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Spacing Letters Apart Helps Dyslexia

Study Shows Spacing Letters Farther Apart Increases Reading Speed, Accuracy in Dyslexia
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 4, 2012 -- Spreading the letters of words a bit farther apart helps dyslexic kids read more quickly and make fewer mistakes as they read, a new study shows.

While the strategy isn't a cure for dyslexia, which causes the brain to process information differently, researchers say it may help some children with the condition to read more easily, a key to helping them become better readers and learners overall.

Therapists agree that one of the best long-term remedies for the reading difficulties of dyslexia is practice. But because reading is so frustrating for these kids, practice is often a tough sell.

"The consequence is that children with dyslexia read very, very little. We give the comparison that a child with dyslexia reads in a year what a normal reader reads in two days," says researcher Johannes C. Ziegler, PhD, director of research in the cognitive psychology laboratory at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France.

Crowding Complicates Reading in Dyslexia

In recent years, scientists have developed a greater understanding of a visual phenomenon called crowding -- a problem that affects a person's ability to recognize what they see.

When we look at words on a page, the eye and brain need to focus on and recognize characters within a narrow visual field.

Studies of people with dyslexia show that their brains may be overly attentive to information coming in from the edges of their vision.

That makes dyslexics very good at quickly absorbing and understanding the information in a scene or picture, but it makes reading more difficult.

"If these letters are too close to one another, the features intermix, so you're not able to tell which letter it actually is," Ziegler says.

While crowding has been known to be a problem for people with dyslexia for some time, Ziegler says little research has tested whether strategies to reduce crowding could improve reading.

Testing Wider Letter Spacing to Ease Reading

For the study, researchers tested whether spacing letters of words a little farther apart on the page could improve reading speed and accuracy in 74 Italian and French children who had been diagnosed with dyslexia.

The children were asked to read two blocks of 24 short sentences in their native languages. The sentences were unrelated to prevent the kids from using contextual cues to understand them. The words were printed in 14-point Times-Roman font. One block of text used normally spaced letters. In a second block, the space between the letters was increased 2.5 points.

H e r e ' s  h o w  t h a t  l o o k s .

The children in the study were asked to read each block of text separately, at sessions that were two weeks apart to make it harder for them to remember what they read.

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