Phonological Skills, Visual Attention Span, and Visual Stress in Developmental Dyslexia

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In this study, we concurrently investigated 3 possible causes of dyslexia—a phonological deficit, visual stress, and a reduced visual attention span—in a large population of 164 dyslexic and 118 control French children, aged between 8 and 13 years old. We found that most dyslexic children showed a phonological deficit, either in terms of response accuracy (92.1% of the sample), speed (84.8%), or both (79.3%). Deficits in visual attention span, as measured by partial report ability, affected 28.1% of dyslexic participants, all of which also showed a phonological deficit. Visual stress, as measured by subjective reports of visual discomfort, affected 5.5% of dyslexic participants, not more than controls (8.5%). Although phonological variables explained a large amount of variance in literacy skills, visual variables did not explain any additional variance. Finally, children with comorbid phonological and visual deficits did not show more severe reading disability than children with a pure phonological deficit. These results (a) confirm the importance of phonological deficits in dyslexia; (b) suggest that visual attention span may play a role, but a minor one, at least in this population; (c) do not support any involvement of visual stress in dyslexia. Among the factors that may explain some differences with previously published studies, the present sample is characterized by very stringent inclusion criteria, in terms of the severity of reading disability and in terms of exclusion of comorbidities. This may exacerbate the role of phonological deficits to the detriment of other factors playing a role in reading acquisition.

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