Bionic Reading: The New “Hack” that Shows Promise for Neurodivergent Readers
On any particular Saturday morning, I can be found (coffee in hand) promenading into the doors of the library, ready to discover my next paperback adventure.
Some people golf. Others climb mountains or skydive. Others knit. Me? I read. However, my brain just doesn’t love reading as much as I do.
Let me explain. As someone with the Inattentive type of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD-I, formerly known as ADD), I read quickly, but I often can’t retain much of what I read – and it’s worse when the words are on a screen (rather than in a physical book). This is common for both adults and children with ADHD – research has shown that reading retention can be difficult even when other reading metrics (such as speed) are just fine (Miller et. al, 2013).
So, a child with ADHD may be able to read quickly and accurately. This means that reading difficulties can be hard for caregivers and educators to identify.
Children with dyslexia share similar experiences. It can be equally as hard for them to keep their focus and remember what they just read (Shaywitz, 2008). There are ways to make reading easier (specialized fonts for example), but technology and accessibility are still developing and improving.
A New Way to Read
Enter bionic reading from stage left. It’s a new typographical “hack” taking the internet by storm, not only as a way to help everyone read faster but also as a promising solution for neurodivergent readers (such as those with ADHD and dyslexia). It took six whole years to develop. It’s specifically intended for screen use since reading from a screen can be even harder in terms of retention and focus. Here’s an example of what it looks like next to a block of regular text.
How did that make you feel? Were you able to read faster, or did it slow you down?
The Good, the Bad, and the … Kind of Okay?
Bionic reading has been met with mixed reviews. An initial study showed that most readers felt positive effects, but others found it ‘disturbing.’ Even in reading through Twitter threads, I saw lots of different feelings – the social media response was overwhelmingly positive; yet, some users report that it hurt their eyes, was unpleasant for long-term use, or simply did nothing for them at all.
Developer Renato Casutt has received a lot of feedback over the last six years, and he states that readers with dyslexia have reported particularly positive effects from the use of bionic reading. From a scientific point of view, this actually does hold up. Part of why dyslexic readers experience reading difficulty is because they cannot always form perceptual anchors, and bionic reading provides those anchors by bolding specific pieces of text. Readers with ADHD have reported similar positive effects, and that’s because these same visual anchor points are intended to help maintain focus, read faster, and leave less opportunity for distraction.
Overall, bionic reading is still being tested in children (and adults), but the most positive feedback so far has been from readers with conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD. It could prove especially useful for neurodivergent kids who engage in remote learning, read from e-books, or struggle with focusing on reading.
Here’s How to Try It
There are a few ways that you can access bionic reading tools if you want to give it a try, either with your child or just on your own! It’s available via a website converter tool, a downloadable web browser extension, or a mobile app. There is even some budding compatibility with e-books! Check out the Bionic Reading website to discover all of the different ways you can try it out.
- Ahissar M, Lubin Y, Putter-Katz H, Banai K. Dyslexia and the failure to form a perceptual anchor. Nat Neurosci. 2006 Dec;9(12):1558-64. doi: 10.1038/nn1800. Epub 2006 Nov 19. PMID: 17115044. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17115044/
- Miller, A. C., Keenan, J. M., Betjemann, R. S., Willcutt, E. G., Pennington, B. F., & Olson, R. K. (2013). Reading comprehension in children with ADHD: cognitive underpinnings of the centrality deficit. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 41(3), 473–483. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-012-9686-8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3561476/
- Shaywitz, S., & Shaywitz, B. (2008). Paying attention to reading: The neurobiology of reading and dyslexia. Development and Psychopathology, 20(4), 1329-1349. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000631 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/development-and-psychopathology/article/abs/paying-attention-to-reading-the-neurobiology-of-reading-and-dyslexia/1803914825F1FF08853F4D3EC723199A