Dyslexia and the Brain Tomorrow

  • Published1 Jan 2011
  • Reviewed1 Jan 2011
  • Author Aalok Mehta
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

Despite the many advances in our understanding of dyslexia, much remains to be done. Although time accommodations and treatments help many individuals with dyslexia lead normal lives, others never overcome the challenges posed by their disorder.

Dyslexia is a persistent reading disability. Over time, dyslexic children can improve their reading skills, but unless intensively treated, the gap in reading ability between good and poor readers often remains into adulthood.

But continued funding by the National Institutes of Health and other organizations will allow scientists to more precisely determine the biological changes underlying dyslexia, develop more sensitive ways to diagnosis potential cases of dyslexia, and create better treatments and interventions for the condition.

Brain imaging technology is helping neuroscientists deepen their understanding of dyslexia and expand diagnostic options. Researchers are looking at whether functional brain imaging can identify cases of potential dyslexia. Neuroscientists also are examining the role of prenatal differences in brain development in disrupting reading pathways. In addition, because dyslexia often tends to run in families, scientists are attempting to identify genes that may predispose an individual to developing dyslexia. Ultimately, brain researchers hope to determine whether dyslexia is caused by a single brain failure or a complex set of multiple brain abnormalities, genetics, or environmental factors.

Also being examined is the role of early life experiences, particularly those affecting language. For instance, lower socioeconomic groups may be at greater risk because they are typically exposed to significantly fewer words early in life. Studies have shown that, while dyslexia seems to affect people around the globe, it changes in nature depending on the type of written language system involved. Scientists hope to use such differences to isolate and better study specific features of dyslexia.

Treatment is being significantly improved. Scientists are examining whether particular methods of reading instruction, such as phonologically based teaching, may prevent some cases of dyslexia entirely. Computer and Internet technology also has paved the way for individualized, adaptive treatments that, when rigorously applied, help brains rewire themselves in ways that minimize or eliminate dyslexia-related problems.

Hope for Other Diseases

Many people with dyslexia also have dysgraphia (problems with writing), dyscalculia (problems with math), and other neurological disorders. About a third of people with learning disabilities also have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, scientists suspect that ADHD and dyslexia share some common underpinnings in the brain.

Observing how the brain changes in people with dyslexia after treatment also may shed light on stroke recovery, in which the brain rewires itself to adapt to the damage suffered from a temporary lack of oxygen. Scientists believe that the frequent occurrence of reading problems in people with dementia or who develop aphasia — trouble with language stemming from a brain injury or lesion — may shed light on neurodegenerative disorders in general, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.

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