The ability to understand what one reads, or reading comprehension, is central to academic success. For many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reading comprehension is a noted area of challenge. For children with typical development, it is well established that successful reading comprehension requires two broad skills: word reading and oral language. For children with ASD, word reading is often believed to be relatively intact, even in the face of poor reading comprehension, suggesting that deficits in oral language, more than in word reading, underlie reading comprehension deficits. Yet, extant research has suggested the importance of both skills. To clarify the role of these skills in the reading comprehension of children with ASD, we conducted a meta-analysis. ERIC, PsycINFO, PubMed, and Proquest Dissertation & Theses were searched for studies of reading comprehension in children with ASD, published up to May 2019. We identified 26 relevant studies about children with ASD (aged 6-18 years) that included both a measure of word reading and reading comprehension. Hunt-Schmidt Random Effects Models showed similar mean correlations between reading comprehension and the component skills of word reading (M r = 0.65 [0.27-1.03]) and oral language (M r = 0.61 [0.33-0.88]). These findings demonstrate that these skills are essential for reading comprehension in children with ASD, making contributions of similar size. This study advances our understanding of the mechanisms by which children with ASD understand what they read, providing a foundation on which to build programmatic research into each of these mechanisms. LAY SUMMARY: Academic progress is closely tied to children's ability to understand what they read. Yet reading comprehension is difficult for many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We used a statistical method to summarize existing research on the skills that children with ASD use to understand what they read. We found that the reading comprehension of children with ASD was related to a similar extent to both their ability to read individual words and their oral language skills. These findings suggest that both areas should be assessed in order to determine appropriate interventions to support reading comprehension for children with ASD.
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