The ability to read passages of information fluently and with comprehension is a basic component of socioeconomic success. Reading ability depends on the integrity of underlying visual and auditory (phonological) systems. This study investigated the integrity of reading ability in schizophrenia relative to the integrity of underlying visual and auditory function.
The participants were 45 schizophrenia patients, 19 clinical high-risk patients, and 65 comparison subjects. Reading was assessed using tests sensitive to visual or phonological reading dysfunction. Sensory, neuropsychological, and functional outcome measures were also obtained.
Schizophrenia patients displayed reading deficits that were far more severe (effect size >2.0) than would be predicted based on general neurocognitive impairments (effect size 1.0–1.4). The deficits correlated highly with both visual and auditory sensory measures, including impaired mismatch negativity generation (r=0.62, N=51, p=0.0002). Patients with established schizophrenia displayed both visual and phonological impairments, whereas high-risk patients showed isolated visual impairments. More than 70% of schizophrenia patients met criteria for acquired dyslexia, with 50% reading below eighth grade level despite intact premorbid reading ability. Reading deficits also correlated significantly (rp=0.4, N=30, p=0.03) with failure to match parental socioeconomic achievement, over and above contributions of more general cognitive impairment.
Patients with schizophrenia display severe deficits in reading ability that represent a potentially remediable cause of impaired socioeconomic function. Such deficits are not presently captured during routine clinical assessment. Deficits most likely develop during the years immediately surrounding illness onset and may contribute to the reduced educational and occupational achievement associated with schizophrenia.