Causes of Reading Comprehension Problems

Reading comprehension is the ability to understand and interpret written words, connecting the information in the text with previous knowledge. It goes beyond being able to read a text – understanding the meaning of the written text is the goal of reading comprehension. What causes reading comprehension problems?

Comprehension problems don’t have one specific cause but a variety of possible causes. It’s not easy to pinpoint the cause of a child’s reading comprehension difficulty. But there are a few things to consider when looking at possible causes of a reading comprehension problem.

What Causes Reading Comprehension Problems?

When kids struggle to understand what they read, it can be a result of some factors — from dyslexia to other specific learning difficulties. Understanding the causes can go a long way to helping kids improve their skills.

The following are some of the causes of reading comprehension problems.

1. Learning disability

Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulties in reading due to problems with identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters. Students with this issue struggle to understand abstract literary passages or magazine articles, even if they’re relatively simple to read.

Difficulty with vision, speech, and hearing are also learning disabilities that cause problems with reading comprehension.

2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties paying attention, controlling behavior, and sustaining focus for long periods. In children with ADHD, the problems with attention and concentration make them more likely to have a problem with reading comprehension.

3. Difficult text

Reading comprehension will start to drop when faced with too many unfamiliar or challenging words. Complex text will shift the reader’s focus from understanding to decoding the words. This will automatically slow down reading speed, cause poor reading comprehension, and make readers discontinue.

4. Limited Vocabulary and Oral Language Deficit

Lack of vocabulary, word-finding and internalization of new vocabulary also contribute to reading comprehension problems. If a student has a poor vocabulary, they will not be able to recognize words and efficiently connect them to new ones. Reading fluency is also a significant factor affecting students’ understanding of written texts.

5. Executive Function Disorder (EFD)

Individuals with Executive Function Disorder (EFD) have difficulty planning and prioritizing their time and effort, understanding instructions, and paying and following through with tasks. Children, teens, and adults with EFD experience interference with their daily activities and difficulties at school. When reading, such students will not maintain the organization of a text due to the inability to stay focused and complete reading tasks. This will result in reading comprehension problems.

6. Disinterest and boredom

A lack of interest in a written text will result in lethargy and an inability to pay attention to the text. Disinterest may result from unfamiliarity with the material or the fact that the material isn’t valuable to the reader. Sometimes, it may result from the material’s simplicity and the reader’s dissatisfaction with the content. The reader may also become distracted by extraneous information and lose interest.

7. Lack of reading motivation

Slow reading or reading comprehension problems result from a lack of motivation. Decreased reading motivation may cause learners to not read even their assigned textbooks and literature. Boredom or a lack of motivation in a text will result in a hard time understanding the text.

Tips for Addressing Reading Comprehension Problems

  • Before reading, scan and familiarize yourself with the material. Look for recurring patterns, headings, and bullet points, and note difficult words. Look up the meaning of complex terms in the dictionary so that you’ll flow smoothly when you read.
  • Read aloud to yourself. Reading aloud helps you make sense of the words and improves your ability to retain information.
  • Listen to audiobooks to hear how words are pronounced correctly.
  • Practice reading with a partner. Take note of how your partner pronounces certain words and ask for an explanation if you don’t understand a word.
  • To avoid boredom and disinterest, read fun and exciting stories that keep you engaged. If you must read a material that is boring to you, supplementary materials such as YouTube videos on the topic can help.
  • People with ADHD can eliminate reading distractions by signing off on social media, and reading in a quiet environment to maintain focus. Also, take breaks between your studies, so you don’t get frustrated and lose focus.


Identifying the cause of reading comprehension problems is the first step toward addressing the issue. Once you have done this, you will know what remediation strategies to use.

What causes reading comprehension problems? A common factor that impacts reading comprehension is a lack of interest and focus. Reading comprehension problems can, in some cases, be a sign of a deeper problem and can sometimes be a symptom of a reading disorder.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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