Dyslexics not doomed to life of reading difficulties

Even though there is evidence that dyslexia has a genetic basis, researchers will report new findings today (Feb. 12) that show children afflicted with the learning disability are not doomed to a life of reading difficulties.

The brains of dyslexic children can be "jump-started" with a three-week-long instructional intervention to help them use the same brain areas as normal readers, leading to better reading ability. This intervention was developed at the University of Washington by Virginia Berninger. She and Elizabeth Aylward, both of the UW's multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center, will discuss their findings at a press briefing during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle. Also participating in the briefing will be Dr. Wendy Raskind, UW professor of medicine, who will talk about genetic influences on dyslexia.

"Most people think words are just words, but the human brain uses three neural circuits to code words in three forms, not just their meaning," said Berninger, a professor of educational psychology and director of the center.

She explained that the brain codes words by their sound (or phonology), by the parts of words (or morphology) that signal meaning and grammar, and by their visual or written form (or their orthography.) "The teaching that gave dyslexic brains the jump-start was unique in that it made every aspect of reading words explicit. It drew their attention to the sound form, the meaning form and the written form of words, and showed how to interrelate them," Berninger said. "While many educators debate whether phonics or meaning-based instruction is more effective, we found that an effective way to treat dyslexia is to show children explicitly how letters, sounds and meaning are interrelated."

The researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure the impact of the intervention that emphasized these three word forms on brains of fourt

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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