Do Small Screens Help People with Dyslexia Read More Easily?

Using Mobile Screens To Make Reading Easier For Dyslexics

This is a fascinating article on a few different levels.

The fact that the the astrophysicist, Martin Schneps, who directs a laboratory at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is also dyslexic is pretty cool. I know I sometimes roll my eyes at the over-emphasis on showcasing bright people with dyslexia. However, I still can’t help but feel good about some of these non-celebrities doing such advanced high level work and who happen to have dyslexia. It just blows apart the myth that dyslexia and intelligence are connected.

Even though the heavy preponderance and longstanding evidence that primary weaknesses of the “dyslexic brain” are in the lower rote aspects of language processing and not a visual impairment, there are obviously visual components to reading. This article correctly points to some interesting studies that I’ve seen before, which indicate that many people with dyslexia pick up information from peripheral vision faster than non-dyslexics.

I appreciate that Dr. Shneps is doing research on the effects of smaller screens on reading efficiency for struggling readers.

Personally I’m not a great fan of reading on a phone, but love to do so on my iPad.

Reading on an iPad has some other features though, not mentioned, besides a smaller screen than a laptop, that are very helpful to the enjoyment and ease of reading.

Being able to instantly get a definition or pronounciation of a word is helpful to be sure. Just the ease of jotting notes into a digital book, bookmarking and saving pages, makes applying and retaining what I read so much easier and more enjoyable.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
This entry was posted in Reading, Writing, and Math, Technology Issues and Ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Do Small Screens Help People with Dyslexia Read More Easily?

  1. Hilda Booker says:

    Without the right type of reading instruction, most adults with dyslexia no matter how smart they are cant read or write above the third-grade level. In the United States, that is considered functionally illiterate. An adult at the third-grade reading level means they dont read well enough to fill out a job application read a memo from their boss, pass the drivers license test, write a note to their childs teacher, or read their child a bedtime story. Their job options and earning power are limited, their success in college is rare, and they drop out of high school at a much higher rate than the national average.

  2. Sanford says:

    Hilda,
    You said: “Without the right type of reading instruction, most adults with dyslexia no matter how smart they are cant read or write above the third-grade level.”

    Wow. Where do you get that information/data to back up such a blanket statement? Things are bad enough, I agree wholeheartedly but…not sure where you got that. I’ve met kids and adults with dyslexia who haven’t been lucky enough to get the right kind of instruction (unfortunately) who read well past the third grade level.

  3. Richard says:

    “I’ve met kids and adults with dyslexia who haven’t been lucky enough to get the right kind of instruction (unfortunately) who read well past the third grade level.”

    I am one of those adults.

    While I agree with Hilda that the right kind of reading instruction can make life easier for those with dyslexia, as Sally Shaywitz says, reading will never become as easy for them (us) as it is for people without dyslexia because the fundamental building blocks of reading won’t fall into the background (become completely automatic).

    So, it’s useful to get the right kind of reading instruction but in no way does that “normalize” a person with dyslexia, it can (although sometimes doesn’t) make reading easier.

    The point that Hilda made that stuck out to Sanford: that people who don’t get early intervention/the right kind of reading instruction are going to be stuck in functional illiteracy is problematic in that there are many ways to overcome illiteracy and while it’s much more difficult to do it later in life, it is possible.

    The point that sticks out at me when I hear these kinds of discussions is that besides the right kind of reading instruction there is another important piece of literacy that most people forget about but I think is more important than the right kind of instruction: actually reading a variety of material on a regular basis. Just knowing HOW to read doesn’t mean that you WILL read. Because reading is harder for people with dyslexia, even those who have had the right kind of instruction, we have to push ourselves to make the extra time to read and we have to do it on a regular basis.

    One of the liabilities of smaller screens and the way much of the information we’re seeing on them (and elsewhere) is packaged these days is that we’re mostly seeing what used to be called “executive summaries” of things and long-form writing is become rarer. Being able to get through a long-form New Yorker or Atlantic article and understand it is an important skill that relies not just on phonics and decent comprehension, but also having read and learned enough to understand all of the references that aren’t obvious.

    Literacy is about more than reading, it’s about thinking, experience, and a broad world view that comes from having read a lot and used that reading to form ideas. That takes work, over many years and while the right kind of reading instruction can make that work a bit easier, it in no way guarantees that someone will do it.

  4. Sanford says:

    Richard,
    “Literacy is about more than reading…” That’s brilliant and right on.

    Once someone with dyslexia, or anyone for that matter, gets to where the mechanical aspects of reading (decoding and then phrasing, intonation) is relatively fluid, there’s plenty of deeper work left.

    One of the pitfalls I see of having a mechanical reading problem, especially earlier in school life, is that it can lead one to feeling so generally shamed and incompetent that you miss the obvious: there’s more/different, and experiential ways of learning about the world around us (which gives the background knowledge and references to which you allude).

    I don’t know if I can really ascribe a top level on importance, when it comes to the LD population, but obviously they are both critical.
    Good instruction and understanding of word structure, morphology and phonics are crucial to get the ball rolling. But, it’s like a mobius strip, (you know the strip of paper like a figure eight, where each end twists into the other so there’s no clear beginning or end); one without the other is incomplete.

    To Richard’s point, I read extremely well and Richard is “one of those adults” with dyslexia, and yet I’ve learned plenty from him over the past few years in terms of seeing with my eyes (photography) and developing a wider array of sources of information, another important piece to literacy.

  5. Richard says:

    Sanford: I like the mobius strip analogy very much.

    The one word I left out of my comment was MOTIVATION. Motivation is what drives the “train” around the strip, so to speak.

    And, reading for a purpose (outside of school) can also provide the motivation to do more reading.

    One of my earliest motivators was fixing the blown engine in my 1967 VW bus. I bought John Muir’s “Idiot Book” (how to fix your Volkswagen for the complete idiot) and had to at least read pieces of it to remove the engine from the bus and start the rebuild job.

    My motivation? I needed the bus working as it was my only vehicle.

    So, I read and re-read pieces of this now classic book, paragraph by paragraph until I got a handle on the process, then I did the process, step by step, going back to the book after each step to both make sure I did it right, and also prepare for the next step.

    What drove this care was having had (and remembered) the experience of building a Revel model airplane as a kid without reading the instructions and gluing the wings on the fuselage before installing the landing gear and mucking things up. Had I read the instructions I’d have seen a warning about this but alas, I figured I could do it by the seat of my pants.

    We all learn those kinds of lessons (sometimes it takes many times) but with something as important (and to me, costly) as a VW engine rebuild I wanted to make sure I did it slowly and right and so, careful reading was part of that process.

    That was my first experience with slowing down to the point where I actually got it. As I know you know, there’s a sweet spot in speed for each person: too slow and you miss the big picture, too fast and you miss the details (and the big picture).

    I found that sweet spot in that VW engine rebuild experience and I’ve protected it for much of the rest of my life.

    As long as I’m in that groove I can read and understand and that groove requires quiet and no time limit and, most important of all, motivation.

    I was just reading an early review of the iPhone 5s which I’m about to order and even though I’m interested in all things Apple, I’m motivated to learn more about what’s under the hood on this new gadget (its impressive). Without that motivation I’d never seek our let alone read a long technical review but I want to understand and that drove sitting here for an hour this morning and reading.

    Frankly, I don’t think it matters where one starts on Sanford’s mobius strip, just that one starts somewhere and keeps going around and around.

    The conventional wisdom says to start with basic skills but frankly, I can’t think of anything more boring and lacking in motivational punch. For me, starting with some content I want to learn is better. Yes, one has to bootstrap into basic literacy but I think we carry that too far; once one is off and running and can struggle through a paragraph, no matter how slowly, it’s time to jump to content that’s meaningful and motivating, even if half the words are over one’s head.

    Oh, and by the way, learning to write works much the same way: it helps to be writing about something you’re interested in.

  6. Sanford says:

    Richard,
    The VW story was what came to my mind as well.

    Kiddingly I sometimes describe myself as a mechanical dyslexic. I’m actually pretty good with spatial reasoning and three dimensional problem-solving when it comes to athletics. But when it comes to tools. electronics and lets say most things mechanical, I suffer from the results of a lack of exposure and teaching and practice at the least.

    In any event, my poor performance with these types of tasks leads me to shy away from them. I remember though, when I was a relatively new step-dad and the boys wanted one of those outside free- standing basketball hoop set-ups for our driveway. I was motivated by a need to do something useful for my boys and a desire not to look incompetent in their and their mother’s eyes. I cursed more than usual, scraped knuckles and the like, but also slowed down and persevered through whatever came my way. It was a success and led to an easier path towards similar projects.

    It’s the same for most things. Regardless of the obstacles, literacy, be it linguistic, social, mechanical or otherwise, needs one’s motivation or will to step in. It’s not the only thing needed, but without it, you’re up the creek with little paddle power.

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