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Dyslexia, Autism and Language Processing

Dyslexia, Autism and Language Processing
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Two new studies offer a better understanding of the problems dyslexics and autistic individuals have processing language.

In a recent study in Science, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that people with dyslexia have more difficulty recognizing voices than those without dyslexia; that dyslexia affects not only reading, but also understanding spoken language. The New York Times describes the experiment:

John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, and Tyler Perrachione, a graduate student, asked people with and without dyslexia to listen to recorded voices paired with cartoon avatars on computer screens. The subjects tried matching the voices to the correct avatars speaking English and then an unfamiliar language, Mandarin.

Nondyslexics matched voices to avatars correctly almost 70 percent of the time when the language was English and half the time when the language was Mandarin. But people with dyslexia were able to do so only half the time, whether the language was English or Mandarin. Experts not involved in the study said that was a striking disparity.

Difficulty hearing spoken language can have a direct influence on one’s reading comprehension. A child who struggles to hear how different phonemes — the parts of words — are pronounced is also challenged to connect what he or she hears to the written word. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University, also notes that dyslexic children often “misspeak,” as in this example:

“A child at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox said, ‘Oh, I’m thirsty. Can we go to the confession stand?.’”

My own 14-year-old son Charlie is autistic and only able to read some single words. He’s not been diagnosed with dyslexia, in part because it’s not been possible to test him for it. But I would say the MIT research applies to his long struggle to read. It takes him quite a bit of time to figure out what’s he heard and still longer to try to match sounds to printed letters (some of which he still confuses, such as P and B). I also am sure it’s incredibly frustrating for him to think he’s pronouncing something correctly, only to see us think he’s saying something completely different.

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26 comments

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7:09AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

i have dyslexia, and found little help in school for it. i managed to pull down straight A's but, it was harder than it looked. i am so glad that studies like this will help kids in the future - they need to be taught in a way that doesn't make them feel stupid - so often dyslexics are above average in intelligence, but are treated as if they are dumb - and that can encourage them to see dyslexia as a challenge, not a personal failure.

6:41AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Thanks for the good information.

4:41AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

interesting

4:37AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Every child is different, and really Drs havent not found the problems. Past on as problem child. Schools do not know how to work with children, passed on as a child with a learning problem. There is no special classes or teaches for theses children in small town, when you do call for the help it is fifty to hundred miles way in the larger cities.We have a grand child with autistic,she is very smart in what she wants to do. They do not fit in with other children,who do not have the so called problem.We see the day by day problem our daughter has with her.She has good days, but there are days you do not know what to do or say to her.God bless the parent with autistic child.

3:27PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Brava, Alison V., Brava!

1:29PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Thanks for sharing

8:45PM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

I'm reminded of a sci fi story in which the autistic boy was 'plugged in' to the 'body' of an interplanetary exploration vehicle. The story shows a subject handicapped by his poor relationship to the earth and human society, and his exemplary performance when he was instead presented with a new world and a customised optimal body to explore it with. I prefer to consider such people 'specialists' rather than 'handicapped', if at all possible.

2:06AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

Thanks for shining light on this study...

11:48PM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

Thank you Kristina and Carol

This certainly gives us something to consider.

8:00PM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

Thanks Carol for your comments and excellent suggestions.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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