Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Ben Foss, poster boy for dyslexia and author (yes. author.) of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan gives a fabulous analogy that makes the answer to this question obvious:
If you see a person in a wheelchair use a ramp to get in a building instead of stairs… are they cheating? Are they somehow missing out on a critical experience of getting from point A to point B that can mysteriously only be achieved by climbing stairs? Would you go up to that person in a wheelchair and proceed to make them feel badly for their using the ramp instead of the stairs and force them to only use the stairs from now on?
Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
I feel I could probably end this blog post here as that’s probably the best response to this question I’ve heard, but for those who aren’t convinced yet or need a way to explain this to others who aren’t convinced - I’ll break this down a little more.
What does the research say?
There are countless research articles outlining the benefits of listening to audio books.
Gene Wolfson, Associate Professor for Iona College in the Education Department wrote a wonderful article published in the American Secondary Education Journal in 2008 titled “Using Audiobooks to Meet the Needs of Adolescent Readers” in which she argues for the benefits of allowing children with reading difficulties to use audio books in the classroom.
One of the core arguments is as follows: The only difference between reading a book and listening to a book is that reading involves the process of decoding words in order to get to the meaning. Listening to a book simply removes that roadblock for the dyslexic child and allows them to get straight to the meaning.
Below I’ve summarized all the benefits of listening to audio books as mentioned in her article.
Listening to audio books…
1. can help one better understand and appreciate written text
2. enhances the development of the language system
3. demonstrates proper oral reading with good tone, inflection, pausing, etc. (in other words, not sounding like a robot)
4. gives dyslexic students the opportunity to participate in the same assignments as their peers
5. allows students to engage with books far above their actual reading level, but on par with their comprehension level (in other words, they can read Harry Potter or Percy Jackson instead of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
6. can be used to teach the same comprehension skills as with reading
7. has been shown to improve literacy
8. is becoming easier to do with the developments of technology
The whole point of reading is to gain information and learn about something. The exact same thing is achieved by listening to a book. You are just using a ramp instead of the stairs.
Why do people think it is cheating?
I’d like to take a moment to analyze why this question exists in the first place.
If you hear someone make the cheating claim, it isn’t because they are a bad person dead-set on making you feel small. Instead, I think this problem is two-fold.
First, I guarantee they don’t understand dyslexia. Solution: educate them.
It will take someone with dyslexia anywhere from 2 to 5 times as long to read the same text as a non-dyslexic individual - except the dyslexic individual likely won’t walk away with the same level of comprehension because they were too busy laboring over decoding words to worry about the point of the story. What’s the point?
The second part of this is a little more difficult as I believe it has much to do with human nature.
People crave normalcy and often fall prey to the idea that there is only one right way to do something.
In a world where people have been reading to learn for ages, reading books has become normalized and main stream to the point where often times people feel the only way to learn is by reading.
Everyone at some level wants to be normal and fit in. Unfortunately, this presents a problem for people who just want to be normal, but can’t achieve success when trying to do things the normal way.
We have to challenge this logic that there is only one way to do something because it simply isn’t true.
The good news is that listening to audio books has made great strides in recent years toward “normalcy.” In our busy world, more and more people who want to read but lack the time are being introduced to the beauty and convenience of audio books and opinions are changing.
I’m not even dyslexic and I much prefer listening to books.
There is hope. Perspectives are changing. In order to help these opinions change, your job is to first educate yourself and then educate others. Kindly.
Bring on the audio books!
In my experience in working with dyslexic children, I have frequently encountered this specific situation:
The child hates reading and does anything within their power to avoid it. Then their vocabulary stops developing at the same rate as their peers. This can cause further unnecessary frustration when learning to read down the road because while some dyslexic children with great vocabulary may stumble over a word, but eventually get close enough to figure it out, the child with poor vocabulary may labor over a word and never be confident they are saying it right because they don’t know what the word is.
When you discover your child hates reading, audio books are the perfect solution. Spend time with them exploring different genres, authors, and narrators until they can find something they like. Then sit back and watch them soar as they realize reading isn’t actually as horrible as they thought.
Overwhelmingly, the research says listening to audio books is a great thing. Do it. The simple truth is if you have a child who hates reading, and they see reading as the only path to learning, they will inevitably think they hate learning. Help them out! Let them see there are many paths to learning and help them explore the path that is best for them.
Wolfson, G. (2008). Using Audiobooks to Meet the Needs of Adolescent Readers. American Secondary Education, 36(2), 105-114.