Reading comprehension difficulty, to some degree, is such a common occurrence among individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder that it is almost expected as part of the child's academic profile.
What is not consistent, however, is the cause, or causes of the difficulty with reading comprehension. Normally the challenge is not due to one simple cause, but a series of cognitive and processing factors that interplay in making reading comprehension difficult. Very few parents find that simply bringing in a tutor, or having a child practice with a few workbooks addresses the issue in any meaningful way. Rather, directly addressing the core cognitive challenges at the root of reading comprehension difficulties is a much more effective route. It is important, then, to understand what factors are impacting reading comprehension for a specific child and developing an individualized approach to address the issue.
Below are specific cognitive factors that work in conjunction to impact reading comprehension.
Short-Term and Working Memory
Efficient reading comprehension relies heavily on the Visuospatial sketchpad that is activated through visualization. If this is weak, then the Phonological loop takes over and information is processed in the language centers of the brain. This is not as efficient and results in a shallower comprehension of the text. Ideally what is read will activate the Episodic Buffer an will be stored in the same way we store experiences in our own life.
A strong Short-Term/Working Memory is necessary for efficient logical reasoning as well as long-term storage. Every individual has a Short-Term Memory (The ability to actively focus on information) and Working Memory (The ability to process information) that function differently from anyone else's. An efficient Short-Term/Working memory allows for the ability to actively focus on multiple things, hold information in mind when distracted by other tasks, and the ability to think flexibly about a topic. It impacts many other cognitive functions.
While many programs and exercises address difficulties with the Phonological Loop, which can be very helpful with other skills, and a few address difficulties with the Visuospatial Sketchpad, very few go as far as working to support the Episodic Buffer. This is primarily due to the interconnected nature of this function and how it is impacted by other cognitive abilities.
Visual processing, particularly the skill of visualization, is an important factor in reading comprehension and leans heavily on the Visuospatial Sketchpad function of Short Term/Working Memory. The ability to draw up mentally an accurate image based on described and imagined information from text helps the reader to comprehend information more effectively. The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" is incredibly accurate when it comes to reading comprehension. This image must then be filtered through the language centers of the brain when describing what is comprehended to others. One way to see if someone can visualize is to ask them to describe their bedroom. See how they approach the task, ask questions like "what color is your bed spread?" or "where do you keep your clothes?" and evaluate the accuracy and detail of their response.
Only a few really solid programs use research-based methods to address visualization skills on a language/literature level. Lindamood Bell by far the best in addressing these challenges. This may be the key to all reading comprehension difficulties for a child, or may need to be used in conjunction with techniques used to address Short-Term Memory and Comprehension/Knowledge.
Theory of Mind
Comprehension and Knowledge Base
Building a comprehension/knowledge base is cumulative. Knowledge is built upon previous knowledge in that an efficient mind connects new information to knowledge learned in the past. The best way to address this issue is to feed someone knowledge any way possible. Visual and experiential teaching go a long way to build understanding not just memorized facts.
Given short-term memory and visualization difficulties are addressed, this can be worked on by giving a person a platform (a photograph for instance) to discuss their own life experiences, practicing telling experiences in sequence and going over events with an unfamiliar person. Questioning really helps.