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“True“dyslexia is seemingly a “neurological” dysfunction (of course, we read with our brain, not just the eyes!) marked by the inability of the brain centers to efficiently decode print or phonetically make the connection between written symbols and their appropriate sounds. The connotation of the word “neurological” can be confusing: this word is too easily understood or related to a nervous system disease. Dyslexia may be caused by a nervous system dysfonction, but surely not a disease!

The origin of this problem, yet ardently debated in the literature, is probably multi-causal. It is unfortunate that the researchers are constantly looking at only a small aspect of dyslexia in their studies. We also know that not all children who have difficulty reading, however, suffer from phonological processing. Although the symptoms are similar, they may also have visual and perceptual problems that interfere with adequate learning, not just a deficit-based language, as some would have us believe…

Margaret Livingstone, et al, from the Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School and the Dyslexia Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Hospital in Boston reports that poor visual processing plays a significant role in a large majority of children who struggle to read:   “Several perceptual studies have suggested that dyslexic subjects process visual information more slowly than normal subjects.  Such visual abnormalities were reported to be found in more than 75% of the reading-disabled children tested.”

Livingstone MS, Rosen GD, Drislane FW, et al. Physiological and anatomical evidence for a magnocellular defect in developmental dyslexia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1991; 88:7943-7.

Moreover, all children with learning difficulties in primary school are not dyslexic, and vice versa, a child may be dyslexic without it being prolonged failure (especially if dyslexia is mild and if it can be compensated by the development of other skills intact).

Essentially, there is also a problem in the clinical definition of dyslexia. Everyone has their own definition and tests used in the diagnosis of such a condition do not always lead to a clear diagnosis… This imprecision in diagnosis can also certainly explain the variability in prevalence rates reported in the literature (this rate may actually increase from 4% (Yule and Rutter, 1973) to 20% (Shaywitz, 1996)).

Yule W, Rutter M, Berger M, Thompson J. Over- and under-achievement in reading: distribution in the general population. Br J Educ Psychol. 1974 Feb;44(1):1-12. 

Shaywitz SE. Dyslexia. Sci Am. 1996 Nov;275(5):98-104.

A child in early primary school may have some difficulty learning to read, this situation is common and there is no question of going overboard and put a label of  “dyslexia” for all these children.

Decoding process of reading: the dual-route model

The dual-route model is very frequently used as a reference model for decoding during reading. This model postulates the existence of two procedures involved in both reading and writing.

Odédys_en

Dual-route reading process

From : http://www.cognisciences.com: Outil de Dépistage des Dyslexies – Odedys2 – 2009

Phonological process

The phonological process is characterized by a sequential analytical processing or syllabic of a word or pseudo-word (invented word). It involves a system of rules for grapheme (a letter or two, sometimes three) – phoneme (sound related) explicitly learned in school.

The word “camel” when processed through this system will be segmented into graphemes <CA – MEL>, then each grapheme will be assigned to a phoneme which is most frequently associated in the language This allows to generate the sequence of the word.

Only the phonological process allows the processing of new words (words not previously learned or “pseudo-words” which are words invented for the purposes of experiment, for example: famsled, posvent or rolted).

Insofar as the treatment of new words is dedicated to this system, lists of pseudo-words are systematically tested for reading and dictation for children with difficulties, to test the integrity of the phonological process. Good performance in reading invented words indicates that the phonological process is operational, poor performance involves an inadequacy of this pathway.

It is known that the analytical (phonological) route plays a major role in early learning as it is chronologically the first. If we conceive that in adults both channels are relatively autonomous, it seems unlikely that these two pathways are also distinct in children who are learning to read.

Whole-word or eidetic process

The lexical procedure (or whole-word process) performs simultaneous processing of all the elements of the word. All units which compose the word are processed in parallel, leading to the activation of the orthographic lexicon stored in the brain and learned previously. The child sees the word and understands it immediately.

In reading, and after some visual processing, the representation of the word as a whole is activated in our orthographic lexicon (the “dictionary within our head”) and gives a very rapid access to the sound structure (phonology) corresponding to this word and its meaning. No need to decode the word syllable by syllable.

The way this lexicon functions is not yet fully known, but it seems to be like a dictionary to which we would refer for each word read, according to a “photographic” procedure, allowing rapid identification (the faster the more familiar is the word) and immediate access to meaning.

Each of the two procedures for reading (or writing) is implemented specifically for the treatment of certain types of words: the lexical route or process can only deal with words already learned and whose representations are available within the orthographic lexicon and its phonological correspondence. It is needed when reading or writing irregular words that are not pronounced the way they are written (for example, rough, soared, laugh). Irregular words that can only be handled by the lexical route is used in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities. Lists of irregular words are proposed or presented to test the integrity of the lexical route: a good performance when reading these words shows that the lexical procedure is operational; poor performance in reading irregular words compared to reading regular words or pseudo-words suggests a failure of the lexical procedure.

(Part 2 in next blog)

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