A French-Italian research team has found that making the spaces between characters and words in written texts wider can have a significant effect on the reading performance of children with dyslexia.
Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
), the study showed an average 20 per cent increase in reading speed and 50 per cent fewer errors when spacing was extra-wide as opposed to normal.
Dyslexia affects around five per cent of the world’s population, which approximates to at least one child in every school class. It can impair the individual’s ability to recognise letters, syllables and words, and can also make writing more difficult.
54 Italian children and 40 French children – all affected by dyslexia and aged between eight and 14 years – were involved in the study, which was co-led by Johannes Ziegler of the Laboratoire de Pscyhologie Cognitive (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université).
The researchers believe that the improvements they found in reading ability may stem from the fact that dyslexic children often have a particular sensitivity to ‘perceptual crowding’, when the identity of a letter is visually masked by the others immediately surrounding it.
Dyslexic children are often put off reading by the difficulties they encounter and the time-consuming nature of the process for them. A simple technique such as widening the spaces between letters and words could therefore have great potential to break the vicious circle that prevents children with dyslexia reading more and better.
Stéphane Dufau, a CNRS research engineer, has developed a freely available application for iPhones and iPads called ‘DYS’ in parallel with the research project. The team hopes to collect data in this manner on a large scale, as the app allows parents and children to widen spacing and test how far this has benefits for reading speed and precision.
This will hopefully clarify whether the subject’s age and reading level is significant to the advantageous effects of increased spacing as a form of treatment.