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Brain development and puberty may be key factors in learning disorders

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A Northwestern University study is the first to suggest that delayed brain development and its interaction with puberty may be key factors contributing to language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The article will appear in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of June 21.

In "Learning Problems, Delayed Development and Puberty," co-authors Beverly A. Wright and Steven G. Zecker provide a new and overarching developmental hypothesis that could change the way that these disabilities, that affect one out of 12 children with normal intelligence, are studied, understood and treated. The authors are associate professors of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern.

"Approaching learning disabilities from the perspective of brain development could potentially unite many seemingly disparate deficits observed in adults with learning problems -- from evidence that their white brain matter is abnormally distributed to findings that they have difficulty distinguishing and manipulating language sounds," said Wright.

The idea of brain delay also could help explain anecdotal evidence that learning disabled children toilet train late, have difficulty learning to ride a bicycle, talk later and generally appear less developmentally mature than their unaffected counterparts.

The Northwestern researchers found that the brains of individuals with learning problems not only appear to develop more slowly than those of their unaffected counterparts but also actually may stop developing around the time of puberty's onset. Combined, these two findings could help to account for an array of existing scientific data documenting similarities and differences between individuals with and without learning problems.

Wright and Zecker focused on the hearing ability of 115 participants who ranged in age from 6 years to adult. Of these individuals, 54 ha
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Contact: Wendy Leopold
w-leopold@northwestern.edu
847-491-4890
Northwestern University
21-Jun-2004


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