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Dyslexia: Chicken or Egg?  The latest research

January 17, 2017

Full disclosure: I started to read this news story to my husband out loud and misread the first sentence.  Yes, I have dyslexia and all sorts of other learning disabilities. I read this study and was super excited -- 'Groundbreaking' Research Offers Clues to Cause of Dyslexia -- Brain scans revealed that those with the reading disorder showed less ability to 'adapt' to sensory information” in December and it did not hit mainstream or online media the way I thought it would.

For those that do not know about dyslexia - a little background:

the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), states that  “as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of the population has symptoms of dyslexia -- including "slow" reading, poor spelling and writing skills, and problems deciphering words that are similar to each other.”  

This is why I giggled out loud.  My life is full of reading what I want to read (including my pregnancy test for my daughter, oops - that was the ADHD that popped out.)

***ADHD Version of the study***

The research was published in Neuron on 12/21/16. Through functional MRI brain scans of children and adults with and without dyslexia showed the differences in the brain’s structure and function.  This piece is not new, but what has NOT been clear -- are these brain differences the cause or the consequence of dyslexia?, “this is a classic chicken-and-egg question because years of reading, or years of reading disability, affect brain development.”


One of the experiments included “the participants [listening] to a series of words, read either by a single speaker or several different ones. Overall, the researchers found, people without dyslexia adapted to the single voice, but not to multiple speakers.


In contrast, people with dyslexia showed much less adaptation in their brain activity, even when listening to a single speaker. The same pattern was seen when study participants viewed written words.


But the differences went beyond words: People with dyslexia showed less brain adaptation in response to images of faces and objects.” (AHA!)


The study’s authors expounded that  “reading is such a complex skill.  The brain has no dedicated "reading" area. "Reading is a tool, or technology, that we've invented," and “requires a complex orchestration of different brain "domains," he explained.

And yet, because everyone is expected to read, most people probably do not realize what an accomplishment it is,” said lead author Tyler Perrachione, an assistant professor of speech, hearing and language sciences at Boston University


***What does this mean?***

It is not clear at this point, ‘but if scientists better understand what's happening in the brain”, said Perrachione, “it might be possible to refine the reading therapies used for dyslexia.” Yippeee.  

Research from Tyler Perrachione, Ph.D., assistant professor, speech, hearing and language sciences, Boston University; Guinevere Eden, Ph.D., director, Center for the Study of Learning, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C.; Dec. 21, 2016, Neuron, online