Brain training aids kids with dyslexia

A reading-improvement course for children with dyslexia appears to go to their heads. After completing the course, 20 grade-schoolers diagnosed with this reading disorder not only improved their speech and reading skills, but showed signs of increased activity in key brain areas as they read, according to a study in the Mar. 4 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The children with dyslexia and another 12 kids with no reading problems, all ages 8 to 12, performed daily tasks on a computer for nearly 1 month.

The children were asked to match speech sounds to written consonants and vowels, and they practiced related skills. Before and after the course, the researchers used a functional-magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner to measure blood-flow changes throughout each child’s brain that were uniquely linked to the identification of rhyming letters. This task taps into the ability to decode sounds associated with different letters, a crucial element of reading.

After training, only children with dyslexia exhibited substantial gains in reading and speech comprehension as well as blood-flow surges–a sign of increased cell activity–in several brain areas previously implicated in reading, report Elise Temple of Cornell University and her coworkers. The same children displayed elevated brain activity in attention and memory areas that probably contributed to their reading improvement, the researchers say.

It will take more research to determine how long the course’s effects on brain function last. Moreover, Temple acknowledges, it’s not known whether or to what extent other literacy programs influence the brains of kids with dyslexia. Two of Temple’s colleagues designed the training program and have a financial interest in it.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.