Assessing the contribution of automatic letter-sound integration in learning to read

Assessing the contribution of automatic letter-sound integration in learning to read

First Author: Francina Clayton -- University College London
Additional authors/chairs: 
Prof. Charles Hulme
Keywords: Decoding, Dyslexia, Phonological processing, Automaticity, Reading
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Understanding the systematic relationship between letters and their corresponding speech-sounds is a crucial milestone in learning to read an alphabetic language. Recent research has applied this principle to a novel theory of dyslexia, suggesting that problems learning to read arise from a difficulty establishing automatic associations between letters and speech-sounds (Blomert, 2011). The present study is one of the first behavioural investigations to assess the contribution of automatic letter-sound integration in the reading performance of both typically developing (TD) and dyslexic children.

Method: TD children aged 5-7 years (N=212) and children with dyslexia (N=24) completed standardized reading measures and an experimental priming task designed to measure the extent to which letters and speech-sounds are automatically integrated.

Results: Both typically developing and dyslexic children were significantly faster to identify an auditory speech-sound when primed by a congruent visual letter than when primed by a novel symbol (p < .001) or incongruent visual letter (p < .001). Furthermore, results from this study found that children’s performance on this task did not predict unique variance in reading performance.

Conclusions: Contrary to the hypothesis that dyslexia reflects a deficit in automatic letter-sound integration, the present study found that both dyslexic and TD children show automatic activation of speech-sounds from printed letters. Furthermore, the extent of automatic integration does not appear to predict variation in children’s reading performance. Rather, baseline performance on the priming task (simply deciding if a sound is speech-sound or not) is predictive of reading performance, which arguably provides further evidence of the importance of phonological skills for the development of decoding.