When most people think of dyslexia, they think of struggles with reading and writing rather than with spoken language. But research has increasingly linked the learning disability to difficulties with processing sound, and two recent studies that explored the dyslexia-sound connection have shed light on both the origin and possible treatments for dyslexia.
In one study, scientists who analyzed 21 Hebrew-speaking college students with dyslexia found that these students experienced problems with distinguishing similar speech sounds (such as “ba” and “pa”). Surprisingly, however, the participants could still track patterns in how sounds are strung together into words. These results suggest that people with dyslexia experience difficulty on a lower level than was previously assumed—difficulty with sounds themselves rather than linguistic rules.
Although the researchers caution that their findings do not address the best methods of teaching a person with dyslexia to read, another study indicates that assistive listening devices may help children with dyslexia improve their reading abilities. After a year of wearing an earpiece in the classroom that amplified the sound of their teacher’s voice, 19 students with dyslexia showed improved scores on tests of phonological awareness and reading, as opposed to a control group that did not make these gains.
Assistive listening devices for use in classrooms are currently available. The study’s senior author also suggested that reading to a young child who is sitting very close could provide a similar boost.