What are reading disorders?

Reading disorders occur when a person has trouble reading words or understanding what they read. Dyslexia is one type of reading disorder. It generally refers to difficulties reading individual words and can lead to problems understanding text.

Most reading disorders result from specific differences in the way the brain processes written words and text. Usually, these differences are present from a young age. But a person can develop a reading problem from an injury to the brain at any age.

People with reading disorders often have problems recognising words they already know and understanding text they read. They also may be poor spellers. Not everyone with a reading disorder has every symptom.

Reading disorders are not a type of intellectual or developmental disorder, and they are not a sign of lower intelligence or unwillingness to learn.

People with reading disorders may have other learning disabilities, too, including problems with writing or numbers.

Reading: Word Recognition

Word recognition deficit is sometimes referred to as dyslexia. It is characterised by difficulty with reading despite instruction and without coexisting intellectual, sensory, or neurological difficulties. A person with word recognition deficits typically has relatively intact language comprehension but may have difficulties with

  • accurate and/or fluent word recognition and
  • poor spelling.

Focus of Assessment/Treatment

  • Alphabet/letter knowledge
  • Phonological awareness (rhyming, segmenting and blending, awareness of sounds and syllables in words)
  • Morphological awareness (inflections, derivations, and compounds)
  • Sound–symbol correspondence
  • Sight word knowledge
  • Reading decoding
  • Reading fluency
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension deficit is sometimes referred to as specific comprehension deficit or hyperlexia. Hyperlexia can be differentiated from precocious reading, in that individuals with hyperlexia have significant problems in listening and reading comprehension.

A person with reading comprehension deficits may have difficulties with

  • adequate or advanced word recognition skills;
  • reading fluency; and
  • social, cognitive, or linguistic skills.


Deficits in spelling are sometimes called dysorthography. Such deficits involve difficulty with encoding phonological information. Spelling difficulties can affect both reading and writing and are an area of weakness for most individuals with dyslexia. Spelling deficits include

  • difficulty representing the phonological structure of regularly spelled words,
  • difficulty remembering and reproducing the patterns of irregularly spelled words,
  • lack of morphemic awareness in spelling, and
  • difficulty spelling and inflecting words correctly in sentences.

Focus of Assessment/Treatment

  • Using letter–sound knowledge to spell words as they sound
  • Understanding the phonological, morphological, and orthographic aspects of regular and irregular spellings
  • Correcting spelling errors