Autism and Reading Comprehension

I remember about a year ago, listening to a report on National Public Radio on dyslexia. It is not that the words are necessarily backwards, but it becomes hard to read the words in front of you. You can get so far and then you start to struggle.

I’ve long wondered if there is a connection to something I’ve experienced in college and seminary and up to the present day. I can remember in seminary having to read books by theologians Jurgen Moltmann and Frederich Schliermacher. I would start reading the book and all of the sudden, the I can understand the words, but they lack meaning. I will sit trying to read this book that I really want to read and I can’t wrap my head around what is being said. This is not the problem with every book that I read. Books that are more literal and less abstract I can understand. When the book is more abstract , I can’t comprehend anything.

I wondered: was there a link between autism and reading? Did I really have dyslexia? In doing some researching, I’ve learned that there is a link. Most of the information is geared towards children, but it applies to adults with autism as well. Here is what one article says:

Children with Asperger’s find it difficult to understand books and stories about things that are not tangible. Thus they are not able to comprehend and enjoy fantasy stories. Provide stories and books about practical experiences and about things that the children have felt and experiences. Children will also enjoy nonfiction books about things that they are interested in. This child looks for the same direction in his books as he needs in his life.

The article goes on to add that to enjoy reading, a person with autism needs to be able to apply images or pictures to reading:

When a child is learning to read, they may enjoy reading more if they have stories with pictures that illustrate the sentence. The pictures must exactly illustrate the sentence and not be abstract. This will help the children understand the meaning of the words, and follow the story.

The interesting thing that I’ve found out is how little you hear about this from other writers with aspergers/autism. There is a lot of talk about it when it comes to children, but no information about adults who deal with this. This video helps me understand the issue, but it assumes that only children with aspergers/autism deal with this and not adults.

I’d like to find out how to better comprehend reading because as a pastor, I need and desire to read books on theology and it is frustrating to try to read a book someone says is really good and sit there and not understand a damn thing. Not every book can be a graphic novel, so what do I do?

2 Comments

  1. My daughter, also an adult with autism has a similar problem. One thing that helps now is graphic novels (she has no trouble with fantasy, but maybe her gender factors in?) She can read pure-text novels, but it takes a long time and she ends up with a headache. Reading on the computer is easier for some reason.

    And listening to long stories was fine when she was a kid — once she’d heard it read, she had an easier time with a long book.

    Would audiobooks help? I know your focus is theology, but the range of books-on-whatever has expanded. Perhaps check with publishers, or organizations that work with the blind.

    Changing topic: You’re right about reading comprehension not being talked about. I’ve often wondered why anxiety in adults with autism isn’t discussed either. Or at least I haven’t seen it. The autistic adults I know really struggle with it.

  2. Your first quote is a simplistic generalization. From what I’ve seen on various blogs, many people with asperger’s enjoy fantasy, and don’t require pictures. Reading comprehension has many facets, including IQ level, but considering your apparent intelligence, and the type of works you’re reading, I’d say that at least part of your problem is the writing itself. We tend to blame ourselves for lack of comprehension, when it’s the writer who’s at fault. Convoluted sentences, highly abstract vocabulary, and inability to write clearly and simply are far more common than most people realize, particularly in scholarly topics. Foreign works (non-English) can also suffer from poor translation.

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