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I had a niece (age 8) who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia. As a good Lit.SE member, I tend to like to give books as gifts, but want to make sure that I'm getting books that she can actually read.

I have seen lists of books that are supposedly friendly for dyslexics. I was having trouble understanding how they actually assemble lists like this, though, and the list I link to was a little thin on justification of why the individual books are more "dyslexia-friendly" than other books. Occasionally, publishers will also make claims about their books being "dyslexia-friendly."

When selecting books, what kind of things should I look for to make sure that the books really are "dyslexia-friendly"? Is there any way that I can verify/evaluate this kind of claim? How would I tell how "dyslexia-friendly" a book was that wasn't specifically designed to be dyslexia-friendly?

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The article 12 best kids' books for dyslexic and reluctant readers from The Independent may be lumping a few things together because, as the article points out,

While you’ll probably know if your child isn’t keen on reading, it’s not always so easy to tell if they are dyslexic, acknowledges Sue Flohr, national helpline and policy manager at the British Dyslexia Association.

(In the WHO's International Classification of Diseases or ICD, we would be looking at category F81.0: Specific reading disorde, where developmental dyslexia can be found.)

One aspect is reading level, which may actually be affected by factors unrelated to dyslexia. This is what the five-finger test in the article is designed to figure out. Similar techniques are also relevant to foreign-language learners. For example, if you want to expand your vocabulary through extensive reading, 95% of the words in a text should already be familiar (see Nation 1997). The handout "Determining Reading Levels of Texts" by the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas describes a test to help determine whether a text is appropriate for a specific child or learner. It defines three levels: independent level, instructional level and frustration level. For children who are reluctant readers or who are at risk (not necessarily due to dyslexia) one would want to avoid texts below the "independent level" (unless you really know how to teach reading).

Another aspect mentioned in the article is children "finding a white background too glary". This might be related to Irlen syndrome, which is not to be found in the WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD). It is sometimes presented as linked to dyslexia, though some web resources present it as a clearly distinct cause of reading difficulties from dyslexia. See for example Irlen vs Dyslexia by the Irlen Syndrome Foundation, Do I Have Dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome? by the Irlen Institute and Dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome by Irlen Diagnostic Clinic Newcastle. Irlen syndrome is defined as a visual processing difficulty that can be alleviated by using coloured lenses or overlays. The Irlen Institute's website allows you to change the site's background colour, and thereby make reading if you have Irlen syndrome easier, by clicking on one of the glasses pictograms at the top of the page. This is rather difficult to transfer to printed books.

Finally, there are books printed in dyslexia-friendly fonts. Several such fonts have been developed over the years, such as Dyslexie Font, OpenDyslexic and Lexie Readable. These fonts are designed so specific letters become less confusable, i.e. they are less similar to other letters when mirrored or flipped upside down, such as 'd', 'b' and 'p'; they also make sure the uppercase 'I' can be clearly distinguished from a lowercase 'l', etcetera. Books printed in such fonts are available, for example from DyslexicBooks.com and the query dyslexic font books on Amazon.com.

Interestingly, there is no convincing evidence that dyslexia-friendly fonts significantly increase reading speed or significantly reduce error rates in young learners with dyslexia. Findings regard error reduction are mixed. Other aspects of typography may have a bigger impact but require further study. These are the following (see Bigelow):

  • A larger type size may help children with dyslexia reach their optimum reading speed. Type size cannot be increased in printed books, but there is no such limitation on the web (press Ctrl + to zoom in, and Ctrl - to zoom out again), on tablets, smartphones and e-readers.
  • A shorter line length can also help. Text should then be left-aligned, since justification can nullify the positive effect of a shorter line length.
  • Increasing letter spacing has also been researched but the results have not been unequivocal.

Liz Dunnon's article Recommended Books For Dyslexic Children – Elementary on DyslexiaDaily (05.08.2014) lists a number of books "written and created with struggling readers in mind" but it is not clear from the article what specific features in the books distinguish them from "regular" books. The Dyslexia-Friendly Books by Royal Fireworks Press use the font OpenDyslexic. Some series from this publisher have QR codes in the books that link to audio recordings of narrated versions, which is always helpful for people with dyslexia. (Learners with dyslexia often rely on software that reads aloud content of web pages or office documents, in some cases highlighting the sentence being read in one colour (e.g. yellow) and the word being pronounced in another colour (e.g. lime).)


References (in addition to links in the text):

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  • Note that whether dyslexia-friendly fonts work is... disputable. See a UX.SE answer which concluded that "No - there is no "friendly font" for all [people with dyslexia]".
    – bobble
    Mar 5 at 14:47
  • @bobble Thanks. I have updated my answer.
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 5 at 15:29

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