Authors: Sietske van Viersen, Elise H. de Bree & Peter F. de Jong.

Article: Protective Factors and Compensation in Resolving Dyslexia.

Publication: Scientific Studies of Reading (Taylor and Francis). 23:6, 461-477 2019 | DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2019.1603543

[Full Text]

Two explanations for resolving dyslexia were investigated, one assuming resolving underlying deficits and another assuming compensatory mechanism based on cognitive strengths. Thirty-six Dutch gifted secondary-school students with either persistent (n = 18) or resolving (n = 18) dyslexia participated. Groups, matched on IQ, were assessed on dyslexia- and intelligence-related cognitive risk and protective factors. Findings for the risk factors showed support for both the resolving-deficit and compensatory-mechanism theories: Resolving and persistent groups were comparable on phoneme deletion and nonalphanumeric rapid automatized naming, but resolvers outperformed students with persistent dyslexia on spoonerisms and alphanumeric rapid automatized naming. For the protective factors, resolvers consistently showed more pronounced cognitive strengths in verbal areas relevant for literacy development, which is in line with the compensatory-mechanism theory. We conclude that, besides underlying deficits resolving to some extent, compensation is a plausible explanation for resolving literacy difficulties in gifted students.

Excerpts from full text:


Across languages, studies have shown that dyslexia may be persistent, late-emerging, or resolving (Catts, Compton, Tomblin, & Bridges, 2012; Leach, Scarborough, & Rescorla, 2003; Torppa, Eklund, van Bergen, & Lyytinen, 2015). Students’ literacy performance may even continue to float around the clinical threshold throughout development in both late-emerging and resolving cases. Mechanisms behind resolving literacy difficulties remain unknown, however. One explanation is that underlying cognitive deficits associated with dyslexia (phonological awareness [PA], rapid automatized naming [RAN], and verbal short-term memory [VSTM]; Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon, 2004) partly resolve during development. An alternative explanation is that cognitive deficits remain present but are compensated during development by strategies or processes associated with cognitive strengths. In this study, we test and compare these explanations for resolving dyslexia.


Research on adults with compensated dyslexia, generally high-functioning university students with dyslexia, has focused more explicitly on the combination of cognitive strengths and weaknesses and possible areas of compensation to explain resolved literacy difficulties. These studies showed that, at later ages, resolvers have persistent deficits in phonological and/or orthographic processing (Cavalli, Duncan, Elbro, El hmadi, & Colé, 2017; Law, Wouters, & Ghesquière, 2015; Miller-Shaul, 2005; Parilla, Georgiou, & Corkett, 2007), RAN, verbal memory and speed of processing (Miller-Shaul, 2005; Parilla et al., 2007). Compensation of reading difficulties is linked to strengths in morphological knowledge (Cavalli et al., 2017; Law et al., 2015), vocabulary (Law et al., 2015; Miller-Shaul, 2005), and orthographic knowledge (Bekebrede, van der Leij, Plakas, Share, & Morfidi, 2010; Miller-Shaul, 2005). As a result, literacy skills of students with compensated dyslexia are characterized by continuously low (non)word reading and spelling (MillerShaul, 2005; Parilla et al., 2007), but often with levels above those of students with uncompensated dyslexia (Birch & Chase, 2004; Cavalli et al., 2017), and sometimes with word-reading levels within the normal range (Law et al., 2015). Reading comprehension is generally not or no longer impaired (Birch & Chase, 2004; Miller-Shaul, 2005; Parilla et al., 2007). These findings indicate that underlying deficits remain detectable at later ages despite higher literacy levels and that pronounced cognitive strengths, especially those related to language subskills, are present.


 This study is one of the first to indicate some support for the twice-exceptionality view on compensation, across risk and protective factors and both at the group and individual level. Unlike Torppa et al. (2015), we found no indications that a resolving developmental delay in underlying skills was fully responsible for improved literacy levels of the students with resolving dyslexia. In our sample of gifted students, poorer literacy outcomes were associated with more severe deficits to some extent, providing some support for the core-deficit view. However, most students with resolving dyslexia still had persistent PA deficits, and more than half of the students in this group still showed RAN impairments.

Tagged as: compensation and resilience


Sietske van Viersen, Elise H. de Bree & Peter F. de Jong (2019) Protective Factors and Compensation in Resolving Dyslexia, Scientific Studies of Reading, 23:6, 461-477, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2019.1603543

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