New Research Offers Hope That Dyslectic Children Can Get Off to a Smooth Start in School

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JIt’s estimated that about 10 to 15% of the U.S. has some degree of dyslexia. But, before their condition is diagnosed it can be a confusing and difficult time for children and their parents as they struggle to figure out why their children are having trouble in school. But, now there’s hope that dyslectic children can be identified and helped before they get into a cycle of failure.

Dyslexia is caused by actual physiological differences in the brain circuitry which make it difficult to process the components of language called phonemes, significantly impacting the ability to learn to read.

Researchers at MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital report that preliminary study of the brains of pre-reading kindergartners can predict who will have difficulty reading. The focus is on an area of the brain called the arcuate fasciculus, which connects the frontal language areas of the brain to areas in the temporal lobe that are important for language. In children with strong pre-reading scores the arcuate fasciculus is larger and better organized than in those with poor scores.

Nadine Gaab, a neuroscientist at Children’s Hospital says, “Several studies have suggested that intervention is most effective in kindergarten or first grade. However, you have to have several years of reading failure before you can get a diagnosis of dyslexia — end of second grade, beginning of third grade. So we have this paradox.” If dyslectic children can be identified at a very young age and interventions to help them are made, it could avoid a lot of suffering.

Elizabeth Norton, a neuroscientist at MIT’s McGovern Institute of Brain Research, says we’re not yet at the point where we can look at a child’s brain and say “Aha, this kid is going to have dyslexia,” but we are getting closer.

If it’s proven that brain scans can be relied on to predict dyslexia effective intervention strategies will still have to be devised. One of the lead researchers of the study, Professor John Gabrieli says, “The bigger challenges for us now soon will be…to figure out what kind of interventions can be done in a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old that might put her or him on a different pathway altogether,” he says. “You know, can we have a child arrive at school who will be ready to read and not wait for failure at all but have intervened so early that the child never experiences that failure?”

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