A deficit in encoding the order of visual sequences in developmental dyslexia: a non -phonological deficit

  • Efstathia Tsouknida

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The present thesis tested the hypothesis of Stanovich, Siegel, & Gottardo (1997) that surface dyslexia is the result of a milder phonological deficit than that seen in
phonological dyslexia coupled with reduced reading experience. We found that a
group of adults with surface dyslexia showed a phonological deficit that was
commensurate with that shown by a group of adults with phonological dyslexia
(matched for chronological age and verbal and non-verbal IQ) and normal reading experience. We also showed that surface dyslexia cannot be accounted for by a semantic impairment or a deficit in the verbal learning and recall of lexical-semantic information (such as meaningful words), as both dyslexic subgroups performed the same. This study has replicated the results of our published study that surface dyslexia is not the consequence of a mild retardation or reduced learning opportunities but a separate impairment linked to a deficit in written lexical learning, an ability needed to create novel lexical representations from a series of unrelated visual units, which is independent from the phonological deficit (Romani, Di Betta, Tsouknida & Olson, 2008). This thesis also provided evidence that a selective nonword reading deficit in
developmental dyslexia persists beyond poor phonology. This was shown by finding a nonword reading deficit even in the presence of normal regularity effects in the dyslexics (when compared to both reading and spelling-age matched controls). A nonword reading deficit was also found in the surface dyslexics. Crucially, this deficit was as strong as in the phonological dyslexics despite better functioning of the sublexical route for the former. These results suggest that a nonword reading deficit cannot be solely explained by a phonological impairment. We, thus, suggested that nonword reading should also involve another ability relating to the processing of novel visual orthographic strings, which we called 'orthographic coding'. We then investigated the ability to process series of independent units within multi-element visual arrays and its relationship with reading and spelling problems. We identified a deficit in encoding the order of visual sequences (involving both linguistic and nonlinguistic
information) which was significantly associated with word and nonword
processing. More importantly, we revealed significant contributions to orthographic skills in both dyslexic and control individuals, even after age, performance IQ and phonological skills were controlled. These results suggest that spelling and reading do not only tap phonological skills but also order encoding skills.
Date of AwardOct 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCristina Romani (Supervisor)


  • adults with developmental dyslexia
  • surface and phonological dyslexia
  • lexical learning
  • print exposure
  • lexical-semantic impairments
  • nonword reading deficit

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