E-readers Help Dyslexic Students
September 19, 2013

Dyslexic People Can Benefit From Electronic Readers

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

E-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook, are more effective than paper for those with dyslexia.

Less than an issue of the electronic screen, researchers from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and elsewhere say the shortened lines of text often found in e-books are less likely to become jumbled in a person’s mind. As the text becomes easier to read, those who may have had difficulty before walk away from the text with a better comprehension and retention of details. And, because it’s electronic, the text can often be adjusted to fit a person’s specific comfort level.

After asking 100 students to read texts both on traditional paper and e-readers, Matthew H. Schneps and his colleagues believe the same benefits they observed with an e-ink screen could also be achieved on blackboards and paper. Their corresponding paper is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

“At least a third of those with dyslexia we tested have these issues with visual attention and are helped by reading on the e-reader,” explained Matthew Schneps in a press statement. “For those who don’t have these issues, the study showed that the traditional ways of displaying text are better.”

Many people with dyslexia experience what’s called visual attention deficit, or the inability to focus on a letter or word for too long. Others experience visual crowding, or when the words appear to become cluttered and jumbled. This could cause some to confuse some letters and therefore lose the entire meaning of the word or phrase.

Schneps and team gathered over 100 students with dyslexia from Landmark High School in Boston, Massachusetts to help understand the effects e-readers have on visual attention deficit and visual crowding. Afterwards, Schneps and his colleagues say these effects were largely mitigated when the text was displayed in short lines, and unlike paper or traditional methods, e-readers allow readers to adjust this text. Specifically, larger text was found to be more beneficial to those students who experience visual crowding while the shorter strings of text helped those with visual attention deficit.

This research team was driven to test the effectiveness of e-readers by a previous dyslexia study. Schneps tracked the eye-movement of dyslexic readers and concluded shorter lines of text would be easier for these students to understand. This study specifically investigated how well these students comprehended what they read when the text was displayed on a small, hand-held device. These readers not only better comprehended what they read, they also improved their reading efficiency and speed.

“The high school students we tested at Landmark had the benefit of many years of exceptional remediation, but even so, if they have visual attention deficits they will eventually hit a plateau, and traditional approaches can no longer help,” explained Schneps. “Our research showed that the e-readers help these students reach beyond those limits.”

Doctors and researchers have been working for many years to understand dyslexia and ways to reduce its impact on students. This summer a study from the Yale School of Medicine came one step closer to better understand the genetics of dyslexia. The research team says they identified a gene called DCDC2 which is linked to the learning disorder. They also suggest mothers who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of dyslexia in their unborn child.