I am frequently asked whether my clients with dyslexia should only read text with their eyes – or should they be allowed to listen to text (sometimes called “reading with one’s ears”). To a person who is dyslexic, I recommend the use of text-to-speech software as an accommodation.

Keep Em Reading

This month we are very proud to be partnering with Penguin Random House to launch a program where DyslexiaHelp users can access free audiobooks on CD. Many times, parents express frustration at how difficult it can be to get their dyslexic children to read. It makes sense that our dyslexic kids don’t want to read – who likes to spend time doing something that can be so difficult? None of us. But, many parents understand that reading is one of the important ways that students acquire knowledge about the world. And, reading also enhances one’s vocabulary (i.e., word knowledge). Both of these – world knowledge and vocabulary – are critical to learning, particularly relative to the school curriculum.

We also know that the more one reads, the better reader one becomes and the more knowledge one accrues. It has been well established in the research that our dyslexic students are at risk to acquire knowledge when they do not read as much as their peers. As a result of weak reading skills and repeated failure, these children often read less and learn less, which can lead to even more difficulties, termed the Matthew effect (Stanovich, 1986). Therefore, parents and educators have a real conundrum on their hands – how to ensure dyslexics are accessing the same texts (i.e., information) as their peers when their reading levels simply do not allow them to do so. One of the answers is text-to-speech technology… in other words, audiobooks.

For dyslexics, speech-to-text technology can open up vast opportunities for accumulating all kinds of knowledge. First, they can enjoy books that are on par with their spoken language comprehension level. By definition, dyslexics have average to above average receptive language skills. It is important that students have access to grade-level (and above) texts that will support continued development of their overall language skills. Rich exposure to reading and books will promote development of new vocabulary, complex syntactic forms, and literate language forms (e.g., nonliteral and abstract language), and exposure will increase students’ understandings and knowledge about the world. Encouraging students to read a variety of different kinds of texts (e.g., fictional narratives, biographies, mysteries, essays, nonfiction/informational texts) will help them to become more familiar with the different text structures that they will encounter.

Additionally, using text-to-speech technology allows students to read books of interest. If dyslexics read materials that are of interest, they will be more likely to continue to engage in reading for pleasure. Research has shown that many successful adults with dyslexia learned to read by pursuing topics of interest (Fink, 2006). The chosen topic of interest motivated them to tackle, persevere at, and conquer their greatest enemy, reading. And, as a result, they learned related vocabulary and concepts and developed a deep understanding of the content. For some, the topic of interest became a lifelong hobby. For others, the topic of interest that compelled them to learn to read was directly related to their future vocation.

I am frequently asked whether my clients with dyslexia should only read text with their eyes – or should they be allowed to listen to text (sometimes called “reading with one’s ears”). To a person who is dyslexic, I recommend the use of text-to-speech software as an accommodation. Sometimes people think that text-to-speech support is not “legitimate” reading – like it’s cheating. This is simply not true. Listening to text has become commonplace for people without dyslexia and other reading disorders. It’s no longer unusual or even noticeable to see or hear about people listening to text. Utilizing text-to-speech support simply levels the playing field for dyslexic students so that they have the same opportunities as their peers who can read with ease. Whenever possible, I suggest that my clients utilize technology that will allow them to track print as it is read aloud (e.g., KindleFire, iPadMini, Nexus 7). All that said, it is also okay for our kids to enjoy simply listening to a book when they are tired or after a long day. We all deserve a break once in a while!

So, what are you waiting for? Follow our link to Penguin Random House’s audiobook CDs and try one today. You’ve nothing to lose and lots to gain!

Once again, I thank Dr. Lauren Katz, my partner at 3LI, for her thoughtful review.