An assessment of compensatory processing in reading disability

Date of Completion

January 1992


Education, Special|Education, Reading|Psychology, Experimental




One account of reading difficulty proposes that deficiencies in phonological perception lead to faulty decoding. However, the substantial academic achievements of college students who meet the criteria of specific reading disability pose a challenge to a theory of phonological deficit as the basis for poor reading performance because, in spite of their reading difficulties, these students appear to succeed and perform equally as their non-reading disabled college peers. This has led some researchers to forward the notion that, instead of a phonological deficit, the basis for dyslexia in this group of learning disabled adults might be attributed to a preference for depending on context to help them identify printed words rather than using only their decoding skills.^ Since reading is a learned behavior which occurs later than speech, the distinction between compensatory processing in reading and in speech perception is critical in peeling away the layers of reading comprehension processes. In this context, the present study assessed the relationship between speech perception and phonological decoding skills for reading disabled college-enrolled adults and the degree to which they use higher level knowledge in the service of compensatory strategies for speech perception. The first of two experiments designed to test (1) discrete phoneme perception in minimal pair trials, and (2) discrete phoneme perception in semantically primed contexts confirmed the phonological deficit hypothesis in that LDs showed a significant disadvantage on discrete phoneme discrimination compared to their control counterparts though this disadvantage held only for consonants. The second experiment showed that while LDs made more errors than controls and although both LDs and controls were biased by the semantic context, LDs were not biased by context more than were the controls: context had the same relative effect on both groups. On the basis of both of these experiments, one must conclude that the difference between LDs and the controls is on perception. Finally, correlation data from a battery of control measures given to both LDs and controls suggested a dependence on the lexicon as a compensatory process among the LDs. ^