Understanding Words is one of the most proven and well-researched reading
intervention programs in existence today.

In this section of the website you can browse the peer-reviewed scientific papers that have been produced about Understanding Words and watch video presentations describing the studies that have investigated the effectiveness of the program.

Scientific Papers

Click on the links below to read or download the Abstracts of our scientific papers.

Wright, C., Conlon, E., Wright, M., & Dyck, M. (2011b). An open, pilot trial of the Understanding Words reading intervention program. Sage Open, 1-11. doi: 10.1177/2158244011420452

The aim of this study was to assess the clinical efficacy of a new reading intervention program, Understanding Words, for struggling readers in an open trial design. Twenty-five participants who had poor reading skills and typically had a mix of co-existing developmental disorders completed the 40-hour program over 20-weeks. Significant gains were made on measures of word identification, phonological decoding and reading comprehension. Growth in reading ability per hour of intervention matched the average reported in the literature. Individual analysis showed that 84% of the sample returned to the average range on a measure of phonological decoding and 52-56% made the same gains in reading comprehension. Limitations of study design and future research directions are discussed.


Wright, C., & Conlon, E. (2009). Individual response to reading intervention. Combined Abstracts of the 2009 Australian Psychology Conference [CDROM].

This study investigated if a theoretically-motivated reading intervention could be delivered effectively and cost-effectively in a real-world setting by naïve and minimally- trained teacher assistants working with small groups of students who had complex developmental disorders. The study was principally concerned with whether intervention would produce clinically significant gains (defined as standard scores ≥92 at post-test). Standard score gains per hour of intervention were equivalent to that seen in existing literature. Clinically significant response was seen in word-level skills for ~84% of the treatment group. The data show real-world instruction can be effective and cost-effective, even when delivered to individuals with complex disorders. Clinically significant change in text reading accuracy and comprehension was more difficult to achieve. Data suggest factors beyond phonological skill affect response to reading intervention – a hypothesis that requires further investigation. Future research also needs to address how to achieve clinically significant change in nonresponders.


Wright, C., Conlon, E., & Wright, M. (2011). Voice over the Internet Protocol as a medium for delivering reading intervention: Evidence from a single case. Sage Open, 1-8. doi: 10.1177/2158244011428159

Voice-over-the-Internet Protocol (VoIP) holds promise as a platform by which services can be delivered to students in rural and remote regions who have reading difficulties. VoIP is an internet-based protocol that allows two or more individuals to videoconference from remote locations. This study used a single-case research design to investigate if VoIP would produce significant gains in reading ability in BM, a 10-year-old with long standing word-level reading problems. BM was provided with a theoretically-motivated reading intervention 4-times-weekly. The intervention was delivered remotely using the Apple iChat software. Substantial growth in regular- and non-word reading co-varied with onset and removal of treatment. Treatment gains were maintained at 10-week follow-up. Meaningful gains were also seen in text-reading accuracy and reading comprehension. VoIP-based instruction represents an important avenue for future research and is a teaching method that holds much promise for rural and remote students.


Wright, C., Conlon, E., & Wright, M. (2012). The Understanding Words reading intervention: Evidence from a case series design. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 36 (2), 1–39.

Using a case-series design with double baseline and 10-week maintenance phase, 5 struggling readers from middle- to high-income families (age range 6.4–7.9 years) completed a 5-times-weekly intervention (96 sessions) administered by a parent. All participants completed the intervention with phonological decoding, text-reading accuracy and reading comprehension scores above the 30th percentile. Regular-word reading improved significantly, and 3 out of 5 participants achieved average levels at postintervention testing. Growth of < 0.58 standard deviations (SD) was seen in all participants on a test of irregular-word reading. However, only 1 participant achieved average levels at postintervention testing on the irregular-word reading measure. Results provide preliminary support for the effectiveness of the intervention in improving word-level decoding and comprehension in struggling readers. Most important, the data provide preliminary evidence that some parents can function as paraprofessionals and provide effective reading intervention for struggling readers. Special education professionals may be able to work around limited funding for struggling readers by recruiting, training, and supervising parents.



Wright, C., Conlon, E., Wright, M., & Dyck, M. (2011a). Sub-lexical reading intervention in a student with dyslexia and Asperger's disorder. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 11, 11-26.

Dyslexia is a common presenting condition in clinic and educational settings. Unlike the homogenous groups used in randomised trials, educators typically manage children who have multiple developmental problems. Investigations are required into how these complex cases respond to treatment identified as efficacious by controlled trials. This study reports on a sub-lexical intervention in a student with dyslexia and Asperger's Disorder. Substantial and clinically significant gains were obtained on multiple measures of phonological decoding skill and irregular-word reading. The improvements in word-level skills were accompanied by moderate improvements in text reading accuracy and reading comprehension. Results are discussed in the context of single-case methodology and the implications for practice and future research are discussed.


Wright, C., Conlon, E., & Wright, M. (manuscript in preparation). Methylphenidate may improve response to reading intervention in children with dyslexia and ADHD

Dyslexia and ADHD are two common developmental disorders that occur in up to 10% of the population. The two disorders often co-exist in the same children at rates between 15% and 40% and they may share genetic mechanisms. While it seems unlikely that attention is directly involved in the reading process, elective and sustained attention may be involved in learning to read via a more general learning mechanism. Attention deficits may therefore adversely affect response to reading intervention when a child has both dyslexia and ADHD. Four single cases are described, each with multiple treatment and no-treatment baselines. The data from all four children show a clear trend for substantially improved reading growth in combined reading intervention and methylphenidate treatment periods compared to treatment periods in which reading intervention or methylphenidate were given alone or in no-treatment baselines. These preliminary data highlight the importance of treating co-existing attention weaknesses in children engaged in reading intervention.