Dyslexia: Making a Change
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh recently announced some interesting results of a brain imaging study of dyslexic students and other poor readers. They showed that with intensive remedial instruction, the brain can permanently rewire itself and overcome reading deficits.
The study was published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychologia. It consisted of 25 poor fifth-grader readers who worked in groups of three for an hour a day with a teacher specialized in administering a remedial reading program. The training included both word decoding exercises in which students were asked to recognize the word in its written form and tasks in using reading comprehension strategies.
This brain imaging study was the first in which children were tested on their understanding of sentences, not just on their recognition of single words. The sentences were relatively straightforward ones, which the children judged as being sensible or nonsense, such as "The girl closed the gate" and "The man fed the dress." The children's accurate sensibility judgments ensured that they were actually processing the meaning of the sentences, and not just recognizing the individual words.
The imaging studies show that the remedial instruction resulted in an increase in brain activity in several cortical regions associated with reading, particularly the parietotemporal area, which is responsible for decoding the sounds of written language and assembling them into words and phrases that make up a sentence. Even more significantly the neural gains became further solidified during the year following instruction--even when the specialized instruction was not maintained.
As with all good research, the study raises a number of important questions. For example, since change was so rapid when given appropriate input, one has to wonder what was occurring in early development to close off the children's attention to that sort of information. Similarly, since the techniques that are used are similar to those that take place in the classroom, we need to find out what is happening in the classroom to prevent the children's benefiting from the instruction when it is offered.
This sort of study is one in a growing body of research demonstrating the plasticity of the human brain. So the implications reach far beyond improving literacy skills. For more information, go tohttp://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2008/August/aug5_rewirebrain.shtml