Reading difficulties in children can be seen early

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Study: Children with poor reading can be identified early on using MRI

Children who suffer from reading difficulties (dyslexia) have difficulty reading and cognitively translating words or entire texts. In order to make a final diagnosis, organic problems such as visual or hearing difficulties must be excluded. In the course of a coursework, US researchers were able to use a test to diagnose reading difficulties in children early on before starting school.

According to estimates, around 5 to 17 percent of all Germans suffer from the different forms and manifestations of poor reading. First problems in the context of a reading-spelling weakness (dyslexia) are often apparent at school. Children have much greater difficulties in learning to read and write in class than their classmates. There is no problem of general intelligence. Longer sentences are a mystery to children and often suffer psychologically from the limited ability to not read properly.

Early testing should help children
Using a new test, children who read and spell poorly could be recognized early. The research team led by Nadine Gaab from the US Harvard Medical School in Boston (Massachusetts) report that reading difficulties can be detected in the brain even before school starts. According to the scientists, the new study can help to give pupils and parents more help. Many parents are aware of their children's weaknesses, but often do not find adequate support in schools. If dyslexia is diagnosed before school starts, countermeasures can be taken early.

In the journal "Proceedings" of the US Academy of Sciences, the researchers explain that about 5 to 17 percent of children suffer from poor reading. They are difficult to read and spell sentences. Most little ones find it difficult to understand sentences spoken quickly and to write down what they have heard. The team selected the affected preschool children to undertake a study. 36 children between the ages of five and six participated in the test. For comparison, children without any abnormalities also took part. All subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance tomography (MRI) to test in which brain regions the areas sometimes reacted more and sometimes less during different activities. Although the examination was free from touching the device, the children had to lie still on the MRI for some time. Since toddlers in this age group find it difficult to remain calm, the scientists used some tricks and good persuasion. The examination was made playful for the children.

Different levels of activity in the brain
In the course of the study, children with dyslexia showed less activity in several regions of the brain compared to children without poor reading. The researchers were able to identify the findings in the connections between the occipital lobe (the posterior region of the cerebrum) and the temporal lobe (lateral part of the cerebrum). In addition, there was comparatively less brain activity in the areas between the temporal lobe and the crown lobe.

Although the research team knew that “older children and adults with dyslexia have problems in the same brain regions,” “the study shows that the brain's ability to process speech sounds is deficient before children learn to read,” explained study leader Nadine Gaab . If high brain activity was measured in children in the named areas, they "had a better understanding of letters, sounds and rhythms." The scientists hope that the timely identification of a possible risk of reading impairment in preschool age "reduces the bad social and psychological consequences, that children often face at school, ”said Gaab. "Many parents already know about their children's problems in kindergarten, but cannot provide adequate help in the subsequent school years." However, if it can now be demonstrated that "the children have an existing problem, the schools could be motivated to undertake appropriate development programs create."

Study not yet completed
To ensure the results, the children already examined should be examined again during the first years of school. Because it has not yet been conclusively proven whether the forecasts made actually come true. Only later will it become clear whether the children actually develop a reading disability. Only then can one speak of a successful student research project. The study is funded by the United States Department of Health. (sb)

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Image: Benjamin Thorn /

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