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Bridges to Success - Audiobooks

Did you know that students with dyslexia can comprehend books, stories and articles well above their reading level? There is a very big difference between what a child with dyslexia can understand when reading by eye, and what they can understand while reading the exact same content by ear. A deficit in reading skill in no way impacts a child’s intelligence or their ability to comprehend a story. You might not be able to see proof of this if you are relying only on standardized test scores on comprehension from your child’s school. The reason that many parents of dyslexic students often see sub-standard test scores in comprehension is usually because the school is testing their comprehension with text that the child has to read on their own. This is not an appropriate way to measure one’s comprehension skills if one is dyslexic.

Most parents have been advised of the perks of reading aloud to young children. Reading to your child has a plethora of benefits. Whether your child is dyslexic or not, reading time snuggled up to a parent will give a child a sense of comfort not only with the parent but with the act of reading books and stories as well. Fostering a love of books is important for every child, but can be critical for a child with dyslexia since they are bound to experience some negative emotions toward reading when they encounter real difficulty, likely around the third or fourth grade. Those earlier, and continued positive connections a parent has helped formulate through reading aloud beloved stories, should have a lasting effect and help keep that child motivated to continue to listen and eventually learn to read on their own. While listening to stories read to them, children are unwittingly learning important literary things like vocabulary, prosody, and character formation. They are also gaining background knowledge about various topics, active listening skills and according to researchers at the New York School of Medicine, reading aloud to children even positively impacts children’s social and emotional development, behavior and attention!

There is plenty of great research out there on the benefits of reading aloud to young children. But what about when they get older? How old is too old to curl up and read a book to your child? According to Jim Trelease, who wrote the Read Aloud Handbook (I highly recommend it), you can read to your child all the way through high school and beyond, if said child is willing, with no ill effects! This is especially beneficial if the child in question is in fact dyslexic and due to decoding struggles simply has to put too much effort into figuring out the words to make reading pleasurable, let alone comprehensible. Okay, but what if the kid doesn’t want his mom or dad reading to him when he’s 14? Or, what if one or both parents has dyslexia (it is known to be an inherited trait). One answer: audiobooks.

Audiobooks have been around for quite some time, but are becoming much more accessible and “mainstream”. They are an accommodation recommended by just about every dyslexia professional out there for getting literature, of many forms, into the hands and ears of reading-challenged kids as well as adults.

FMRI images from U.C.B. research show same areas of brain activate while reading text or listening to audio

There is new research out from the Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley and published in the Journal of Neuroscience proving that people recognize, process, and create meaning from words using the same regions of the brain whether the person is listening to a passage or reading that same passage from text. In other words, your brain really doesn’t care whether you are reading or listening to information. It is in no way “cheating” to listen to a book with your ears rather than to read it with your eyes. After all, the ultimate point of reading is comprehension. This research and future research that the Gallant Lab is hoping to conduct on audiobooks and the dyslexic brain in particular, could have an impact on the accessibility of audiobooks in our public schools. The lead researcher of this project, Fatma Deniz, has high hopes. She says “If, in the future, we find that the dyslexic brain has rich semantic language representation when listening to an audiobook or other recording, that could bring more audio materials into the classroom,".

There are several organizations that provide audiobooks that can be accessed through different electronic devices, including tablets and cell phones. Learning Ally is a non-profit organization that provides schools, families, and individuals with learning differences access to “the largest audiobook library available”. A description of their service from their website states; “The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity to achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer.” Not only does Learning Ally provide access to just about any book a kid would want to read, but also countless text books and titles that are assigned to kids in school. Also from the L.A. website; “Over the next few years, Learning Ally plans to leverage recent neuroscience breakthroughs to help facilitate more personalized learning experiences to ensure all students have equal opportunities to learn and succeed.” Currently around 17,000 schools across the country use Learning Ally to assist students with reading difficulties. With the recent research findings coming out of UC Berkeley, we hope to see more.

No one I know would argue that children need to learn to read to be able to function well in our society, and dyslexic kids do need to get explicit, systematic reading instruction and practice to learn to read. However, when the point of reading is comprehension of the material, audio books are the way to go for many dyslexic people. Consider calling your school district and asking them if they use Learning Ally. If they don’t, offer some encouragement. But also be aware that parents of children with dyslexia can purchase a family subscription by obtaining a referral from a dyslexia professional. A family subscription costs $130 per year. NOCO Dyslexia has an agreement with Learning Ally, that students referred by us will get 20% off of that price.

To contact NOCO Dyslexia about referring your child for a Learning Ally subscription contact

Until all schools and libraries see the benefits and necessity of audiobooks through recent and future research, a family subscription might be the next best thing. Just don’t forget that reading aloud to your child or listening together for pleasure, snuggled up on the sofa preferably, is still the best way to enjoy a story.


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