Having a hard time reading can hinder a whole range of everyday activities. People with dyslexia, a reading disorder, often hunt for tools to help them correctly decipher printed words.
Using an electronic device to read, rather than reading words on paper, improved the reading speed and understanding of some high school students who had dyslexia, according to a new study.
Dyslexia is a disorder that can prevent patients from reading and interpreting words in the same way that the average person does.
The lead author of this study was Matthew Schneps, PhD, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Laboratory for Visual Learning.
For this research, he and his team of investigators enrolled 103 dyslexic students from Landmark High, a Prides Crossing, Massachusetts school exclusively for students with language-related disabilities.
The researchers measured the length of time it took students to read words on 8.5 by 11-inch printed paper, in a 14 point Times font, showing about 14 words per line. They compared that to what was required to read a 42 point Times font, showing 3.5 words per line on an electronic reader, or e-reader. The researchers also tested how well students comprehended what they were reading.
Based on their results, the researchers said that some students benefitted from e-readers and others did not.
For example, those who scored higher than 3 out of a possible 6 points on a "visual attention span" test, which was taken before the e-reading test was conducted, gained about 10 percent in comprehension. Those who scored less than 3 comprehended about 10 percent less of what they read on the e-reader. The visual attention span test gauged how many words a student could read and understand within a certain period of time.
About a third of the students showed that 10 percent improvement, the researchers found.
Fewer words per line — not the e-reader itself, per se — are what aided reading speed and understanding, the researchers wrote.
"The problem for me and people like me — and there are lots of people like me — is that when you look at a page of text, a book, something that is pretty substantial, the first thing you feel is an overwhelming fear," Dr. Schneps, who has dyslexia, told dailyRx News.
"You know the words, the meanings, the spellings, but you just cannot grab the words, figuratively," he added. "Your brain just doesn't lock onto the words. Some people with dyslexia describe this as the text kind of swimming around."
Dr. Schneps said his ongoing research aims to further clarify whether e-readers — or more specifically, having fewer lines on a page to read — have long-term benefits for people with dyslexia.
His previous study of this subject found, for example, that using an e-reader increased the speed at which people with dyslexia read by 27 percent. It reduced the number of times that the 26 participants in that previous study got fixated (stuck on certain words and unable to focus going forward) by 11 percent, he told dailyRx.
"For many dyslexics, when you try to read, it's almost like you cannot grab hold of the words. It's a really weird feeling to describe," Dr. Schneps said. "But when you put the text on an e-reader and limit the number of words per line, you're able to grab onto them and read them more easily."
This study was published September 18 in PLOS ONE.
The National Science Foundation and Smithsonian Institution Youth Access program funded this study. The funders were not involved in study design, data collection and analysis or other aspects of the research.
The authors also said they had no financial interests or involvements that would affect study outcomes.