So – let’s talk about reading comprehension. But first, I’ve had a question about similarities between dyslexia and ADHD- especially as it applies to reading. There are a few similarities, but these are very different entities and the “causes” for these similarities are different. It is also important to realize that quite a few students may have both dyslexia and ADHD affecting them.
You will find that both students with dyslexia and ADHD may have difficulty in reading function words (e.g. “a” and “the”) when reading text aloud – but the reasons are different. In a student with ADHD, this may occur because of attentional issues – not zeroing in on these less relevant words. The dyslexic student may have difficulty with them because they are focusing on meaning – a primary strategy for their minds. Both may overlook or miscall these words for slightly different reasons.
These similarities and differences also apply to reading comprehension. First, let’s realize that reading comprehension is a totally different thing than reading decoding. It involves different parts of the brain. A good way to look at this is to go back to the dyslexia article on this website and revisit the graphic on the Tapestry of Reading. You will see that there are 5 major areas that can affect one’s ability to read and comprehend. For the student with dyslexia, this mainly involves problems with phonological processing and automaticity. The student with ADHD is more likely to have problems with attentional and executive function factors contributing to both problems with reading and listening comprehension. The dyslexic child generally does well with listening comprehension and is okay with reading comprehension in early grades – but will be very slow in reading. As the dyslexic child advances in grade, the lack of speed and automaticity can start to affect reading comprehension when reading larger amounts of text. This is why accommodations such as extended time are needed.
The ADHD child has difficulty maintaining attention to what they are reading and working memory problems can contribute to difficulty remembering information from the beginning and the middle as they are reading, so by the end, they have forgotten what they read. Organizational problems contribute to difficulty in making sense of what is happening in the story or text. The ADHD child may be less motivated to read if the material is not particularly interesting to them. Let’s add another factor from the Tapestry of Reading. Suppose the student also has a language problem – a language-based learning disability. Understanding language and the meaning of words is a vital component in the ability to comprehend in reading. These children often have a very difficult time with both listening and reading comprehension.
Although this is just the tip of the iceberg, I think you can see why it is so important to fully understand a student’s strengths and challenges in order to design the appropriate strategies and interventions for the student. ALL of these students would benefit in reading comprehension by learning and using specific strategies to enhance understanding – or strategic learning coaching.
To address this problem my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Janice Kilburn, and I did extensive research on reading comprehension and from this research developed a procedure to enhance both listening and reading comprehension for elementary age students. This was designed to incorporate most of the factors that have been identified to facilitate better comprehension. You will see that this technique meets the needs of a wide variety of students, including those with dyslexia, ADHD, and language issues but is a fine procedure for all students. It can be used in classrooms and at home with parents serving the “teacher role”. This is a strategic learning coaching technique and as such, should be used repeatedly so that the thought processes become engrained in the student over time. This is what we are trying to get kids to do as they are approaching the text and endeavoring to truly understand it.