Very often, when a slow or inaccurate reading is found at the end of an evaluation, there is a tendency, often in a hurry, to attribute to the slowness or inaccuracy of reading the difficulties of understanding the written text. However, it is estimated that about 10-15% of children between 7 and 8 years old with adequate decoding services of the text, manifest the deficits in understanding it.

Understanding the text is certainly a complex function that involves several components and on which various theoretical models have been built:

  • According to the bottom-up model understanding the basic components of language (letters and words) is fundamental to understanding the higher ones
  • According to the top-down modelon the contrary, it is the mental scheme of the reader who, by integrating the information in the text with that previously known, guides the understanding of the text
  • Il interactive model combines the bottom-up and top-down model; in reading, therefore, the subject would use both strategies,
  • According to the famous "simple view“Instead, the understanding of the text would be the product of decoding skills and understanding of the language

According to the simple view, therefore, children with:

  • good decoding and good oral comprehension are competent readers
  • bad decoding and poor oral comprehension are generally not competent readers
  • bad decoding and good oral comprehension are dyslexics
  • good decoding and poor oral comprehension have a specific disorder in understanding text.

A systematic review

A meta-analysis of Spencer and colleagues [1] out of a total of 84 studies sought to clarify the nature of text comprehension problems in children with a specific understanding of the text.

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The starting hypotheses were three:

  1. The difficulties of these children were specific to reading
  2. The children had difficulties in both written and oral comprehension
  3. The children had difficulties beyond reading, but which reflected more on reading than on oral language.

The results

The meta-analysis highlighted the substantial correctness of the "simple view". Language therefore remains a fundamental component of oral understanding. In particular, children with text comprehension disorder showed major weaknesses in the tests vocabulary and grammatical understanding.

This means that:

  • Language tests administered in preschool could help identify children with future difficulties in understanding the text
  • Interventions on understanding the written text cannot be aimed only at reading, but must also include oral language

On the other hand, it is also true that the children observed they did not have an impairment of oral language equal to that of comprehension of the written text. It is therefore probable that either there is a bigger and wider hidden fragility that occurs at different levels of gravity, or that some other factor enters into interaction. A limitation of these studies, in fact, is to measure only the variables taken into consideration (oral and written language) without including other potentially relevant factors, such as the general cognitive level.

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reading and executive functionsLanguage disorder and dysorthography