With increasing awareness of the visual differences associated with dyslexia and the high incidence of dyslexia in the general population (15-20%), the world seems poised to change how they present print to dyslexic readers. What fonts are best for dyslexic readers affects the overall readability of texts and there for speed, accuracy and potentially persistence of the reader. Children are known to find larger fonts easier to read than smaller ones, and as a group, dyslexic readers are more likely to read words by shape than non-dyslexic ones, making certain fonts more readable. The winners were: Dyslexie, Open Dyslexic, and Comic Sans! Now the tricky part is that Dyslexie has a default font size that is a little larger than the rest. Also there were some interesting comments from participants. One person said that while her son voted for Dyslexie as the easier font to read, he also skipped words. It may be that certain fonts are better for reading quickly (less crowding effects, more shape cues), but that may also lead to lower accuracy. Anyway – remember what is best for you is what is the most important. Individual variations and preferences may be physiologic!
Reading By Word Shape – Students with Dyslexia
“I memorized the shapes of words and I memorized the words that looked like that shape, and then what that word sounds like and what that word means.” – Dr. Cathy Drennan, MIT Professor on her dyslexia
Research studies have shown that most children ages 6-9 commonly use word shape (and context) while reading in order to decode text on the printed page. Non-dyslexic children transition to more phonetic-based decoding, whereas dyslexic children may continue to process words by shape. The difference is so striking that college students with dyslexia were found to outperform non-dyslexic peers on such “visual” reading tasks.
The upside of this visual reading ability is that it allows dyslexic students to pick up speed with reading comprehension so that they can get through passages more quickly and get its meaning. The downside is that reading accuracy is weaker (and sometimes considerably so, especially if the text is presented with little context as can be seen on tests).
The phenomena explains why some stealth dyslexic readers, may become speed readers and it’s behind the internet meme “Rseaerch icntidaes taht the oerdr of the ltteers in a wrod dnsoe’t mettar. Waht relaly mtteras is the frist and lsat leettr in the wrod. If tehy are in the rhgit palce, you can raed the wdors.”
It’s also why my dyslexic children may despair getting trapped in 3-word / 4-word phonics readers (think Bob Books – “Mat sat Sam sat..” – all the words look alike because they are short and chubby), and crave text with a story with variations in word length that are more readable (see Geronimo Stilton at right).
For dyslexic students, word shapes (see the word shape worksheet generator) can be useful incorporated into spelling lists and practice with blends. Students with frequent omissions of letters or sounds (such as bed for bread or be for beach) can also practice words with wordshape worksheets before they have reliably learned to include all the sounds and letters in longer words. Word shape instruction may also be incorporated into sight word instruction because these words need to be recognized quickly. Low tech learning may include using colored markers or gel pens circling word shapes as they are written down in a list.