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In people with dyslexia the integration of letters and speech sounds within the brain is impaired. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have developed an innovative training that specifically targets and rigorously stimulates the automation of the integration of letters with speech sounds. The first results of their research show much promise for the treatment of reading difficulties in children with severe dyslexia. The study was recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

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The so-called ‘fluency barrier’ is a common theme in scientific research on dyslexia: children with dyslexia do not attain reading fluency, not even after targeted treatment. The social implications of this are profound because fluent reading is essential for educational success and career opportunities. Until now, attempts to make dyslectic children read more fluently have met with little success. Gorka Fraga González, a developmental psychologist at the UvA, and fellow researchers from the IWAL Institute for Learning Difficulties (IWAL instituut voor leerproblemen) and Maastricht University now show that through intensive, targeted training, the connections between letters and sounds in the brain can become more automated and as a result lead to a noticeable improvement in the reading fluency of children with severe dyslexia.

Major progress

A group of 9-year old children with severe dyslexia took part in the training for five months. During this period, the researchers compared the results of these children with a comparable group of dyslectic children that did not participate in the training (the waiting list group) and a group of children without reading difficulties (the control group). Compared to the waiting list group, the training group made considerable improvement in reading fluency and also proved to have booked more progress than the control group.

The research was conducted at the Rudolf Berlin Center. This expertise center for learning difficulties integrates clinical care, teaching and scientific research in the field of learning disabilities. The project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research’s (NWO) National Initiative Brain & Cognition (NIHC)

Publication details 

Fraga González, G., Tijms, J., Žarić, G., Bonte, M., Blomert, L., & van der Molen, M. W. (2015): ‘A randomized controlled trial on the beneficial effects of training letter-speech sound integration on reading fluency in children with dyslexia’, in PLOS ONE, 10(12), e0143914.