During my student teaching, our PLCs every week were divided into two different topics: reading the book Teach Like a Champion, and learning more about identifying dyslexia and using the Barton reading and spelling program to aid dyslexic learners. From that, I learned that there are many misconceptions about dyslexia and what it looks like in school-age children, and many people mistake dyslexia for a lack of effort, but that’s not true. Dyslexia isn’t typically diagnosed until third grade, but it can easily be spotted before them with the right tools. Many teacher use Orton Gillingham influenced tests, but clinicians may have another tool at their disposal.

A new study from MIT and researchers from the Boston Children's Hospital, found a connection between poor pre-reading skills in kindergartners and the size of a brain structure that connects two language-processing areas.

Studies in the past have shown similar findings in adults with poor reading skills, but it was unsure if the differences were caused from reading challenges, or from a lack of reading experience.

Lead authors of the paper, Drs. Zeynep Saygin and Elizabeth Norton conducted the study with about 1,000 children at school through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Parents gave permission for their kindergarten-age students to participate at the beginning of the school year. The children were assessed for pre-reading skills, mainly phonological awareness or the ability to understand that sounds and spoken words are made out of sound units.

"From that, we're able to provide -- at the beginning of kindergarten -- a snapshot of how that child's pre-reading abilities look relative to others in their classroom or other peers, which is a real benefit to the child's parents and teachers," Norton says.

After this, 40 of the children were invited to go to MIT for a brain imaging scan using a technique called diffusion-weighted imaging. This type of scan shows the size and organization of white matter in the brain. With the scan, researcher focused on the white-matter tracts that are associated with reading skill, these three sections are the arcuate fasciculus, the inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF), and the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF).

After comparing brain scans and the results of various types of pre-reading tests, it was found that there was a relationship between the size and organization of the arcuate fasciculus and performance on tests of phonological awareness. Since strong phonological awareness is connected with an ability to easily learn how to read, children who tested poorly could be more likely to develop Dyslexia and could benefit from early reading intervention.

The research helps prove that reading intervention can begin as early as kindergarten and may help children with dyslexia overcome reading difficulties before they start to develop coping skills that could set them back even more.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2013, August 13). Brain scans may help diagnose dyslexia. ScienceDaily.

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