Reading is a complex process. It involves decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Decoding results in word recognition and must be automatic and accurate. Comprehension involves the language components of vocabulary knowledge, syntax or grammatical structure, reasoning, and understanding connected text. Fluency results when all other reading processes such as accuracy, rate, and expression (prosody) are in place. A reader brings several skills together in order to understand the meaning a writer is trying to convey.

To develop decoding and word recognition children must:

  • Have good phonemic awareness – the ability to manipulate sounds in words
  • Have good knowledge of the alphabetic principle – can attach sounds to letters
  • Be able to apply letter/sound knowledge to sound out words
  • Have automatic recognition of sight words

To develop comprehension children must:

  • Have good background knowledge or information about the topic
  • Have good vocabulary
  • Understand sentence structure and grammar, including how words function in sentences
  • Maintain focus on content while reading.

Children must also read fluently and accurately at a good rate with appropriate phrasing and expression. When decoding and word recognition, comprehension, and fluency come together, children are reading.

Children who have difficulty at the lowest level, decoding and word recognition, are at-risk for having dyslexia. Children with dyslexia with normal language skills have good listening comprehension. It is important to get to the root of the problem because often children with dyslexia are thought to have poor comprehension when, in fact, they just cannot read the words. Some children with good decoding and word recognition skills are at-risk for poor reading comprehension if a language disorder is present. Other children who are fascinated with print, read very early, and have poor comprehension (hyperlexia) are at-risk for autism spectrum disorder.

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