Brain imaging shows insights into dyslexia
> 2/8/2006 11:07:09 AM

The January issue of the journal Neurolinguistics reported the following from a study by the University of Washington. 


Brain images of children with dyslexia taken before they received spelling instruction show that they have different patterns of neural activity than do good spellers when doing language tasks related to spelling. But after specialized treatment emphasizing the letters in words, they showed similar patterns of brain activity. These findings are important because they show the human brain can change and normalize in response to spelling instruction, even in dyslexia, the most common learning disability.


The research is unique in that it looks at images of individual brains rather than the composite group images, or maps, that are typically produced to show which areas of the brain are activated when people are engaged in specific tasks.


"Most people think dyslexia is a reading disorder, but it is also a spelling and writing problem," said Berninger, who directs the UW's Learning Disabilities Center. "Our results show that all dyslexics in the 9- to 12-year-old range have spelling problems and children who cannot spell cannot express their ideas in writing."


Earlier research by the UW team and others has shown that dyslexic children exhibit a different pattern of brain activity while reading compared to youngsters who are good readers, but that the brain is malleable and this pattern can normalize with specialized instruction. However, even after receiving reading instruction, many dyslexic children still have persistent spelling problems, according to Berninger. Even so, she said, parents report that their children with dyslexia are typically dismissed from special education once they learn to read but before their spelling and writing problems are adequately treated.


"Our research is telling us good spellers are taught, not born, as is often assumed," she said. "Unfortunately, what happens in most schools is dyslexic children learn how to read and then get dismissed from special education classes even though they still need specialized instruction until they learn to spell. Moreover, spelling is not systematically and explicitly taught in many classrooms in the United States.


Excerpts from The University of Washington


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