In the overview section concerning dyslexia and word reading it was indicated that we have specialized brain mechanisms that rapidly transform text into words that are recognized by the speech processing area of the brain. Dyslexia inhibits the ability to do this rapidly and essentially transforms a process that in the normal reader is so fast that we are not consciously aware of what we are doing into a process that involves a good deal of conscious effort.
This difficulty can actually be observed using a brain imaging technique call Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). fMRI is a procedure that shows what areas of the brain become active when a reader is reading. In normal readers the pattern of activation very rapidly moves from the back of the brain where visual processing occurs, to an area in the mid brain which apparently processes phonological information, then to the left side of the brain where speech processing occurs, and finally to the front of the brain where we perform high level cognitive processes like comprehension and thinking. In the dyslexic reader the pattern is often different. Activation moves from the back of the brain to the front of the brain, skipping the phonological and speech processing stages. In essence, the dyslexic reader is often treating the word recognition process as they would a problem solving process. That is, they have to devote a lot of cognitive effort to thinking about what a word is.
The result is slow and laborious word reading. Dyslexic readers often compensate for this problem by doing a lot of guessing. Sometimes guessing about what a word is from surrounding text and from the theme of the story being read can be quite successful. If the reader is intelligent and the text being read is narrative (story like), this guessing can often result in an understanding of the material being read. Some dyslexic readers are not identified in early years because they perform in the normal range on reading comprehension tests which are often based on narrative text. However, as they move through grades they are increasingly asked to read subject matter text (e.g., social studies, science) that cannot be read for understanding by guessing what words are.
The fact that guessing about what words are doesn’t work beyond a certain point puts the dyslexic reader at a significant disadvantage relative to peers. The dyslexic reader must work considerably harder than the normal reader in order to understand what they are reading. Some dyslexic readers are willing to expend the additional effort, but many others virtually give up because of the added effort required.
There are, however, strategies that can assist the dyslexic reading in becoming fast and accurate at reading words, and this in turn means that reading comprehension can occur without extraordinary added effort. The Skill Builder procedures used in the Reading Success Lab software is one such strategy. Moreover, the Reading Success Lab Designer Module allows a reader to create practice materials from virtually any source. This provides the dyslexic reader with a successful strategy for improving reading comprehension as the reader moves through different reading requirements in their life. (see Our Products section on the Main Menu for information about the Designer Module)