Rapid Naming and Reading Disabilities

Almost three decades of research had demonstrated that the vast majority of children and adults with reading disabilities have pronounced difficulties when asked to name rapidly the most familiar visual symbols and stimuli in the language: letters, numbers, colors, and simple objects.

The Rapid Automatized Naming Test (RAN), the most popular naming speed test, requires the testee to name 50 items on each of four charts (Colors, Objects, Numbers, Letters) consisting of five different stimuli repeated 10 times at random in a 10 x 5 matrix.

Initially, deficits in rapid naming were viewed as part of the phonological deficit in poor readers. Phonological awareness is the understanding of different ways that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated. It is said that phoneme awareness, a subset of phonological awareness, predicts reading ability.

However, researchers have found rapid-naming tasks appear to measure something separate from phoneme awareness. Tufts University psychologist Maryanne Wolf, PhD, and others have found that children with dyslexia can have problems with both phoneme-awareness tasks and rapid-naming tasks or with just one or the other task, indicating the two are mutually exclusive.

Also, when the irregularity of English orthography as a possible explanatory factor in the naming-speed findings is eliminated, the speed-of-processing variable emerges as a stronger predictor of reading performance than phonological awareness tasks. In German and Dutch — two languages with a more transparent or regular orthography than English — naming speed appears a more robust predictor of reading performance than phonological awareness measures.

At most, phonological processes represent only one subset of the multiple processes involved in naming. Visual naming represents a demanding array of other skills including attentional, perceptual, conceptual, memory, and lexical processes; clearly, the most demanding being visual sequential processing.

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