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The cycle of "Matthew effects": understanding the effects of reading disabilities on adults' lives Schnare, Catherine Anne


A two-part multiple case study combining qualitatitive and quantitative data was conducted to explore the effects of reading disabilities in adults' lives. The main purpose of the study was to add to an understanding of the theoretical construct of Matthew Effects in reading which are hypothesized to be the result of deficits in phonological awareness (Stanovich, 1986). The relationship of phonological awareness to adult readers' decoding difficulties was examined. Finally, a comparison was made of the test scores of those with reading disabilities on four measures of phonological awareness and one test of word identification to the scores obtained on the same tests by a group of proficient readers. Interviews were conducted with 10 adult participants with reading disabilities using a semi-structured set of questions. The participants were students at a community college and had previously been assessed and tutored by the researcher in a learning assistance setting. For the purposes of this study, each participant was administered four measures of phonological awareness and one measure of word identification. In addition to their scores on these tests, participants' previous learning skills assessment results on the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery were also analyzed for further understanding of the participant's learning strengths and weaknesses. A second group of adults was selected who were presumed to be proficient readers because of their professional status and the implied reading demand in their respective fields. These participants were also administered the same tests as those given to the group of adults with reading disabilities. Negative effects of reading disabilities, or Matthew Effects, were identified in the participants' interview responses in relation to four areas of concern: self-concept, relationships, education and employment. Some positive effects were also noted, primarily in relation to participants' coping strategies, resilience, and persistence. Phonological awareness and word identification test scores were lower for the adults with reading disabilities compared to those who were proficient readers, particularly on the Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization Test, Part II (LAC Test) and the Wide Range Achievement Test in Reading (WRAT-Reading). Implications for various groups, institutions, and agencies are discussed, and recommendations are made for program development and further study.

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