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Not all reading disabilities are dyslexia

Jun. 14, 2013, 9:55 AM | Want more research news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter »

Lesser-known reading disorder can be easily missed


A common reading disorder goes undiagnosed until it becomes problematic, according to the results of five years of study by researchers at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development in collaboration with the Kennedy Krieger Institute/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Results of the study were recently published online by the National Institutes of Health.

Dyslexia, a reading disorder in which a child confuses letters and struggles with sounding out words, has been the focus of much reading research.

But that’s not the case with the lesser known disorder Specific Reading Comprehension Deficits or S-RCD, in which a child reads successfully but does not sufficiently comprehend the meaning of the words, according to lead investigator Laurie Cutting, Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair at Peabody.

“S-RCD is like this: I can read Spanish, because I know what sounds the letters make and how the words are pronounced, but I couldn’t tell you what the words actually mean,” Cutting said. “When a child is a good reader, it’s assumed their comprehension is on track. But 3 to 10 percent of those children don’t understand most of what they’re reading. By the time the problem is recognized, often closer to third or fourth grade, the disorder is disrupting their learning process.”

Researchers have been able to pinpoint brain activity and understand its role in dyslexia, but no functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI studies, until now, have examined the neurobiological profile of those who exhibit poor reading comprehension despite intact word-level abilities.

Neuroimaging of children showed that the brain function of those with S-RCD while reading is quite different and distinct from those with dyslexia. Those with dyslexia exhibited abnormalities in a specific region in the occipital-temporal cortex, a part of the brain that is associated with successfully recognizing words on a page.

But those with S-RCD did not show abnormalities in this region, instead showing specific abnormalities in regions typically associated with memory.


“It may be that these individuals have a whole different neurobiological signature associated with how they read that is not efficient for supporting comprehension,” Cutting said. “We want to understand the different systems that support reading and see which ones help different types of difficulties, and how we can target the cognitive systems that support those skills.”

The study, an ongoing 10-year effort supported by National Institutes of Health grant No. M01-RR000052, has enrolled more than 300 children to date.

  • Dee

    Is there psychoeducational testing for S-RCD as there is for other LDs?

  • Denise Coleman

    I believe my 11 year old may have this problem. How can I get him diagnosed?

  • Marga Snyder

    Would like to know how many of those with S-RCD also have ADHD. I have seen this deficit in reading comprehension in many students with ADHD.

  • Donna Stewart

    Interesting article. Good for parents to know that just because their child can read like a trooper.. they may not really be reading. Reading is understanding.

  • Elizabeth Nally

    I’m wondering what percentage of these children also have diagnosed Language Impairments.

  • S-RCD is still not widely known, problem is if it’s left undiagnosed, the child will suffer in a long run. I hope more parents would be well educated with this kind of deficiency and if so would get appropriate help as soon as possible if they suspect their child has it.

  • Dyslexia Today

    What needs to happen is to continue to highlight dyslexia by dispelling the myths that just because they can’t decode well they can’t comprehend. In order to bring to light that poor comprehension could be the result of other conditions like S-RCD we must be able to “rule out” why comprehension scores are low. In order to do this we must allow dyslexics to have full digital text to speech access to text when testing. If struggling readers have full access and still cannot comprehend, it most likely will not be dyslexia. But the current testing system (AKA High Stakes Tests) only allows results based on reading standard text with out read aloud and then lumping the comprehension scores together.

    S-RCD will only be brought to light after we rule out WHY there is reading failure when we test and that means Text to Speech access integrated fully into samples of reading passages.

  • Dee Burt

    Since 10 percent represents a huge number of students, I believe that a S-RCD study/test should be given to all children who take required standardized achievement tests. The results could reconfigure the way we deliver lessons. Let’s be on the learner’s side!

  • Anna_

    Hi, I’m 17 and i have been diagnosed with S-RCD by an Education Psychologist. My brother is severely dyslexic, but i have had no problem with reading at all throughout my life. I have done my GCSE’s and passed well, with all A’s so S-RCD has never really effected me too much. After reaching sixth form however, i’ve had to receive 25% extra time due to my inability to read and extract from sources quickly enough. I think the best way of testing your children is to get them to read a small passage of something that is within their reading capability, and then ask them what it is about (that is how i was diagnosed by the Ed Psych). I emphasise the importance of diagnosing your children early. Good luck!

  • prevision

    Where are the answers to these questions?

  • Kristin Simmons

    Any special ed. teacher can test for reading comprehension. They might not receive an official S-RCD diagnosis but it will be able to identify the deficit.

  • Kristin Simmons

    Any special ed. teacher can test for reading comprehension. They might not receive an official S-RCD diagnosis but it will be able to identify the deficit.

  • Laughing Person

    When I read the title of this post, I was expecting a couple more examples of reading disabilities because I am trying to find which category I am in.
    I can read, write, spell: all that, very well, but I seem to have trouble reading individual subjects. I sometimes read/write stuff upside down: 99 as 66, “n” as “u”, “M” as “W”. I know I am not a PI person because I can read perfectly a normal article right side up. I know swapping numbers is dyslexic, but I don’t often exhibit dyslexic symptoms, such as “3D numbers on the page”. Math and Science are my two WORST subjects EVER. Not cuz its hard or anything, it just makes my brain tired. I remember stuff long term very well, but sometimes in my “playbacks”, I swap the position of the subject. Even though I read books normally, I am perfectly functional on reading upside down text. Is there any disability like this?

  • Zoe

    I know a 12 year old girl who may have this problem but I’m not sure if the symptoms match hers. She can read a sentence in her head with no problems but she can’t read it out loud properly which is causing her to be confused. also when there is no sound she has to talk out loud and then she will be confused is there a disorder name for this?

  • Freshfruit 4rottingvegetables

    Finally, I know what I have- Actually, I used to be able to read a harry potter-sized book a day as a little kid, but I’m about to turn 16, and this started when I was around 11. I thought I was dyslexic, actually, or that it could be my ADHD. But ADHD never effected my memory, so yeah. I research no more, lol.

  • Joyce

    Any specific therapy having success with this?