Attention Therapy Improves Reading Comprehension in Adjudicated Teens in a Residential Facility

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This study quantified the influence of visual Attention Therapy (AT) on reading skills and Coherent Motion Threshold (CMT) in adjudicated teens with moderate reading disabilities (RD) residing in a residential alternative sentencing program. Forty-two students with below-average reading scores were identified using standardized reading comprehension tests. Nineteen children were placed randomly in the AT group and 23 in the control group. The control group received normal small group classroom instruction in reading, while the AT group received 12 additional one-hour sessions of individually monitored, computer-based AT programs. To stimulate selective and sustained visual attention, AT stresses various aspects of arousal, activation, and vigilance. AT produced significantly greater increases in reading comprehension than a normal education control. The current study supports the literature suggesting a role for visual attention in reading, and that attention therapy may be an efficient addition to normal educational practices in juvenile detention facilities.

Attention Therapy Improves Reading Comprehension in Adjudicated Teens in a Residential Facility

One of the factors most strongly associated with involvement with the juvenile system is having trouble in academic settings, particularly difficulty in learning to read (Maguin a Loeber, 1996). In addition to low socio-economic status and lack of family involvement (Brier, 1993), difficulty with academic skills stands as a hallmark feature of the population of juvenile offenders. Failure to attain a normal reading level is a significant predictor of incarceration in adulthood as well (Harlow, 2003). Greenberg, Dunleavy, and Kutner (2007) reported in their 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that while only 3% of inmates were considered non-literate, 23.3% were below basis levels of literacy based on an average score of Prose, Document, and Quantitative literacy.

Katsiyannis a Archwamety (1997) found that higher achievement on academic tests, particularly reading, was a significant predictor of both reduced likelihood of incarceration in adolescents, and of decreased recidivism within the juvenile offender population. "While illiteracy and low reading skills are not necessarily direct causes of delinquency-reducing illiteracy through quality education in correctional facilities has been shown to reduce recidivism" (Malmgren & Leone, 2000). Based on such evidence, Keith and McCray (2002) argued that "juvenile justice systems must address not only the social and adaptive needs of these adolescents (youthful offenders), but also their academic needs." The necessity of reading remediation is highlighted by the costs to the incarcerated in the form of limited future social and job opportunities specifically associated with reading difficulties (Maughan, 1995). Additionally, the monetary cost to society for the education of incarcerated youth was estimated to be an average of $29,600 per youth (Acorn, 1991). Given such a price tag, emphasis should be placed on determining the relative efficacy of programs, as well as on means by which costs can be effectively tracked and controlled.

Despite alarming evidence about the necessity of designing good reading interventions for the juvenile offender population, relatively few successful programs have been created. One successful program was initiated by Simpson, Swanson, and Kunkel (1992), who conducted trainings at both a residential facility and a detention center. Their regression statistics demonstrated that for every 10 hours of training, their treatment group improved by about one third of an academic year, moreover, the remediated group had a substantially reduced rate of recidivism (41 %) compared to a control group (63%), and the general population (66%). The critical features of this successful reading program were that it was a direct and explicit intervention that treated reading problems within the context of developing broad, cognitive skills. …