Tag Archive for 'Literacy'

Mistaking dyslexia


Daniel Britton’s Alphabet

In “Powerful images show what it’s like to read when you have dyslexia,” Ana Swanson reported about the typeface developed by Daniel Britton in 2013. As an individual with dyslexia, Mr. Britton, who works in graphic design, created a typeface that omits parts of capital letters, as illustrated here, putatively to simulate the experience of reading with dyslexia.

I am saddened by the possibility that people may get the mistaken impression that dyslexia is caused by misperception of the shapes or forms of letters. Fortunately, Ms. Swanson discounts this mistake at two points in her article. First, she notes that the font is not designed to mimic what a person with dyslexia sees when she or he reads, but to force skilled readers to lose fluency. Second, although I might quibble with the phrasing she uses, Ms. Swanson puts the focus in the right place when she reports
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The House should support Resolution 456

U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, with the support of Representative Julia Brownley of California, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives 10 January 2014 calling on “State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.” The resolution, which was foreshadowed by a kick-off event by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in November of 2013, is drawing support around the Internet, as it should, from diverse sources:

  • Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, noted advocates and researchers on dyslexia, posted a notice on their site, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and published a guest editorial in the influential political news source, The Hill calling for support of the resolution.
  • Pete and Pam Wright of Wrightslaw, the widely esteemed site for legal information about students with disabilities, lent their support to the effort, recommending constituents contact their representatives.
  • Over on Barto’s World (long-time connection with LD Blog), Amy Barto posted an entry pointing to the Yale Center’s and Wrightslaw’s pages.
  • Over on High Expectations Advocacy, Sandra Fitzpatrick posted a blog entry pointing to the Yale Center post and recommending that people contact their own representatives to encourage those legislators to support the resolution.
  • Joan Brennan, at Help for Struggling Readers provided a message of support including some useful links (along with some links to her own product).

Dyslexia is the most common reason that students are identified as having learning disabilities in the US. It is, indeed, a problem that deserves very careful consideration and systematic, evidence-based treatment. Even though some may glamorize it and others may ignore it, I agree that the most appropriate course of action is to recognize it and empower schools (and others) to address it effectively and humanely.

Readers interested in obtaining a PDF copy of the full resolution can download one.

Testing genetic causes of dyslexia

Although at least four genes have been identified as possible markers for dyslexia, scientists have encountered considerable difficulty in coming to consensus about identifying a culprit as a contributing cause for the perplexing reading disorder. As noted previously here on LD Blog, DCDC2 (1 November 2005) and DYX1C1 (1 August 2008; 19 November 2009), among others, have been cited as possible loci for disruptions. But problems emerge when seeking to connect studies that point toward these candidate genes and studies showing the individuals with the problems. The associations between genes and problems appear in some language populations, but perhaps not in others, making one wonder about the clarity of the relationships.

Seeking a means of examining the relationships at a more abstract level, a group of European researchers collected data from a sample of individuals with dyslexia that represented people from eight different countries (Austria, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom). Using this diverse language sample, they reasoned, would allow them to search the the connections between genes and dyslexia at a more abstract level than when testing with a sample of people speaking just one or two languages.
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Visual differences are a consequence, not a cause, of dyslexia

In an article to appear 10 July 2013 in Neuron, Olumide Olulade, Eileen Napoliello, and Guinevere Eden present a series of studies that greatly help educators, psychologists, neurologists, and others understand the relationship between visual deficits and dyslexia. Although most people interested in reading have understood that problems with phonological processes undergird dyslexia, personal accounts of those with dyslexia and some anomalous evidence about the visual cortex and the performance of individuals with dyslexia on certain visual tasks kept the possibility of a visual component open to debate. Professor Eden’s group devised studies and collected the data that shed light on these issues.

In a nutshell, in their first study, Eden’s team found the same results that others had found: When their participants with dyslexia were compared to similar aged children, they showed certain deficits in visual processing associated with a particular part of the brain shown by fMRI. However, when their participants were compared with younger children of like reading ability, there are no deficits in the visual performance; so, these children must not have had the visual problems all along. In their third study, the researchers provided even stronger evidence: The provided powerful remedial reading instruction to their participants and they observed not only improved reading outcomes, but they also found that the students had improved performance on the visual tasks as reflected in fMRI. (Click the accompanying image for a movie of Professors Eden and Olulade explaining the experiments.)

Here is the abstract:

Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-domi- nated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identifica- tion and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion pro- cessing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age- matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonolog- ical-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunc- tion is not causal to dyslexia but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.

Olulade, O. A., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Abnormal visual motion processing is not a cause of dyslexia. Neuron, 79, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.002

Moats on CCSS and LD

In the spring of 2012, Louisa Moats published an article in New Times for DLD, the newsletter of the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of the Council for Exceptional Children, that presented concerns about the consequences of US states’ adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on the teaching and learning of students with Learning Disabilities. Moats, who is well-known for her work on early literacy and professional development, noted that the CCSS consists of goals that must be turned into curricula and lesson plans by others, and it is those instructional procedures that will be critical for students with or at risk of developing Learning Disabilities. Given how common students with Learning Disabilities, language problems, and other learning risks are, Moats said that instructional practices cannot leave mastery of fundamental skills up to incidental learning or embedded instruction.

With the recent promotion of the CCSS’ emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, the kind of instruction most necessary and beneficial for students with LD is getting very little emphasis in workshops, publications, and policy discussions. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best for students with LD and learning challenges (Archer & Hughes, 2011) are receiving much less attention than they deserve, and the result will be lower student achievement, not higher.

Moats made additional points, including a strong appeal for advocating to prepare educators to teach literacy skills effectively. Interested readers can obtain a copy of the full copy of “Reconciling the CCSS with Realities of Learning Disabilities” from the DLD Web site, TeachingLD.org.

[Disclosure: I’m associated with DLD as a member, a former officer, and its executive director.]

Reading comprehension help for ADHD high schoolers

In “Improving the Reading Recall of High School Students With ADHD,” Joseph W. Johnson, Robert Reid, and Linda H. Mason report the results of an intensive study in which they examined the effects of teaching high-school students a comprehension strategy as a part of a self-regulated strategy development model. They found that systematically preparing the students to use what they dubbed the “Think Before Reading” (TWA) strategy helped the students with recall of passages’ main ideas and details connected to them.

Students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty with reading comprehension. This multiple baseline across participants design with multiple probes study examined the effectiveness of a multicomponent reading comprehension strategy (TWA: Think Before Reading, Think While Reading, Think After Reading) taught following the self-regulated strategy development model on social studies expository text recall of three high school students with ADHD. Results showed improvement in the number of main ideas and percentage of supporting details recalled. Gains were maintained and some improvement occurred at 2- and 4-week follow-ups. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

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A success story

In “From illiterate to role model” Carla Rivera provides one of those examples worth passing along to others. Ms. Rivera, who reports for the Los Angeles Times, described the case of John Zickefoose, a man who at 30 years of age was not able to read to his own children, read their report cards, read prescription labels, or to order from a menu. As a boy he was diagnosed as having dyslexia but, after adult literacy studies, he participates in book clubs, writes his own speeches, and is an advocate for his local library.

Now, as Ms. Rivera reported, Mr. Zickefoose will serve as a member of his local school board.
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DLD fall conference is just around the corner

Check out the fine slate of workshop sessions available to registered guests at the annual “Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice” meeting of the Division for Learning Disabilities, which is to be held in Baltimore (MD, US) 29 and 30 October. Of course, I am biased, but I consider this one of the outstanding professional development opportunities of the year in learning disabilities, including the more specific disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and so forth (as well as related disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
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Word reading still predicts comprehension

Justin Wise and colleague examined the reading comprehension of students with differing problems in reading fluency. Some of the students only had difficulty with reading connected text fluently, but others had difficulty in reading connected text and individual words fluently. They found that for both groups the ability to read individual real words fluently was the strongest predictor of reading comprehension.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine whether different measures of oral reading fluency relate differentially to reading comprehension performance in two samples of second grade students: 1) students who evidenced difficulties with nonsense word oral reading fluency, real word oral reading fluency, and oral reading fluency of connected text (ORFD), and 2) students who only evidenced oral reading fluency of connected text difficulties (CTD).
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More on IQ and reading disabilities

Deficits in reading performance may differ in etiology depending on the IQ of the individuals who have the deficits. According to an article in Behavior Genetics, Professor Sally Wadsworth and colleagues confirmed previous research showing that there is a stronger genetic element in the reading deficits of children with higher IQs (mean = 108.97 ± 6.71) than those with lower IQ (mean = 82.85 ± 6.40). The heritability for the former group is 0.75 ± 0.12, but for the latter it is 0.50 ± 0.10.
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