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.
Photo by neeta_lind
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