Researchers have found that where certain forms of dyslexia are involved, eReaders may offer a number of benefits that can help children read with a greater comprehension rate than physical books.
The study, published this month in the journal Plos One, found that eReaders could offer a number of advantages because they can be catered to a child’s particular needs.
Due to the fact that dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, it is difficult to say how many people it might affect, but rough estimates suggest that around 4-8% of people in England alone suffer from some form of dyslexia.
The learning disorder, which is not connected to intellectual ability, is characterized by problems with phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Previous research, such as a 2005 study led by psychologist Beth O’Brien of Tufts University, found that the size of letters plays an important part in how easily children with dyslexia can read a text.
Matthew H Schneps, director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and lead researcher on this latest study, wanted to test a different aspect of reading made easily changeable by eReaders: whether the extra wide spacing that can be used on eReaders would help children with dyslexia in any meaningful way.
The team assessed 103 students with dyslexia from Landmark High School in Boston. They compared reading speed and comprehension rates while reading from paper with those on what are described as “small hand held e-reader devices” where the text is configured to be two-to-three words long per line.
The use of eReaders significantly improved both speed and comprehension in many of the students, but it was those with a form dyslexia known as visual attention deficit, where children have difficulty focusing and processing the graphemes (text) in front of them rather than problems with translating the phonology (sounds), that benefited the most.
Those children whose dyslexia appeared to be strictly related to issues of phonology did not garner the same benefits.
Why the eReader may be of benefit is because its ability to display fewer words per line without distorting those words allows readers to focus, which therein limits visual distractions for kids coping with this form of dyslexia. You will note a probable overlap, then, with the previous studies on the size of text.
Of course, these results could be achieved on paper, and while the eReader offers the added benefit that as children become more accustomed to reading strategies that work for them, they can customize their own devices to keep pace with their advancing abilities, there is no reason why this approach cannot be applied elsewhere:
“We think that could apply on paper, the blackboard or on any device,” Matthew H Schneps is quoted as saying. “If people are struggling to read they may want to try to simply blow the text up in their small computer-like device to see if having fewer words helps.”
A previous study involving French and Italian speaking children has shown similarly positive results with regards to eReaders, in particular how the facility to create extra large spacing between words could help dyslexic children, though this is still to be confirmed for English readers due to the language’s particularly tough mismatch of written and spoken forms.
Dyslexia appears to have a genetic component, meaning that there is at least some evidence it runs in families. However, the exact causes of dyslexia are not yet understood and, while there are a number of coping strategies, there is no known cure.
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