For the 10 to 15 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. who suffer from dyslexia, the written word often feels like an insurmountable obstacle. But a spate of research is helping scientists get to the root of the condition and suggest novel methods of treatment. Research published today in the journal Neurology suggests that some therapies can make a difference quickly. Scientists report that dyslexic children showed normal brain activation patterns during reading tests after just three weeks of specialized instruction.
Elizabeth Aylward of the University of Washington and her colleagues tested 10 children who suffered from dyslexia and scored 30 percent below average on standardized reading tests despite having above average intelligence, along with 11 children classified as good readers. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers scanned the subjects' brains while administering reading tests. The exams asked the children to assign sounds to letters and to determine how words containing suffixes such as "er" were related to their roots. Both dyslexic children and the good readers used the same areas of their brains during the tasks, but those with dyslexia showed significantly less activation. After receiving three weeks of reading instruction, however, the children suffering from dyslexia showed similar activation patterns as their well-reading peers did.
The findings suggest that reading instruction doesn't "rewire" the brain of a dyslexic child. Instead, it seems to strengthen the normal circuits already in use. Aylward is optimistic because "we can document changes in the brain even after a fairly short training period."
"How Should Reading be Taught?" by Keith Rayner, Barbara R. Foorman, Charles A. Perfetti, David Pesetsky and Mark S. Seidenberg, (Scientific American, March 2002) is available for purchase from Scientific American Digital.
"Dyslexia" by Sally Shaywitz (Scientific American, November 1996) is available for purchase from Scientific American Digital.