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Home > Research Articles > Neuroscience offers new hope for helping those with dyslexia

Philadelphia Inquirer

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Philadelphia Inquirer - June 25, 2003

These are heady times for researchers studying the causes of - and the cures for - dyslexia, a learning disability that may affect one in five readers.

Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging technology to study brain activity in children have confirmed that there is a biological basis for reading disabilities, and they have pinpointed the brain regions that are activated as children learn to read.

Moreover, researchers at leading brain-study centers have shown that intensive remedial efforts can improve reading ability.

"The exciting thing is, we did finally pinpoint a pattern [in brain activity] that is specific to dyslexia, and it can be fixed," said Andrew Papanicolaou, a researcher at the University of Texas-Houston. "It is something identifiable, something real. And it is not something you cannot do anything about."

The brains of good readers show strong activity in the back left region of the brain, called the angular gyrus. Poor readers show weak activity there, but their brains try to compensate in frontal regions.

Recent studies at the University of Texas, Stanford University, and elsewhere show that poor readers can improve function in the back left part of the brain through the use of intensive remedial training programs that focus on sound, phonics and word identification.

That is what worried parents want to hear. Parents of children with reading problems are desperately seeking remedies, signing their children up for one-on-one tutoring at commercial learning centers and reading clinics.

Amy Ress, manager of the Greater Philadelphia Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, said more and more parents had made inquiries to the group's Web site and hotline.

"Used to be, we would get one or two calls a day, but now we have at least five to 10," Ress said.

"The peak time is after report cards come out. If the student doesn't do well, the parents start to look for answers for what might be happening."

Tom Viall, director of the International Dyslexia Association in Baltimore, said neuroscience was spurring reading specialists to adopt new strategies along with effective methods that were proved successful long before brain scanning was possible.

"What we have found in the last five years is that the brain really does change as a result of different interventions," Viall said.

"Theoretically, over time, we will be able to identify subtypes of disabilities and then match them with different interventions. [But] that's way down the road." For more news or to subscribe, please visit http://www.philly.com

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