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Wider Letter Spacing Helps Dyslexic Children

letters-5Increasing the spacing between characters and words in a text improves the speed and quality of dyslexic children’s reading, without prior training. They read 20 percent faster on average and make half as many errors. This is the conclusion reached by a French-Italian research team.

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects an individual’s capacity to read and is linked to difficulty in identifying letters, syllables and words — despite suitable schooling and in the absence of intellectual or sensorial deficiencies. Dyslexia, affects on average one child in every class and 5 percent of the world’s population.

In this study, the researchers tested the effects of letter spacing on the reading ability of 54 dyslexic Italian and 40 dyslexic French children aged between 8 and 14 years. The children had to read a text composed of 24 sentences, in which the spacing was either normal or wider than usual. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, showed that wider spacing enabled the children to improve their reading both in terms of speed and precision. On average, they read 20 percent faster and made half as many errors.

“The increase in speed was notable,” said cognitive scientist Marco Zorzi at the University of Padua, who led the research group. “It corresponds to the increase you would see after one year of schooling.”

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This progress could stem from the fact that dyslexic children are particularly sensitive to “perceptual crowding,” in other words the visual masking of each individual letter by those surrounding it. The results of this study show that this crowding effect may be reduced by spacing letters apart.

It takes one year for a dyslexic child to read what a “normal reader” reads in two days. This is because reading can be “torture” for dyslexic children, whose decoding difficulties cause to stumble, putting them off reading on a regular basis. The researchers have found a simple and efficient “trick” that helps these children break the vicious circle and correctly read more words in less time.


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