Reading: a complex activity
Reading is a complex activity involving different brain functions. The disruption of each of these brain functions can cause a reading disorder. What is usually referred to as “dyslexia” is a summary of reading disorders that can be traced back to different causes. As diverse as the causes of a reading disorder are, as diverse must the therapy procedures directed at these causes be.
In order to read a text fluently, the eyes must be directed to a specific point within a word for precisely calculated time intervals. During these time intervals the size of the word segment or word to be read must be determined, the word or word segment concerned must be seen “as a whole” and the corresponding sound sequence and the meaning of individual words and word sequences must be retrieved from memory. At the same time, the time and goal of the subsequent eye jump must be programmed. During the eye jump, visual functions must be suppressed and they must fully recover after the eye jump.
In order for these functions to function correctly, the complex interaction of numerous areas of the brain is required. These include structures of the visual system, structures that control visual attention, brain structures that produce various memory functions, and several areas of the brain that program and execute eye movements. Each of these structures of the brain can be disturbed in their function. The result is a reading disorder, the cause of which is not immediately apparent.
In a research project children with reading disorders of different causes were examined and a PC-supported diagnosis and therapy program was developed. The software contains both programs for the diagnosis of the causes of the reading disturbances and programs for the purposeful therapeutic removal or circumvention of these causes. For example, letters, letter combinations, word segments, words and texts are displayed on the monitor under such test conditions that they reveal the cause of the reading disorder and the reactions of the readers are measured by the computer. The exercise texts shown by means of a playback system are adapted to the type and severity of the reading disorder and processed in such a way that the parameters critical for reading can be controlled. Attractive texts from the first reading series were selected for this purpose. Special texts are developed for older readers. An integrated statistics program enables therapists, teachers and parents to monitor the development of reading performance and documents each reading progress.
The therapy part contains special exercises to improve (1) the ability to recognize letters, (2) the ability to simultaneously perceive and recognize letter sequences (words and word segments) (3) the retrieval of the sound sequences belonging to words and word segments, (4) increasing the attention field and reducing the interference of text segments with the recognition of other word segments or words, (5) improving the control of the length of fixation phases, and (6) improving the size, goal, and timing of gaze jumps during reading. The program automatically evaluates the performance of the readers in the tests and exercises performed and provides information on the level of performance achieved.
One study showed that in the case of certain reading disorders, about half of the children’s error rate decreased by 72% within half an hour if they received targeted training using the celeco reading learning method, in which critical parameters for reading were controlled. However, a control group that only practised reading texts could not improve their performance in the same time (Werth 2001).
The various causes that can cause a reading disorder (dyslexia), the possibilities to recognize them by suitable diagnostic means and successfully tested therapy methods are described in:
Dyslexia and other reading disorders
How to recognize and correct them