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Children's Health

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Brain Scans Predict Dyslexia Improvements

Reading Skills Get Better in Kids Who Compensate Using Specific Area of Brain

Study Involves Youths With Dyslexia and Normal Readers

For the study, the researchers enrolled 25 children with dyslexia and 20 without, all between ages 11 and 14, and evaluated their reading skills using standardized tests.

They used the two types of brain imaging -- fMRIs and DTIs -- observing the brains of the youths while they read.

Then, 2.5 years later, they re-evaluated reading performance. They found that no behavioral measure, including standardized reading and language tests, reliably predicted reading gains.

But the children with dyslexia who showed greater activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus showed greater improvement over the 2.5 years from the study’s start. The scientists also examined white matter connected to the right frontal region, and children in whom this was better organized also showed improvement.

Predicting Learning Improvement May Lead to New Treatments

Using these techniques, the researchers say they were able to predict with significant accuracy future reading gains in youths with dyslexia.

“The reason this is exciting is that until now, there have been no known measures that predicted who will learn to compensate,” Hoeft says in a news release.

By understanding what’s going on in the brains of these children, scientists may now be better equipped to develop interventions that focus on brain regions involved and thus help adolescents learn to read faster.

Co-author Bruce McCandliss, PhD, of Vanderbilt University, says in a news release that insights from the brain scans “may be crucial for new educational research on how to best meet the individual needs of struggling readers.”

He tells WebMD in an email that the findings could be used to “investigate the possibility that brain activity patterns and structural differences hold clues as to how to match treatment approaches to the particular needs of such children.”

Alan E. Guttmacher, MD, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says the study creates insights into how certain people with dyslexia learn to compensate for reading difficulties.

“Understanding the brain activity associated with compensation may lead to ways to help individuals with this capacity draw upon their strengths,” he says. “Similarly, learning why other individuals have difficulty compensating may lead to new treatments to help them overcome reading disability.”

Hoeft says the findings suggest brain imaging can help determine which kinds of treatments are likely to work. She also suggests that the study may show that youths with dyslexia use right brain frontal regions to compensate for reading problems, rather than the areas in the left side of the brain as typical readers do.

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