Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 301–324, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Motor skills, automaticity and developmental dyslexia: A review
of the research literature
McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Abstract. This paper reviews a body of prominent theories of automaticity in developmental
dyslexia. The ﬁrst part of the review considers the relationship between dyslexia and rapid
automatic naming and ﬂuency. Additional theoretical and empirical advances are suggested
to this already strong research base. In particular, there is a need is for experimental work
elucidating the nature of naming speed deﬁcits and providing independent evidence of the
automaticity of rapid naming. The second part of the review considers evidence for deﬁcits in
motor automaticity in dyslexic children. Here, a more mixed pattern of results is evident. It is
concluded that there is currently clearer evidence for language-based than motor-based auto-
maticity deﬁcits. Future motor automaticity research is likely to require the routine screening
of poor readers for common co-occurring developmental difﬁculties, improved sampling and
prospective longitudinal studies.
Key words: Automaticity, Balance, Deﬁcit, Dyslexia, Motor skills, Phonological awareness,
Rapid automatic naming
It is widely acknowledged that a signiﬁcant number of children experi-
ence major difﬁculties in learning to read. While prevalence rates vary,
many reports suggest that dyslexic children constitute around 5% of the
school age population (e.g. Snowling, 2000). The understanding and remedi-
ation of these difﬁculties has become the concern of professionals from
a range of disciplines. Unsurprisingly, there currently exist a number of
different accounts of the nature of the learning problems underlying devel-
opmental dyslexia. Furthermore, many theories have been developed at
behavioral, cognitive, as well as neural and sensory levels to explain the
cognitive-behavioral problems associated with poor reading and spelling.
In order to make sense of these different levels of research emphasis
it is helpful to consider the developmentally contingent model of reading
difﬁculty advanced by Frith (1997). In her well-known account, dyslexia is
seen as a cultural phenomenon that also has cognitive and biological bases.
Theoretical explanations of dyslexia can therefore exist somewhat independ-
ently at each of these three levels. In Frith’s view, the primary or initial