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Children's Health

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Slower Brain Connections May Be at Root of Dyslexia

Researchers find new insight into reading disorder


According to Boets, the "most established" way to help children with dyslexia is through instruction on the smallest sounds of speech (called phonemes) and how each corresponds to letters.

And the good news, Boets said, is that those types of tactics should help strengthen the brain connections that seemed to be impaired in this study.

Still, "it is not inconceivable," he added, that these results could be used to develop more-refined therapies that try to zero in on specific brain connections. He pointed to non-invasive magnetic stimulation of certain brain areas as an example -- though that is only speculation for now.

The findings are based on functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans, which gauge brain activity by charting changes in blood flow and oxygen. The research team used two sophisticated analytical techniques to try to tease out what was happening in study participants' brains as they listened to different sounds of speech and then performed a simple test.

Studies like this one, based on fMRI, have proved useful in the "real world," said Ben Shifrin, vice president of the International Dyslexia Association in Baltimore.

"These fMRI studies have helped us improve interventions for children," said Shifrin, who is also head of the Jemicy School in Baltimore, which specializes in educating kids with language-based learning disorders.

One example, he said, is that it's now clear that the "intensity" of the instruction -- more hours per day -- is key in children's progress.

Shifrin said it's not clear how these latest findings could be translated into practical use. But, he added, "we know that these types of studies can end up having direct effects in the classroom."

In general, Shifrin said, there's been a move toward more "collaboration" between the scientists studying learning disorders and the educators in the field.

"We need even more of that," Shifrin suggested. "For years, it used to be that the neuroscientists were working in the lab and not talking to educators. That's changing."

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