Can E-Readers Ease Reading for Dyslexics?

| June 29, 2012 | 19 Comments
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The causes of dyslexia—the disorder that makes reading excruciatingly difficult for about one in twenty school-aged children—have remained frustratingly elusive, as has anything resembling a cure. Training programs for dyslexics have proven effective at improving certain parts of the reading process, such as phonological awareness and auditory perception.

Once these skills have been brought up to speed, however, there still remains what one group of researchers calls a “vicious circle”: the most effective way to get better at reading is to read more. So scientists have turned their attention to a new question: Are there ways to make reading easier for dyslexics?

Surprisingly, the answer appears to be yes, and the methods experts are using to ease the act of reading are remarkably simple and concrete. With changes in the spacing, the size, and the appearance of text, studies are showing, children with dyslexia can read more quickly and accurately, allowing them to get the reading practice they need to improve.

In a study released this month by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, for example, a team of researchers from the University of Padova in Italy reported that extra-large spacing between letters allowed a group of dyslexic children to read text significantly faster and with fewer than half as many errors as when they read passages with standard spacing. Extra-large

When each letter is given breathing room, dyslexic readers are less apt to get confused.

spacing helps dyslexic children, explains lead author Marco Zorzi, because they are especially affected by a perceptual phenomenon known as “crowding”: the interference with the recognition of a letter by the presence of the letters on either side. When each letter is given breathing room, dyslexic readers are less apt to get confused. (Interestingly, research suggests that the standard spacing between letters is ideal for normal readers: they read more slowly and haltingly when spacing is increased.)

Not only the spacing between letters, but the size of the letters themselves affects how quickly and easily dyslexics read. In a study led by psychologist Beth O’Brien of Tufts University and published in the Journal of Research on Reading in 2005, the authors presented passages printed in progressively bigger letters to groups of dyslexic and normal readers, timing how long it took the participants to read each one. The children with dyslexia reached their maximum reading speed at a letter size bigger than that required by children who did not have the disorder.

Even the font in which a text is printed may influence how readily a dyslexic is able to read. Last year, Christian Boer, a graphic designer from the Netherlands who is himself dyslexic, introduced a font he created to reduce dyslexic readers’ tendency to misconstrue letters like “d” and “b.” Boer accentuated certain features of the letters in his font, called Dyslexie, to make them harder to confuse with each other, and he inserted generous amounts of space between letters and words.

Once, such innovations would have required the laborious printing of special texts for dyslexics. But with the advent of e-readers, creating a dyslexia-friendly document is as simple as changing the settings on a digital device. Indeed, some dyslexics are already doing so—such as the prominent economist Diane Swonk, who has spoken about how she uses her Kindle to adjust the font and limit the number of words she sees when she reads onscreen.

Playing around with the size and spacing and look of letters isn’t a cure for dyslexia. But until science finds one, such manipulations can help dyslexic children read with more ease, and even pleasure.

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  • Jtpland

    cover overlays are also available on Kindle and Read Out Loud program

  • Anonymous

    The cause of dyslexia is the criminal swindle called “whole language”.
    A group of greedy “scientists”, realizing the immense potential for selling a scam program to schools, especially since many if not most parents couldn’t figure their way out of a paper bag, decided to concot a fraudulent alternative to phonics for learning to read.
    They “concluded” that children automatically learn to fashion random sounds into speech just by being around people speaking, so they must also fashion shapes into recognizable letters in their brains, complete with all pronunciation rules and exceptions, just by looking at sets of words called “Sentences” and hearing them read aloud. This was “whole language”.
    It’s use exactly coincides with the onset of “dyslexia”. Remember, “dyslexia” means “not being able to make sense of letters”., just exactly what could be expected of someone who had letters thrown at them without explanation and being expected to figure out “hard” c and “soft” c, “hard” g and “soft” g, “long” vowels and “short” vowels, and things like silent e, “th”, silent “gh”, “gh” having the sound “f”, and so on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pam-Tignor/100003735748192 Pam Tignor

      WOW, finally someone other than myself, “Speaks the truth”!!  Whole Lang has been the cause and the downfall of our children who have not been TAUGHT to READ using a proven method called, “Explicit Systematic PHONICS!!!!!!  Good for you julianpenrod..from a parent of a child who was a whole lang victim!!!

    • Anne Collins

      Dyslexia did not begin with the instructional strategy called Whole Language. It was first described in the 19th century. The professors who invented and advocated Whole Language did not sell programs. It is very true that dyslexics and others learning to read really suffered from the loss of instruction that resulted from the misguided efforts of those who invented or believed in Whole Language. However, it is not fair to blame them with being motivated by profit. The professors really thought they had discovered something useful. They were very, very wrong. And many people suffered.

      • Anonymous

        Despite Anne Collins’ desire to whitewash the “whole language” swindle, among other things, dyslexia was never a syndrome, just a condition, likely from a number of different causes, in different individuals. If it is first seen in, say,1 out of 10,000, then is claimed to be at a rate of 1 in 20, it is reasonable to identify the later period as significant. And to say that anything contemporaneous with that explosion is the cause! Too, the “scientists” who pushed the scam of “whole language” did not “discover” anything! They willfully misinterpreted the nature, process and meaning of children incorporating the techniques of physical speech! They came across nothing new! They didn’t even have a system they could say showed great promise since, if they had tried out theri methods in a trial period first, they would have seen it for the fantastics failure it was! Those who peddled “whole language” were crooks! Justlike so many, if not all, peddling the novel methods of “teaching” out on the market today!

  • tartan

    This article isn’t in audio format. Shouldn’t people with dyslexia have an opinion about how and what they read? 

    • http://abbiecod.es/ Abbie

      Is that assuming dyslexics can’t read? :P
      while it would be nice to have this as an audio, I think most with any issues will have screen readers, plugins, etc. to make this easier to read. For example, I can select the text on this page, right click, and click, “start speaking.” Boom, instant audio format that doesn’t require the author to spend additional time recording themselves reading it. :D

      • Fiddlermiller

        This would get them into the learning process because just as in speech, it is good when they already are interested in what they are coveying to their audience. Of course, this isn’t always possible but can be worked with and inventive ways to interest them in more than the common versions will help too! The very feeling of finally getting it makes a student want to learn more!

  • http://www.facebook.com/smoot.langston Smoot Langston

    And lot of Dyslexic problems in video formats at http://www.dyslexiaed.com

  • Duddyel

    What about some one like me who can’t remember wha they read at 63 years old?  I wonder if it would help that.  I have suffered with this my whole life and I would love to read a book without re-reading over and over and then giving up totally.  duddyel@hotmail.com

    • Taraanastasi89

      It’s certainly worth a try.  Have you tried reading short articles, rather than a book, and subvocalized (read aloud softly or whispering)?  Perhaps adding an auditory component-hearing the words in addition to seeing the words) will help you to remember what you’ve read.  At times, I actually take a break and summarize aloud what I’ve just read. It helps me-give it a shot!

  • fivexy

    We have twins who have been diagnosed with severe dyslexia.  Since we home educate them they never used a whole language approach, only old style phonics from a curriculum printed in the 1950s.  Yet they are still dyslexic and struggle with reading frequency and processing speed.  I have learned over the years that dyslexia is not just a “reading” disability but a more wide spread “language” disability that affects reading, speaking, processing and more functions.  I’m obviously not a fan of our educational system but I hardly think we can blame the researchers and educators for what is a much more complex neurological problem.  

  • Norskman

    I’ve used much of the Slingerland approach for 26 yrs. teaching. I’ve never regretted it. It is an approach that can be used with children who have specific language difficulties and can benefit some children who are diagonosed with dyslexia.  I’ve also seen color overlays used. Lexia is a reading program that is helpful and useful in supporting children with these difficulties. I think it’s an approach worth looking into  if you are interested in helping these children.
    Teaching in Anchorage

  • Scoley

    Colored overlays are not a solution or even a good tool  for dyslexics.

    I’ve been using Kindles and audiobooks in my classroom trying to find a good way to get my students to want to read more. Intellectually, dyslexics can listen to audiobooks that are at or even above their reading level and understand the book. I’ve been working to find Kindle books at their reading and interest level that have text-to-speech. This highlights the words as the book is read, a good tool for these kids. Another Kindle feature I like is that you can highlight a word to get a definition. And, readers can highlight text to save as notes, good for later discussions.

    We have to spend so much time in class working on direct, explicit instruction that kids often disengage. I hate to say that technology and e-readers have a way of pulling these struggling readers into a book. I want them to enjoy picking up a real hard-covered book and enjoy it. Since the goal is to read, electronic or paper meets the need.

  • http://cluas.ie/children/aspergers-syndrome/ Aspergers

    E-reading might be helpful for dyslexic person because lots of experts who use video ads to make them understand. They explain that how connect sounds from words. Nowadays, experts are also preferring wide spaced letters to teach them because they are confused regarding space between letters. 

  • DyslexicMichele

    Wow, a “cure” for Dyslexia? Next we’ll be looking for a cure for Creativity.

  • http://twitter.com/JAScribbles Jenna Scribbles

    My son is dyslexic and we bought him an ereader. I noticed his stress was eased immediately – he could bump up the font size, not see a big, scary thick book, etc… I blogged about it here and listed many reasons why an ereader works well for him:
    http://www.jennascribbles.com/kindle/are-kindles-good-for-struggling-readers/

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