The importance of, and scientific basis for, accommodations


According to renowned US dyslexia researcher Dr Sally Shaywitz (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity), disparity between reading and intellectual abilities of dyslexics means accommodations are critical to assure fairness and equity.

Dr Shaywitz’s was one of the first laboratories to image the dyslexic brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They have imaged several thousand children and adults as they read. Their findings, combined with fMRI data from the around world, show that three neural systems are used for reading, all in the left side of brain. Dyslexics, however, have a neural signature of disruption of two neural systems in the back of the brain.

Many dyslexics are not able to make good use of sound-symbol linkages and rely on memorised words instead. Often it is not a matter of not knowing the answer, rather the problem is in pulling the word out and saying it. In short, it is not that they don’t know, but that they have trouble retrieving and accessing information. Therefore accommodations of time in the classroom, for example, have a neurobiological basis and help level the playing field.


Dr Shaywitz says a major advance has been the convergence of behavioral and neuroimaging data providing evidence for this critical need for extra-time on examinations for dyslexic students, particularly as they progress towards high school graduation and beyond. Thus, behavioral data indicating the persistence of dysfluent reading are now supported by neurobiological data. In terms of the neural signature for dyslexia, the posterior reading systems, especially the left occipto-temporal (word-form) region responsible for fluent, rapid reading, is disrupted in dyslexic children and adults.

Other compensatory systems, in the frontal regions on both left and right hemispheres, and the right hemisphere homologue of the word form area develop, and these systems support increased accuracy over time. However, the word-form region does not develop and compensatory pathways do not provide fluent or automatic reading. Accordingly, if such students are to demonstrate the full range of their knowledge, providing additional time on examinations is a necessity to compensate for the lack of availability of the efficient word-form area and to level the playing field.

Dr Shaywitz identifies three general types of accommodations.

  • Those that bypass the reading difficulty by providing information through an auditory mode

  • Those that provide compensatory assistive technologies, and

  • Those that provide additional time so that the dysfluent reader can demonstrate his/her knowledge

According to Dr Shaywitz, contemporary management of dyslexia provides evidence-based accommodations including: access to recorded materials; computers and print-to-speech software; additional time on examinations, with amount of time determined by the student’s experience. In addition, it is inappropriate to assess a dyslexic person’s knowledge based on his/her performance on an oral examination in which that individual is under pressure to provide a quick or glib response.

For more information visit Dr Shaywitz’s knol – Dyslexia: The science of reading and dyslexia.

To find out more about her other areas of research click here.

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