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«DOCUMENT RESUME ED 363 732 CE 064 960 AUTHOR Fowler, Anne E.; Scarborough, Hollis S. TITLE Should Reading-Disabled Adults Be Distinguished from Other ...»

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Finucci et al., 1985; Gerber & Reiff, 1992; Horn et al., 1983; Miles, 1986; Naylor et al., 1990; White, 1992; White, Alley, Deshler, Shumaker, Warner, & Clark, 1982). Persistence has been found in both the most narrowly defined cases of specific reading disability and in the most broadly defined cases of nonspecific learning disability, whether the subjects were school or clinic identified, whether or not remediation has been provided, and whether outcome measures were based on interview or standardized test data.

Sometimes, particularly in advantaged samples, the signs of persistence have been subtle, as was found in the early interview studies already mentioned. For example, Pennington et al., (1986) and Finucci, Guthrie, Childs, Abbey & Childs (1976) found that only spelling was notably deficient in adults with a history of reading disability. Gerber, Ginsberg and Reiff (1992) have also corroborated these early findings. With the cooperation of national societies for disabled learners, they located 46 selfreferred adults who were characterized as highly successful; more than half these adults had doctoral degrees and all earned from $3000 to over $100,000 annually. Nevertheless, these adults with reading disabilities talked about their need to use compensatory strategies, such as learned creativity, to get around their persisting problems with reading and writing. Their strategies included using tape recorders and dictaphones, using word processors with spell checkers, and most especially, relying on support staff. One particularly creative subject used pictures to help remember facts


about a client; another claims to have taught himself lip-reading to help him visualize words during conversations.

More often, however, the persisting deficits are very deep and broad, indicating that literacy skills are rarely mastered at a high level by individuals with reading disabilities (Miles, 1986; Miller, 1988; White, 1992). One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the persistence of reading disabilities was a study of 40 clinicidentified dyslexic boys, diagnosed at age 10 and followed up at ages 20 and 28 (Frauenheim 1978; Frauenheim & Heckerl, 1983).

This study addressed many of the methodological concerns discussed earlier by testing and interviewing adults using the same measures used to make the diagnosis in childhood. The boys initially met regression-based criteria, presenting poor reading and spelling mean grades (1.9 and 1.4) despite low-normal IQ means (verbal, 84; performance, 94), minor difficulties with math (mean grade level, 3.1), middle-class backgrounds and no obvious neurological impairment. Ail of the subjects had experienced academic difficulties from the onset of schooling and all received special (and often intensive) reading help from specially trained persons. By age 20, 80% of the subjects had completed high school, but reading and spelling had increased only to the secondto fourth-grade level.

Similar findings were obtained in a follow-up study of schoolidentified nonspecific poor readers in semi-rural Virginia who had less severe initial diagnoses and a somewhat higher mean IQ of 99 (DeBettencourt, Zigmond & Thornton, 1989). At age 11.5 years, these children were a year or more behind in reading achievement, and they continued to show decrements of similar magnitude compared to non-gifted, non-handicapped peers when followed up ten years later. Other follow-up studies, discussed in greater detail below, have obtained similar evidence for clear persistence into adulthood of reading problems identified in childhood (Bruck, 1985, 1990; McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992;

Felton et al., 1990).

There is now considerable evidence that reading problems not only persist, but continue to involve the same aspects of reading that pose the greatest obstacle to learning to read in childhood.

Contrary to the common belief that most adults can sound out words effectively but have higher level problems with comprehending what they read, recent evidence suggests that comprehension problems are often accompanied by decoding problems as well. Furthermore, the persistence of word recognition and especially phonological decoding problems is seen both in adults with pure reading disability and in those with more general TECHNICAL REPORT TR93-7 learning problems or lack of educational opportunity. For example, in a profile of self-referred young adults with nonspecific learning disabilities, Blalock (1981) describes a subset of 18 subjects who obtained grade level scores of 4.8 to 15 on the word recognition subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test. And yet, when presented with a simple phonics test, not one subject could provide the correct sounds for all the consonants, and most failed to finish the task. She noted that although these individuals complained of reading speed problems, "evaluation revealed that the actual problem was in poor (non-automatic) decoding. Their efforts to decode, then re-read for meaning, made reading a laborious time-consuming task" (p. 40).

Similar findings were obtained by Read and Ruyter (1985), whose subjects were male prison inmates scoring at or below the fifth-grade level on a standardized reading comprehension measure. Normal intelligence was confirmed by scores within one standard deviation on the Wechsler nonverbal subtest (equivalent to a standard score of 85 or above). Although their word recognition scores were equivalent to those of normal fifth-grade readers, their performance on two decoding tasks (pseudowords and real words following regular orthographic rules) lagged well behind, so as to be comparable.to reading-disabled fifth graders.

Consistent with this split, when compared to normal third and fourth graders, the subjects scored higher on exception words, equivalent on regularly spelled words, and lower on pseudowords.

Both results suggest that subjects were using word-specific associations rather than sound-spelling rules to read and spell regular words. The correlations between the various decoding measures were nonetheless high (82% to 89%), indicating that better decoding was associated with a larger word recognition vocabulary, just as has been found in comparable studies with children. Severe deficits in pseudoword decoding were also obtained in adults attending Adult Basic Education or Literacy Volunteer classes (Pratt & Brady, 1988); in that sample, poor readers could read an average of less than four pseudowords, compared to an average of 42.7 read correctly by a control sample matched in nonverbal IQ, age and social class.

The subjects in the above studies were selected because they were currently experiencing problems in reading; it might not be surprising, therefore, that word recognition and decoding problems were an important part of their profile. More impressive still are a number of studies in which adults were identified on the basis of a childhood diagnosis of reading disability, independent of current function (Bruck, 1990; Felton et al., 1990), or on the


basis of genetic risk combined with a tested discrepancy between intelligence and reading (Gross-Glennm Ja Ilad, Novoa, HelgrenLempesis & Lubs, 1990; Kitz & Tarver, 1989; Pennington et al., 1990;

Scarborough, 1984). In these studies, word recognition and decoding skills were found to be weak, even in those subjects who claimed they did not experience reading problems. These adults consistently did poorly at reading isolated words, reading pseudowords, and reading aloud connected text in which content words are replaced by pseudowords, thereby preventing the reader from relying on contextual clues.

Additional evidence for the persistence of word recognition problems derives from a study involving 37 adults (aged 20-44.6 years) with well-documented childhood dyslexia, having been evaluated by June Orton between 1957 and 1972 (Felton, et aL, 1990). The original diagnoses had been made on the basis of normal intelligence (mean, 102; performance, 105; verbal, 98) and below-average reading scores, calculated by using quotients comparing reading to IQ (.67 on oral reading fluency;.74 on word recognition). This study had two control groups: a normal reading group ( n 16) who had been seen as children at the same clinic and who had reading quotients of.90 or above on both measures, and a borderline group (n 34) from the same sample who did not fit neatly into either group. When assessed as adults on cognitive and reading measures, the reading-disabled group attained normal levels of performance on arithmetic (they had been a year below grade level in the childhood assessment), but continued to perform significantly below the other two groups on both oral reading fluency and word recognition. Word recognition was especially affected. Whereas 33% of the group identified as reading disabled in childhood scored within normal limits on the oral reading of paragraphs (the Gray Oral Reading Test), only 14% scored within normal limits on the reading of single words (the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised). On the other hand, many of the 37 had improved their reading skills considerably; 27% scored in the borderline range and another 24% in the average range. Of the borderline readers, 76% were normal readers in adulthood by Finucci's criteria, and only one fell into the impaired range (Naylor et al., 1990). Even after controlling for differences in intelligence and social class, pseudoword reading measures in adulthood served as an accurate indicator of childhood reading status.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that word recognition remains unmastered by these adults comes from a study by Bruck (1990). She selected adults on the basis of a childhood diagnosis of TECHNICAL REPORT TR954 reading disability, with a bias toward positive outcomes (as only those of the original sample who were currently enrolled in college were included). Childhood diagnoses had been made on the basis of an average IQ (minimum, 85; mean, 107) and a reading level at least 1.5 years below grade level (mean lag in oral reading, 2.3;

word recognition, 1.6). At follow-up, their receptive vocabulary standard scores were quite variable (mean, 97; range, 67-113) as were scores on a nonverbal measure (mean, 104; range, 80-123).

They achieved near-normal scores on a standardized reading comprehension test (41st mean percentile, 11.5 grade equivalent), but performed less well on word recognition (32nd mean percentile, tenth grade equivalent) and spelling (20th mean percentile, seventhth grade equivalent).

All scores for the sample were significantly lower than those of a control group of college students matched in age, educatidn, and sex, but were comparable to those of a control group of sixth grade good readers, selected for having performed above the 60th percentile on the same measures. The dyslexic students made more errors in reading both real words and pseudowords than agematched controls, but they also made twice as many errors on the pseudowords as the sixth graders, despite nearly equivalent word recognition and somewhat superior reading comprehension levels.

The dyslexic sample also showed delayed response time for both words and pseudowords compared to both control groups, and differed more from control subjects on nonword than on word latencies, consistent with their extreme difficulty with pseudowords.

Of the three samples, only the dyslexic subjects took longer to recognize high frequency exception words than regular words, although their response time was extremely slow in both conditions. At the very least, this suggests that automaticity in word recognition has not been achieved for any class of words. This same explanation might account for the fact that dyslexic college students were behind the sixth graders in accuracy of reading onesyllable words, but that the two groups were hampered to the same degree by multisyllabic words; perhaps the sixth graders had achieved automaticity for one-syllable but not for multisyllable words, whereas the college students had achieved automaticity for neither. Consistent with non-automatic processing, the dyslexic subjects were reliably slower than controls in all conditions.

In several of the studies already discussed, it has become evident that it is not just accuracy, but also the automaticity and speed of word recognition that discriminates adults with and without reading disabilities. As pointed out by Gross-Glenn et al., (1990), however, there seems to be a speed-accuracy tradeoff.


Subjects may slow down and read accurately or speed up and make errors. This phenomenon seems consistent across the many studies already discussed, whether the population is pure or even compensated dyslexic adults or whether the group is comprised of lower-functioning adults with nonspecific learning disabilities. The phenomenon is evident whether in single word serial naming of both real and pseudowords (Gross-Glenn et al., 1990; Bruck, 1990) or reading paragraphs (Gross-Glenn et al., 1990; Miles, 1986;

Scarborough, 1984). Decker (1989) also reported speed of recognition of pronounceable pseudowords to be one of the best predictors of reading disability in adults. Blalock (1981) reported that the foremost problem with her 38 self-referred adults was automaticity, and many were better at isolated skills than at actual reading (i.e., so slow and non-automatic that they could not attain comprehension). In short, in virtually every group of readingdisabled adults that has been studied, there is some evidence of deficiencies in accuracy, automaticity, or speed of word recognition skills, whether these adults are currently reading at the first-grade level or at the eleventh-grade level. This phenomenon appears to be independent of absolute IQ, at least for samples with IQs aboVe 85.

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