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Dyslexia: reading words, missing letters.

By about age 9, children who encounter no major problems in learning to read attach a wide array of letters and letter combinations to their corresponding sounds within words. But this ability eludes dyslexics -- even those who manage to become fairly good readers -- and apparently impairs fluent word recognition throughout their lives, according to a report in the September DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY.

"Although dyslexics take longer to read and understand words, they can still improve their reading skills and accomplish much," asserts psychologist Maggie Bruck of McGill University in Montreal. "The bad news is that a core problem in dealing with letters and their corresponding sounds doesn't go away."

No good evidence exists as to whether instruction that emphasizes the ways in which "sounds hang on to letters" substantially improves the reading skills of adult dyslexics, Bruck notes.

The causes and exact nature of dyslexia remain uncertain. Bruck and many other researchers define it as a disorder in which a healthy person with a normal IQ exhibits word recognition and other reading skills far below standard levels for his or her age. Some educators view dyslexia as a condition that affects all facets of language, including reading, writing, and listening.

Bruck's sample consisted of 36 dyslexic children between ages 8 and 16 attending a reading disorders clinic, 39 adults with childhood diagnoses of dyslexia made at the same clinic, and 63 good readers (43 children between ages 8 and 10, and 20 college students).

Comparisons of dyslexics with good readers of the same age or the same reading level indicated that dyslexics always lag far behind in the ability to match letters to individual sounds that make up words. However, as dyslexics get better at recognizing words, they compare favorably with good readers on tests of knowledge about larger segments within words, such as syllables.

Even the 26 best readers among adult dyslexics, who read at nearly high-school level, matched letters to individual sounds within words less accurately than third graders, Bruck points out. That deficit contrasts with the fact that the third graders read and spelled more poorly than the adult dyslexics.

Third graders outscored adult dyslexics on a test in which they used blocks to indicate the number of sounds in spoken nonsense words, such as "tisk" (with four letters and four sounds) and "leem" (with four letters and three sounds). If third graders erred, they almost always reported too many sounds, such as four sounds in leem, reflecting a focus on the number of letters in the word, Bruck contends. Dyslexics often reported too few sounds, indicating a preoccupation with the way words sound.

Overall, the data suggest that no matter what their reading level, dyslexics do not easily connect letters to appropriate sounds within words, as good readers of all ages do, Bruck asserts. This deficit slows down reading and renders word comprehension more laborious, she says.

Dyslexics may harbor an inability to learn the associations between sounds and spellings, Bruck notes. Or they may learn these associations but fail to integrate sound and spelling knowledge rapidly while reading.

Dyslexics also displayed persistent problems with attaching letters to corresponding sounds in an unpublished study directed by pediatrician Sally E. Shaywitz of Yale University School of Medicine. But Shaywitz remains optimistic.

"Dyslexics can learn to compensate for this difficulty," she maintains. "We see remarkable progress in many adults who have been dyslexic since childhood and who are willing to work hard at becoming better readers."
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Title Annotation:those with disorder can still improve reading and perception skills
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 3, 1992
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