Specific reading comprehension deficit is a condition where a child can read fluently aloud, however, without understanding the meaning of the words. The condition is diagnosed not until the third or fourth grade when it already starts disrupting the child’s academic skills. There are brain activities and other strategies can help one manage the condition for a better future.
What Is Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit?
Specific reading comprehension deficits or S-RCD is a condition whereby a child can read without the ability to understand the meaning of the words that are being read. The disorder is like almost reading a foreign language without being able to understand the meaning of a single word. Some students with this condition can read aloud with little or no difficulty in pronouncing words, however, they fail to understand or remember what they’ve read. Furthermore, while reading, their words and phrases are devoid of feelings or expressions along with no change in tone, zero logical phrasings, rhythm, or pace.
When such a condition prevails, parents and teachers assume the child to be a good reader because when the child reads aloud, he/she can decode fluently until the child’s weak comprehension ability gets highlighted. Neuroscientists have found that children with S-RCD when compared to ones with word recognition deficits, exhibit poorer performance connected to tests of planning and spatial memory.
The condition does not get recognised until about third or fourth grade when teaching shifts from decoding to comprehension. Specific reading comprehension benefits can affect various spheres of life- starting from homework to exams and employment as well.
S-RCD vs Dyslexia
Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit is quite different from dyslexia. While children or individuals with dyslexia are unable to read, S-RCD is about understanding them. There is very few research about specific reading comprehension deficits, unlike dyslexia. However, the research shows that a person with this condition possesses a difference in his/her brain which can be seen with neuroimaging. While in dyslexia, children show abnormalities in the occipital temporal cortex (the region of the brain responsible for identifying words on a page), children with S-RCD had abnormalities in the region associated with memory.
As per a study 1, approximately 1 in 3 fourth grade students in the United States have “below basic” reading comprehension skills. One cause is impaired decoding, the ability to read words from letters, which in turn impedes reading comprehension. This condition defined by reading disability is referred to as dyslexia (DYS) and it affects 10–15% of children.
On the other hand, nearly 10% of children can recognize words adequately yet fail to comprehend text, i.e. they have a specific reading comprehension deficit. S-RCD is an obstacle, especially in middle and later grades, as children rely more on independent reading for content knowledge.
Prevalence Of Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
A 2016 study 2 says that ”A substantial population of children and adolescents struggle with reading comprehension despite adequate phonemic decoding (word-level reading) and intellectual ability.” Individuals suffering from this learning disability are thought to have a specific reading comprehension deficit (S-RCD).
As per a study 3, reading comprehension has supreme importance to academic success and future life outcomes. However, by the end of the academic year, only about 36% of fourth-graders and 34% of eighth-graders in the United States have reading comprehension scores that are at or above proficiency.
Around 31% of fourth-graders and 24% of eighth-graders continue to have reading comprehension scores that are below the basic level. Moreover, between 10 and 15% of 7- to 8-year-old children who maintain a normal reading fluency still experience deficits in reading comprehension. Another research 4 that specific reading comprehension deficit affects nearly 10% of all children.
Causes Of Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
There are mainly three causes of specific reading comprehension deficit. These are:
1. Poor Vocabulary
While there are a few studies about S-RCD, most of the studies have pointed out that vocabulary plays a major role in this condition followed by a child’s overall academic success. It must be noted while one can correctly pronounce a word, it necessarily does not mean he/she will also have the same. It is extremely vital to understand the meaning of a word as it helps with correct sentence construction.
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2. Poor Working Memory
Neuroimaging of children with specific reading comprehension deficit shows a different working pattern of the brain when compared to the children with dyslexia. Those with dyslexia exhibited abnormalities in particular regions of the brain in the occipital-temporal cortex that is responsible for recognizing words on a page. However, those with S-RCD showed abnormalities in regions of the brain typically associated with memory.
It must be noted that while short-term memory keeps information in the mind for a few seconds while it is processing, long-term memory is where such processed information is stored permanently. Working memory is an intermediary and active memory system that is entitled to process the information in the brain and sentence understanding depends profoundly upon adequate working memory.
It is vital to comprehend complex and lengthy sentences. If the working memory isn’t working properly, the reader will not understand the meaning of a sentence and neither will he/she understand the connection between one sentence and the other. This way, by the end of a paragraph or a chapter, the main idea will not be retained in the working memory, thereby, giving rise to poor working memory.
3. Inability To Think Logically
Humans think logically by using the power of reasoning consistently to conclude. Structure, the connection between facts, and a string of reasoning that “make sense” define a problem or situation that required logical thinking. It should also be noted that there is a strong relationship between logical thinking and reading in literature.
4. Other Factors
Other causes of S-RCD may include, students with poor word decoding skills and children with poor language processing abilities. They may struggle with-
- Semantic processing – understanding words and placing them correctly in a context
- Vocabulary – meaning or knowledge of words that a person must know
- Inferences – concluding gathering information from known facts or evidence
- Text Structure – the many ways to organize a text
- Grammar – understanding the classes of words, their expressions, as well as the functions and relations in the sentence
Symptoms Of Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
As we have mentioned before, when parents and teachers perceive a child as a good reader, they think that the child’s comprehension is also on track. However, it must be noted that children who read fluently aloud may not understand what they are reading. Symptoms of specific reading comprehension deficit may include the following.
- Lack of ability to recall or summarize what they have just read
- Difficulties following the sequence of events
- Unable to distinguish significant information from minor details
- Lack of potential to understand the important ideas incorporated in a paragraph
- Unable to link previously learnt information to new information, thereby coming up with a logical meaning
- Unable to read in between the lines or struggling to make inferences
- Unable to recognise words
- May read aloud with little trouble without understanding or remembering the same
- Weak phrasing and fluency
- Persistently avoid reading or are frustrated with the reading task
However, by the time the condition is recognised, that is close to 3rd or 4th grade, the problem has already started disrupting a child’s learning process. Specific reading comprehension deficit affects various academic skills, including reading, understanding, and explaining written materials.
Diagnosis Of Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
S-RCD can only be diagnosed once a child starts with his/her formal education. To be diagnosed with a specific reading comprehension deficit, a person must meet four criteria laid down by DSM-5, which is also the criterion for learning disorders.
- Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read for at least 6 months
- Poor academic skills that are considerably below than what is expected from a child of that age. The condition should also cause problems in school, work or everyday activities.
- The difficulties should start from the school days even if the problem becomes a concern until adulthood
- The condition is independent of other disorders, such as intellectual disability, vision or hearing problems, a neurological condition, unfavourable economic or environmental condition, lack of instruction, or difficulties speaking/understanding the language.
A diagnosis of such a condition is defined by a combination of observation, family history, interviews and school reports. Neuropsychological testing may be carried out to find the best way to help the individual with a specific reading comprehension deficit. Learning disability diagnostic reading tests is generally used to determine what type of problems are precisely affecting the learner’s reading skills. Through observations, examining student’s work, cognitive assessment, and language assessment, educators can derive information that can help them develop effective strategies for helping such students.
Through observations, examining student work, cognitive assessment, and language assessment that can provide information to educators to help them develop effective strategies for helping students with reading comprehension problems. Teachers use the information from the evaluation to recognise the specific types of reading problems of a student and accordingly, they choose effective strategies to correct the problems.
Treatment Of Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
Specific reading comprehension deficit can affect the various aspects of life including homework, college prep exams, testing, leisure reading and, and more. Moreover, the condition can affect the scores across various languages apart from grades in English class.
Here are some helpful strategies utilized for the treatment of S-RCD.
1. Brain Exercise
To help someone, a child or a student, suffering from a specific reading comprehension deficit, one can try a fun activity called “Somebody Wanted But So” or SWBS. It is a brain exercise that is defined by four columns with different labels- Somebody (characterization), Wanted (plot events), But (problem/conflict) and So (resolution). A child can fill out the columns while reading it. For example:
Wanted: wanted to stay at the ball with the prince
But: but her carriage would turn into a pumpkin at midnight
So: she ran out
2. Brain training
Another way to improve this condition is through cognitive training called one-on-one brain training. A skilled trainer is appointed to conduct one-on-one brain training to strengthen cognitive skills such as attention, memory, logic, reasoning, and more. Such cognitive skills are trained through game-like exercises that are both fun and challenging.
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Helping Someone With Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
Like other learning disabilities, specific reading comprehension deficit is often a “hidden” disability. Parents, teachers, and peers may be unaware of a child struggling with comprehending a word, especially when the reading proficiency seems fine otherwise.
People with specific reading comprehension deficit have to work hard to get their work done. Often, it may look like they are not putting enough effort while in reality, they are simply confused. Children with this condition are aware of the fact that they are behind their peers which in turn affects their self-esteem and motivation.
Thus, if you believe that your child is suffering from S-RCD, make sure to contact the child’s school principal or counselor for knowledge on how to request an assessment. However, if the school staff are unable to help you, contact the school district’s special education administrator for assistance.
In the case of students in college or vocational programs, talk to the institute’s advising office. The college staff can assist with finding resources for assessment and accommodations for the concerned condition. Adults can have a specific reading comprehension deficit, if left undiagnosed in childhood.
Reading Comprehension Strategies
Here are some strategies for the educators or the parents to improve the symptoms of the condition, thereby enabling the child to fight the disorder.
- Teach students or a child to participate actively when reading.
- Help improve decoding skills through various cognitive activities
- Promote a sound vocabulary by explaining individual words along with how to learn the meaning of new words
- Teach the basic grammatical rules
- Tell your child or your student about the morphological structure of words to help them comprehend the meaning of several unknown words by estimating prefixes, roots, and suffixes
- Demonstrate higher-order language skills. Teach your child or your student the skills of questioning, making personal connections, gathering meaning and generating predictions
- Help students to develop the mental imagery power while reading
- Enable children to create questions within themselves to foster attention on content while helping them to make meaningful connections
- Guide students to monitor their attention and perception through mindfulness practices
- Conduct pre-reading activities to define the meaning of keywords, initiate appropriate prior knowledge and generate mental imagery
It is not necessary to teach every student these reading strategies who have specific reading comprehension deficit. Instead, assess the requirement of each student and come up with individual instruction to address their condition.
S-RCD Is Manageable
The effects of specific reading comprehension deficit are not just restricted to academics but other aspects of life as well. It can affect a student’s progress and achievement in school followed by their functioning later in the workplace. Practising good reading strategies, offering early treatments, and giving support can, however, help the ones struggling with specific reading comprehension deficit.
Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit At A Glance
- Specific reading comprehension deficits is a condition whereby a child can read without the ability to understand the meaning of the words that are being read.
- The disorder is like almost reading a foreign language without being able to understand the meaning of a single word.
- The condition does not get recognised until about third or fourth grade when teaching shifts from decoding to comprehension.
- Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit is quite different from dyslexia. While children or individuals with dyslexia are unable to read, S-RCD is about understanding them.
- The effects of specific reading comprehension deficit are not just restricted to academics but other aspects of life as well.
- Bailey, S., Hoeft, F., Aboud, K., & Cutting, L. (2016). Anomalous gray matter patterns in specific reading comprehension deficit are independent of dyslexia. Annals of dyslexia, 66(3), 256–274. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11881-015-0114-y
- Landi, N., & Ryherd, K. (2017). Understanding specific reading comprehension deficit: A review. Language and linguistics compass, 11(2), e12234. https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12234
- Spencer, M., & Wagner, R. K. (2018). The Comprehension Problems of Children with Poor Reading Comprehension despite Adequate Decoding: A Meta-Analysis. Review of educational research, 88(3), 366–400. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654317749187
- Bailey, Stephen & Hoeft, Fumiko & Aboud, Katherine & Cutting, Laurie. (2016). Anomalous gray matter patterns in specific reading comprehension deficit are independent of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia. 66. 10.1007/s11881-015-0114-y.