Approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia, a condition that makes learning to read difficult. Dyslexia is usually diagnosed around second grade, but the results of a new study from MIT suggest that it might be possible to identify those children before they even begin reading, so they can be given extra help earlier. The study, done with researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, found a correlation between poor pre-reading skills in kindergarteners and the size of a brain structure that connects two language-processing areas. Previous studies have shown that in adults with poor reading skills, this structure, known as the arcuate fasciculus, is smaller and less organized than in adults who read normally. However, it was unknown if these differences cause reading difficulties or result from lack of reading experience. “We were very interested in looking at children prior to reading instruction and whether you would see these kinds of differences,” says Dr. John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Dr. Gabrieli and Dr. Nadine Gaab, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, are the senior authors of a paper describing the study results in the August 14, 2013 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Lead authors of the paper are MIT postdocs Zeynep Saygin and Elizabeth Norton. The new study is part of a larger effort involving approximately 1,000 children at schools throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At the beginning of kindergarten, children whose parents give permission to participate are assessed for pre-reading skills, such as being able to put words together from sounds.
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