skill; it is a critical life skill. It can influence a student's success in school and their later functioning and satisfaction in the workplace. Teaching good reading strategies, offering early interventions, and providing support can help those who struggle with reading comprehension problems.

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Article Sources
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  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.

  3. Learning Disabilities Association of America. Adult Learning Disability Assessment Process.

  4. Hulme C, Snowling MJ. Childrens Reading Comprehension DifficultiesCurrent Directions in Psychological Science. 2011;20(3):139-142. doi:10.1177/0963721411408673.