Increasing Space Between Letters Could Help Dyslexic Readers

Andrew Warner shows how a simple change could make reading easier for people with dyslexia

A study recently published in Research in Developmental Disabilities has shown that dyslexic children may be able to improve their reading speed with increased spacing in between the letters printed on the page.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, found that, when the space between letters was increased, dyslexic children’s reading speed improved by 13%. Non-dyslexic children also saw a slight boost in their reading speed as well, and the researchers on the project believe that these findings could be particularly helpful in improving learning outcomes for dyslexic children who are learning how to read.

“We found that extra-large letter spacing increases the reading speed of children both with and without dyslexia, and significantly reduces the number of words that dyslexic children skip when reading,” said the lead researcher on the project, Steven Stagg, a senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University. “We believe that extra-large letter spacing works by reducing what is known as the ‘crowding effect’, which can hamper the recognition of letters and reduce reading speed.”

During the course of the study, 59 children between the ages of 11 and 15 (32 of whom were dyslexic) were given four reading passages to read out loud, which either had standard spacing or extra-large spacing. For each spacing category, the children read two texts—one of which had a colored overlay and the other without the colored overlay. In addition to measuring reading speed, the researchers also identified errors that the children made while reading aloud.

In addition to the benefits for dyslexic children, the study reported that a slight increase in spacing allowed non-dyslexic to increase their reading speed by about 5%. The researchers also found that the dyslexic children made significantly less errors when there was increased spacing between the letters.

“The results of our study suggest that a reading advantage is evident in readers with dyslexia when the spacing between letters is enlarged, even when reading material provides the reader with contextual cues and, therefore, makes comprehension easier,” the study reads.

“Given this finding, printed coursebooks could be made more suitable for readers with dyslexia. At present, dyslexia friendly textbooks tend to focus on color contrasts and font type to facilitate reading.”

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