«DOCUMENT RESUME ED 363 732 CE 064 960 AUTHOR Fowler, Anne E.; Scarborough, Hollis S. TITLE Should Reading-Disabled Adults Be Distinguished from Other ...»
As noted earlier, once word recognition skills are mastered to about the fourth-grade level, students can switch from learning to read to reading to learn. More advanced readers, therefore, might also benefit from training in strategies for extracting meaning from connected text. Palincsar and Brown (1984) gave adolescent underachievers several weeks of training, with feedback, on how to organize reading material by formulating questions that would be answered by the most important point in a reading passage. They found that these students showed dramatic improvements in reading comprehension skill compared to control subjects who did not receive this training. Chan (1991) also recently provided TECHNICAL REPORT TR93175 similar evidence for the effectiveness of instructing fifth- and sixthgrade underachievers in strategies for text comprehension.
The astute reader will have noted that none of the training studies that have been described actually tested the hypothesis that the effects of training are different for reading-disabled children whose achievement is discrepant from their aptitude than for other children whose low reading achievement is commensurate wi th aptitude. According to the rmdings of this study, the only data bearing on that question come from some further analyses by Lovett (Lovett, Benson & Olds, 1990), in which IQ differences among poor readers were examined as a predictor of the effectiveness of the word recognition training programs and one control condition they compared. Interestingly, their analyses revealed that post-test performance was especially improved for children with higher IQs and language skills who received training that emphasized phonological decoding. As in prior analyses, however, even these subjects did not appear to gain any firmer grasp of letter-sound mapping, but rather appeared to use their greater cognitive-linguistic abilities to acquire more word-specific information during training. Moreover, this difference in the effects of training as a function of IQ was so small as to be of little practical applicability. In contrast, by far the most effective predictor of post-test scores was the child's initial level of reading skill.
In sum, training programs of various sorts have been shown to bring about improvements in the reading skills of children with reading disabilities and other poor readers. Such instruction can substantially increase the accuracy and speed of word recognition and the level of reading comprehension, although the amount of training provided in the studies has not been sufficient to eradicate the subjects' decrements in reading skill. Finally, there is no strong evidence to indicate that the effectiveness of instructional programs is much different for different kinds of poor readers.
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E. RECENT ADVANCES IN OUR
UNDERSTANDING OF THE READING
DISABLED A DUL TAs discussed earlier, traditional assumptions regarding disability included the idea that few problems with literacy persist beyond the school years. This section reviews the evidence pertaining to that assumption, which has proven to be largely false.
First, details are given of early arguments, as well as evidence upon which the traditional view was based. Next, more recent research is examined on the persistence of poor reading skills, associated cognitive-linguistic weaknesses, and broader vocational, social, and interpersonal difficulties.
1. EARLY VIEWS OF READING DISABIUTY IN ADULTHOODThe idea that reading problems do not persist into adulthood involved tvio related suppositions. The first was that the reading problems that may have dominated a child's life in school do not assume the same proportions in adulthood. As expressed by Blalock (1981), there is a "belief that learning disabilities are primarily academic problems and will make little difference once the people are placed in jobs that fit their strengths" (p. 35). For example, whereas schoolchildren are evaluated daily on the basis of their literacy, it would seem that adults can choose callings in which literacy does not play such a central role. In addition, by the time they reach adulthood, dyslexics could have learned to work around or compensate for their reading problems. It could be argued, too, that schools overvalue literacy and the rate at which it is achieved, and once beyond schooling, no one knows or cares just how hard reading once was as long as functional needs are met. Finally, such an assumption incorporates the belief that the reading problems experienced in childhood never expanded beyond that, leaving unaffected one's social and communicative skills or one's ability to do math or engineering.
The second part of traditional assumptions about adult reading disability is that the underlying condition endures, taking on other, more subtle forms. It was suggested that the problems "dissipate over time and are hardly detectable in later life; that only spelling difficulties persist; [and] that strategies are developed to cope with limitations so that residual difficulties are hidden" (Temple, 1988, p. 190). In short, what was once a reading problem is evident only
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in atrocious spelling and a slower reading rate, but comprehension is fine, given sufficient time. This belief is reflected in the policies of testing services and universities of allowing diagnosed dyslexics to take standardized aptitude tests and nonstandardized classroom examinations in an untimed format.
These ideas derived in large part from follow-up studies of persons who experienced reading problems as children and were interviewed in adulthood. Several studies, most notably those by Rawson (1968); Rogan and Hartman (1976, 1990); Silver and Hagin (1985); and Finucci, Gottfredson, and Childs (1985); have served to establish that intelligent children with a documented history of specific reading disability canwith appropriate schooling, a supportive home environment, and substantial financial resources achieve an overall successful adjustment to adult life, whether that is measured in terms of vocational, emotional, or educational status. For example, in Rawson's (1968) study of 56 dyslexic boys, 100% completed college and many went on to become lawyers, scientists, professors, and high-level business executives. And yet, consistent with the picture outlined above, more than half of these college-educated adults reported problems with reading rate and spelling; very few reported significant problems with reading skill per se (Rawson, 1968). Similar results were reported by Finucci et al. (1985) who followed up 500 graduates of the Gow school for dyslexic boys; over 50% had earned a bachelor's degree and the majority were employed in high level positions, lending further support to the view that long-term effects of dyslexia may be ameliorated within the context of high socioeconomic status, intensive educational intervention, and high intelligence.
The limitations of generalizing from this body of research are obvious. First, the samples that have been studied have not been representative of the larger population of disabled readers. Instead, they have exemplified mainly an elite subgroup whose reading difficulties were identified and treated at young ages in an era during which this was not commonplace. ALso, these subjects were often blessed with high intelligence and were from relatively affluent families. Many had attended private schools that could provide specialized instruction, typically with a strong phonics orientation, in conjunction with a solid vocational and emotional support system. As acknowledged by the researchers, all of these circumstances may have contributed to the successful adult outcomes observed in these samples. Furthermore, virtually all of the subjects included in the studies discussed above were educated prior to P.L. 94-142, and thus it is not known how many of them would have met contemporary diagnostic criteria for reading
TECHNICAL REPORT T193-7
disability. And finally, outcome data were based on subjective interview data, not on objective testing, making it difficult to compare profiles in childhood and adulthood, or to establish a solid overall picture of current academic function. What an adult reports as a lack of a problem may nonetheless show up as a significant weakness in a more formal assessment of literacy skills.
2. METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONSRecent methodological advances have both expanded and sharpened the picture of the learning-disabled adult. In particular, three changes inform this study.
First, enough time has passed since P.L 94-142 was enacted that the first wave of school-identified reading-disabled children has now reached adulthood. As a consequence, the number of studies following reading-disabled children into adulthood has increased dramatically, with greater assurance of continuity of measures and broader representativeness. Although many studies continue to rely on self-reports, the results can be interpreted with greater confidence if they are consistent with those derived using a prospective design. The best of these studies have data available from both childhood and adulthood.
Second, more sophisticated approaches have been taken to assess adult outcomes, especially with regard to those areas of function most often implicated in reading-disabled children.
Rather than just asking adults whether they still experience difficulties in reading, or relying on a single reading measure, many studies now provide us with in-depth profiles of current cognitive function (Blalock, 1981; Temple, 1988). Much of the progress that has been made in understanding adult reading disability has taken place within the context of behavior genetics studies, for which it is important that diagnostic measures for specific reading disability be valid and reliable for family members of all ages. As discussed earlier, in studies of children, the ideal profile includes normal intelligence, reading levels 1.5 to 2 standard deviations below the IQ standard score, and, perhaps, IQ-appropriate mathematics achievement. A number of studies now indicate that these criteria can successfully be applied to adults as well, with a high correspondence between diagnoses made on adult measures and those based on either self-report and/or childhood history (Felton, Naylor, & Wood, 1990; Finucci, Whitehouse, Isaacs, & Childs, 1984; Finucci et al., 1986; Naylor, Felton, & Wood, 1990; Pennington, Van Orden, Smith, Green & Haith, 1990; Scarborough, 1984).
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Third, having established the validity of adult measures for welldefmed cases of specific reading disability, researchers have begun to undertake more careful studies of nonspecific reading disabilities as well. For reasons presented above in our discussion of the same definitional concerns in children, there are many reasons to expect commonalities across these two groups, with regard to a core deficit and patterns of abilities and response to treatment. Paralleling the growing trend in the schools, the term learning disability is typically applied broadly to include anyone whose intelligence is in the normal range (with a cutoff as low as 85 on full-scale measures and as low as 70 on subscales) and whose reading is not age-appropriate, whether or not there is an IQachievement discrepancy (refer to Horn, O'Donnell & Vitulano, 1983, for a review). Consistent with this broader definition, studies of adult learning disabilities often include samples that are quite different from those in studies of pure dyslexia. In learningdisabled adults, poor reading is typically accompanied by lownormal IQ, lower to lower-middle socioeconomic status, and associated deficits in math achievement, with math deficits occasionally even exceeding the reading deficit (Buchanon & Wolf, 1986). Because the term learning disability could conceivably be applied to any poor reader who is not retarded, many studies include adults referred through vocational agencies, without positive identification of a discrepancy at all.
Despite the obvious demographic differences that distinguish those subjects recruited for genetics studies and those referred through vocational agencies, it must be acknowledged that an adult reading disability that looks to be nonspecific may have been more circumscribed at an earlier point. One reason may be the operation of potential Matthew effects; the lack of exposure to written material may have a deleterious effect on IQ, causing the disparity to narrow over time. Similarly, because progress in math so often depends upon reading and may be hampered by the other negative consequences of reading problems, a once specific problem can begin to broaden. Finally, children raised in a middle-class environment can easily fall into a lower social class bracket if they fail to complete high school. In the review to follow, care has been taken to define each sample with regard to IQ, social class, and math functioning so as to aid the reader in working out this particular dilemma. Each of the points to be made focuses first on cases of specific reading disability, as was done with children, and then expands to nonspecific learning-disabled groups, suggesting they may have much in common with those who were earlier referred to as garden variety poor readers, becoming less 5) TECHNICAL REPORT T193-7 and less distinguishable from the other adults seeking literacy instruction.
3. ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT LEVELS IN READING-DISABLED ADULTSWith regard to academic outcomes, attention is given to two major conclusions that have been consistently found across all varieties of studies of adults with reading disabilities, whether or not they meet the criteria for specific reading disability: (1) childhood reading disability persists into adulthood; and (2) the pattern and components of reading implicated in reading disability are similar to those observed in children with reading disability.
Both individual case studies and large-scale studies free from bias have confirmed the persistence of reading disability into adulthood. As has been noted in several reviews on the topic, there is no study which has not found some persistent reading and spelling deficiencies in adults who had been identified as reading disabled in their school years (Bruck, 1985; Felton et al., 1990;