Dyslexia, being a learning disability affecting 5% to 10% of the population – especially impairing one’s ability to read and spell, can hinder a child’s ability to perform well academically1. In only 8-weeks of training, children (7 to 11 years of age) diagnosed with dyslexia showed improvements in reading skills alongside significant increases in brain volume.
A study by Anthony J. Krafnick and colleagues2 from Georgetown University discovered these relevant findings, providing insight into a potential way to offset the deficits associated with dyslexia with changes at the brain level.
Krafnick and colleagues used a training program, known as Seeing Stars3, specifically designed to help the children incorporate an integrated-modality approach to improve reading and comprehension. Reading text can be a strenuous task, relying heavily on a child’s verbal abilities. The program used in this study involved a more multisensory approach. Not only were the children taught to read text aloud, they were taught to simultaneously visualize each letter and word and draw them out in the air with their finger.
Instead of solely focusing on a child’s verbal ability, this training program also drew upon their visual and motor capacities, potentially providing a more concrete and thorough understanding of the letters and words they were taught to read. The intensive 8-week training progressed step-by-step: first focusing on letters, progressing to one-syllable, and finally multi-syllable words.
Before and after undergoing the 8-week training program, children received MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging; a non-invasive method to look at structural changes in the brain) to compare for training-induced brain changes. Actual changes in brain volume were seen in areas of the brain associated with various reading abilities, areas that are typically under-activated in dyslexia. These fundamental changes in the brain were accompanied by improvements in reading skills and language skills.
MRI scans were also taken 8-weeks after training and many of these brain changes and improved performance persisted over the two months without any training.
This study may pave the way for future research into practical applications of similar training programs in educational settings, potentially providing a strategy to overcome the learning problems associated with dyslexia. Unlike previous approaches only attempting to modulate the superficial reading deficits, this study may prelude research into a more brain-based approach in treating dyslexia.
GUEST AUTHOR: This guest post was authored by Buddhika Bellana who is a student specializing in psychology at York University. He is currently a research assistant at the Cognitive Development lab at York University and at the Rotman Research Institute. His research interests especially lie in the neuropsychology of the aging brain.
1. Siegel, L.S.. 2006. Perspectives on dyslexia. Paedriatrics and Child Health. 11 (9), 581-587.
2. Krafnick, A.J.; Flowers, D.L.; Napoliello, E.M.; Eden, G.F. 2011. Gray matter volume changes following reading intervention in dyslexic children. NeuroImage. 57, 733-741.
3. Bell, N., 1997. Seeing stars: Symbol imagery for phonemic awareness, sight words, and spelling. San Luis Obispo, CA: Gander Publishing.