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Reading Comprehension Disorder in Children


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 an academic skill even though tests show he is intelligent. Your child may be able to read words easily but not be able to answer questions about what he 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 is reading. He may have memory problems that prevent him from remembering new words. He 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 read. He 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 comprehension accuracy. If his accuracy score is high but his comprehension score is low, he 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 build active and passive vocabulary skills. Active vocabulary means words your child uses to express his own 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 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 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 that he should be able to give examples from the text. These types of comments may make him feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble.
  • 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 10 times before he can remember and use 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 out loud. Point at words as you read them. Ask him to tell you what he thinks will happen next in the story. This will help him with word recall and story comprehension.
    Read with Your Child
  • 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 be able to tell you about events in his life that are 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 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. 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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