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Reading Comprehension Disorder in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is a reading comprehension disorder (RCD)?

An RCD is a learning disability that prevents your child from understanding what he or she reads. A learning disability means your child has trouble with an academic skill even though tests show he or she is intelligent. Your child may be able to read words easily but not be able to answer questions about what he or she read. Reading comprehension problems can range from mild to severe.

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 what he or she is reading. Your child may have memory problems that prevent him or her from remembering new words. He or she may have trouble recognizing the sounds that form words.

What are the signs and symptoms of an RCD?

  • Reading aloud with no change in tone or inflection
  • Reading quickly and easily but not being able to summarize the work
  • Not being able to skim a longer work or to skip parts of the text
  • Doing well on spelling tests but failing vocabulary tests
  • Trouble recognizing familiar words used in a new context, such as table used in a science class
  • Trouble understanding words that have different pronunciations depending on context, such as record
  • Trouble recognizing changes to a word form, such as the verb entertain compared with the noun entertainment

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 or she read. He or she may give simple answers or not be able to give examples on a test or in an essay. Your child's word accuracy will be tested and compared with his or her comprehension accuracy. If your child's accuracy score is high but his or her comprehension score is low, your child may have an RCD.

How is an RCD managed?

  • Language experts such as a speech therapist or reading specialist may work with your child. The experts will help him or her build active and passive vocabulary skills. Active vocabulary means words your child uses to express his or her own thoughts. Passive vocabulary means words your child reads or hears. Other specialists can help your child improve his or her ability to concentrate and strengthen his or her memory. He or she may also be taught phonics. Phonics are used to break words into parts based on the sounds that form the word.
  • An individualized education program (IEP) may be used through high school graduation. The IEP identifies your child's learning needs and helps his or her teachers understand how to help your child learn. The IEP may help your child build skills he or she will need after high school. Your child may be able to use other accommodations in college to help him or her continue to succeed. For example, he or she 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 your child reading is easy or that he or she should be able to give examples from the text. These types of comments may make him or her feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble.
  • Help your child build his or her vocabulary. Vocabulary is an important part of comprehension. Tell your child the meaning of new words he or she hears, or have your child look up the words in a dictionary. Have him or her create a sentence that uses a new word. Context and repetition will help your child remember new words more easily. Be patient as your child learns new words. Your child may need to read a word more than 10 times before he or she can remember and use the word easily.
  • Read often with your child. Read stories with your child every night before bed. Have your child sit where he or she can see the words as you read them out loud. Point at words as you read them. Ask your child to tell you what he or she thinks will happen next in the story. This will help your child with word recall and story comprehension.
    Read with Your Child
  • Have your child read to you. Have him or her stop often and tell you what he or she read. Ask your child questions about characters, plot, or facts. Ask your child for a summary of the main ideas he or she read. Your child may be able to tell you about events in his or her life that are similar to what he or she read. Connections will help your child comprehend the information and remember what he or she read. Have your child read outside of school and home. For example, have your child read road signs and names of familiar restaurants or stores as you drive past them.
  • Do not focus on grades. Praise improvement, such as an improved vocabulary test score. It is okay to praise a good grade on an assignment or test, but do not make grades the goal.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. 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.

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