Sounding Out Dyslexia

Exercising auditory regions helps to rewire the brain

Children with dyslexia have trouble reading and writing, but the root of the problem may actually be in their brain’s sound-processing regions. A new study found that targeting these areas with a workout disguised as a video game improved dyslexic children’s literary skills.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston examined 23 typical 10-year-old readers with fMRI as they listened to rapid sound shifts common in spoken language, which elicited activity from 11 distinct areas in the children’s brains. When 22 dyslexic readers of the same age took the challenge, none of these areas showed any activity at all. “This was a surprise,” says lead researcher Nadine Gaab.

To activate the dysfunctional circuitry, the team had the dyslexic children play video games designed to exercise brain centers associated with rapid sound recognition. The results were dramatic: tests two months later showed that all the dys­lexic children reached parity with normal readers in the critical areas of listening com­prehension and word recognition. Scores in other areas such as reading compre­hension fell short of those of normal readers but still represented a vast improvement.

The improvement was also reflected in brain activity. Follow-up scans showed increasing activity in the 11 areas associated with processing sound. But will the fix stick? “That’s a study that still needs to be done,” Gaab says.

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