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The Vancouver Sun reports (from Agence France-Presse, June 6) that European researchers found dyslexic children read more easily — faster and better — when offered text with wider than usual spacing. Crowded letters are a problem.
A sample of dyslexic children aged eight to 14 doubled their reading accuracy and increased their speed by more than 20 percent.
The scientists believe the improvement occurred because people with dyslexia are more affected than normal readers by a phenomenon known as “crowding.” Crowding makes a letter more difficult to identify when it is close to other letters.
Marco Zorzi, of the University of Padua in Italy, is the leader of the study. He says “Our findings offer a practical way to ameliorate dyslexics’ reading achievement without any training.”
The group studied 54 Italian and 40 French dyslexic students.
The children were given a text made up of 24 short sentences to read in either the standard or the expanded versions.
In the standard text, words were printed in a Times-Roman, 14 point font size. The expanded text increased the space between the letters by 2.5 points, so that space between the i and the l in the Italian word “il” (meaning “the”) was 2.7 pt in normal text and 5.2 pt. in spaced text.
In addition, the space between lines of text was also increased, thus keeping a proper amount of white space on the page.
The children were given either French or Italian versions, according to their native language. The regular and extra-space sessions were scheduled two weeks apart, to minimize the effect that memorization might have on reading speed.
Not only was reading speed improvement seen, but even greater benefits were observed in children who had the most problems in identifying letters.
Those children who had no reading challenges showed no increase in reading speed when given more widely spaced texts. Researchers say this suggests that the benefit is unique to children with dyslexia.
According to the study,
Practitioners know only too well that getting dyslexic children to read more is a key component in achieving long-term improvements in reading skills. Extra large letter spacing, which could even be optimized adaptively on an individual basis, can certainly contribute to achieving this goal.
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