Tag Archive for 'reading problems'

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

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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DBA conference June 2011

The British Dyslexia Association holds its eighth international conference in June of 2011. There is an outstanding list of presentations by authorities, including talks by Margaret Snowling, Bruce Pennington, David Saldaña, Joel Talcott, and many others. Download a copy of the announcement directly or jump over to the http://bdainternationalconference.org/ Web site where you can explore the list of speaker, learn about bookings, register, and so forth.

Procedural learning theory of dyslexia and dysgraphia

In “Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Procedural Learning and the Cerebellum,” Roderick Nicolson and Angela Fawcett present a fascinating and, to me, strong argument for unifying theoretical views of dyslexia and dysgraphia. To be sure, their analysis is preliminary and basic, but my first read left me feeling as if they’d hit lots of good points. They’ve emphasized impairment of automatic procedural learning in the cerebellum at the level of neural circuits, but in dysgraphia the problems are with motor circuits and in dyslexia they are in the language circuits. In developing their case, they integrate a broad range of neurological and psychological research.

In this review we focus on the developmental disorders of dyslexia (a disorder of reading) and dysgraphia (a disorder of writing), considering their commonalities and differences with a view to reflecting on the theoretical implications. Interest in dysgraphia was stimulated by the distinction between phonological and surface dyslexia (Castles and Coltheart, 1993), which claimed that orthographic problems (spelling) were separable from phonological reading problems. While this distinction has received mixed support ([Snowling et al., 1996] and [Stanovich et al., 1997]) it led to a fruitful analysis not only of the underlying causes of orthographic difficulties, but also to the widespread recognition of developmental difficulties in handwriting control ([Deuel, 1995], [Manis et al., 1996] and Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000 L. Sprenger-Charolles, P. Cole, P. Lacert and W. Serniclaes, On subtypes of developmental dyslexia: Evidence from processing time and accuracy scores, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology-Revue Canadienne De Psychologie Experimentale 54 (2000), pp. 87–104. Abstract | Full Text via CrossRef[Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000]). The result of this theoretical and empirical progress is that there are two usages of the term dysgraphia. One takes dysgraphia to refer to errors of writing that are analogous to errors in reading (e.g., surface, phonological or deep dysgraphia corresponding to surface, phonological and deep dyslexia), the other relating to difficulties in handwriting control. Furthermore, despite these attempts at differentiation, there remains some controversy in the literature as to whether motor difficulties in handwriting should be subsumed under the label dyslexia.
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LearningRx in the popular press

Sandy Hausman, Charlottesville (VA, US) reporter for WVTF (one of the local public radio stations available in my listening area), carried a story about LearningRx and Learning Disabilities this morning. Unlike the credible coverage provided by many reporters for popular-but-unproven therapies for LD and other disorders, Ms. Hausman provided a sensible and balanced story about LearningRx. Here’s the blurb from WVTF’s Web site

Americans spend millions of dollars keeping our bodies in shape. Now a Charlottesville man is offering a workout for the brain. His center–part of a nationwide franchise–promises to help children and adults improve their concentration, memory, reasoning, and other mental skills. Sandy Hausman has the story.

Unlike many reporters who too-often fall for pop-psych and pop-ed theories (as regularly noted in other posts here on LD Blog), Ms. Hausman gets many facts right (e.g., prevalence of LD), phrases her report carefully (describes LearningRx reports as “internal studies”), includes appropriate caveats along with personal-interest angles, and even incorporates alternative explanations from the experts she interviews.

This is an example of journalism done better. Listen to an MP3 of Ms. Hausman’s report and explore WVTF.org.

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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ADHD-RD connection confirmed and refined

Writing in Pediatrics, Professor Kouichi Yoshimasu and colleagues reported that the chances of children and youths having reading disabilities is significantly higher among those who have ADHD than it is among the general population of children and youths. Furthermore, although boys are significantly more likely than girls to manifest reading disabilities among the general population, among children and youths with ADHD the chances of reading disabilities are about equal. However, because girls are so much less likely to have reading problems than boys, girls’ risk is much higher in relation to their female peers’ risk.
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