UW News

December 19, 2001

UW seeking children who learn to read easily but struggle with spelling

The Learning Disabilities Center at the University of Washington is looking for 250 Seattle and Puget Sound children in the fourth through ninth grades to participate in a family genetics study of spelling disabilities.

Although there is a growing public awareness of reading disabilities, awareness of spelling problems is low and children with this disability are not eligible for special education services in Washington, according to Virginia Berninger, director of the center and a UW professor of educational psychology.

“Usually reading and spelling skills develop together, but some children who learn to read easily do not learn to spell easily,” she said. “Some of these children can memorize words for tests but not remember them a month later or spell them correctly while composing. They often cannot choose the correctly spelled word from the ones displayed on a computer spell checker.”

Children will be screened to determine if they have a spelling disability. If they qualify and their family also agrees to participate, family members will take a battery of tests and the qualifying children will be eligible for a summer intervention focused on spelling and computer technology.

Fourth through ninth grade students who have persistent handwriting problems also are being recruited for the study. Parents can obtain more information about this study by contacting Jennifer Thomson, research coordinator, at (206) 616-6377.

The Learning Disabilities Center also is looking for 100 Seattle-area first graders who are having problems learning to read for a free twice-weekly intervention program at the UW during winter and spring.

Although there is a biological basis for dyslexia, according to Berninger, early intervention can prevent or reduce the severity of reading problems.

Parents seeking more information about the reading study should contact Christina Johnson, research coordinator, at (206) 616-6376.

Both studies are funded by the National Institutes of Health.

For more information, contact Berninger at (206) 616-6372 or vwb@u.washington.edu.