A study published earlier this year in Plos One depicted researchers testing a technique called ‘Span Limited Tactile Reinforcement.’ For this study, they tested a group of 103 high school students with dyslexia.
High school students, elementary school students and college-level students all struggle with dyslexia across the country. Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes both children and adults to process and interpret information in a different way apart from peers without the neurological condition.
Dyslexia is known to impair a person’s reading, spelling, writing, and sometimes, speaking skills. In school-related contexts, dyslexia can cause students to fall behind in classes and/or their grade-level, particularly if they don’t have specialized classes to accelerate and improve their studies.
A growing role
The Plos One study was a response to technology’s growing role in helping improve the reading and writing skills of people with dyslexia. The study used devices known as a ‘small e-reader,’ which applies to any small electronic device with e-reading capabilities. Although there are dedicated e-reader devices on the market, the Plos One study used iPods to test the students.
In the study, the researchers used the handheld devices – the iPods – to have the students read words that were displayed in a large font. Each line of text displayed on the devices had just a few words; the students were able to manually scroll through the text in the device’s vertical orientation. This scrolling effectively simulated scrolling through text as if it were like a long and near-continuous column of newspaper.
The students read text from the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test using the iPods and normal white paper; both media forms displayed the text in full lines of 14 point text.
The study results are in
According to the published results from the Plos One study, students who had the most difficulties with sight-word reading ‘were able to read faster on the iPod.’ Students with a limited visual attention span actually improved their comprehension when reading on the iPod.
As text can be manipulated on e-readers, reading can potentially be made easier for users with dyslexia. Through e-readers, text can be displayed through apps – short for applications – and web browsers.
Although not immediately available in web browsers, users can manipulate and/or change the way text looks. As a result, this allows them to correct any visual and/or mental impairments that prevent users with dyslexia and other learning disabilities from reading.
The study showed that almost half the students, who had deficiencies with their visual attention span, sight-word reading and oculomotor, ‘showed an increase in their reading speed and aforementioned comprehension.’ As nearly 15 percent readers have symptoms from dyslexia, the results from the study proves that e-readers can help improve their reading comprehension and speed on a daily basis.
A new way to read
E-readers and similar electronic devices provide a significant advantage over their print counterparts for dyslexic readers.
Many e-readers and e-reader apps allow users to change text size with a ‘pinch of their finger’ or through tapping plus (+) and minus (-) icons above the text. For many dyslexic readers, changing the size of the text can allow them to ‘interact with words in a new way.’
The reading method used in the Plos One study is called Span Limited Tactile Reinforcement (SLTR), which, as mentioned, formats text into a newspaper-like column.
The Span Limited Tactile Reinforcement method spaces text into shorter lines, which helps readers with learning disabilities like dyslexia ‘improve oculomotor function.’ This stems to the fact that many dyslexics are known to have improperly coordinated eye muscles, which causes reading difficulties.
Reformatted SLTR text helps dyslexic readers read words by ‘eliminating’ the accuracy needed to read
words in tighter lines and columns.
Are larger displays better?
Do larger displays also help dyslexic readers read better? In a previously conducted study by Schneps, it was found that smaller screens worked better for dyslexic readers instead of larger devices. Devices with smaller displays, like the iPod Touch’s 3.5 inch display, outperformed larger devices with displays over 4 inches.
In the aforementioned study, researchers used ‘eye-tracking’ to analyze the participating students. They found that students who struggled the most with reading actually benefited from using the iPod Touch.
Both devices used the same font size with 11 words per line, though the iPad used in the study, caused more ‘leftward regressions.’ This meant that readers had to scroll back and review previously read words.
According to the results, the iPod Touch’s small screen allows dyslexic readers to retain attention on smaller blocks of text.
In closing, electronic devices like e-readers are likely to play a large role in the treatment of learning disorders like dyslexia. Readers with dyslexia need personalized treatment options, which might provide difficult with more traditional ways of reading.