The Importance of Early Identification

Often many children struggle with learning to read before they are properly diagnosed with dyslexia. Early identification and subsequent reading instruction, using multi-sensory methods which teach letter name and sound relationships, are needed for these learners to experience success toward mastering written language.

Recently, Jennifer Huber revealed researchers at the University of California, San Francisco studied the use of MRI brain scans at age 5 or 6 and again three years later

For many, the word dyslexia represents painful struggles with reading and speech that impact their self-confidence –- 20 percent of school-aged children and over 40 million adults in the U.S. are dyslexic. Dyslexics are often very intelligent and can learn successfully with appropriate teaching methods, but early diagnosis and intervention are critical.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) researchers in the Dyslexia Program aim to predict whether children will develop dyslexia before they show signs of reading and speech problems, so early intervention can improve their quality of life.

“Early identification and interventions are extremely important in children with dyslexia as well as most neuro-developmental disorders,” said Fumiko Hoeft, UCSF associate professor and member of the UCSF Dyslexia Center, in a press release. “Accumulation of research data such as ours may one day help us identify kids who might be at risk for dyslexia, rather than waiting for children to become poor readers and experience failure.”

In a recent longitudinal study, Hoeft’s research team studied 38 young children using structural MRI to track their brain development between kindergarten and third grade as they learned to read in school. The participating children were healthy, native-English speakers with varying pre-literacy skills and family histories of reading difficulties. They had MRI brain scans at age 5 or 6 and again three years later. At both time points, they also completed a battery of standardized tests, including reading and cognitive assessments.

In particular, the researchers were interested in the children’s white matter development, which is critical for perceiving, thinking and learning. They found that volume changes in the left hemisphere white matter in the temporo-parietal region (just behind and above the left ear) was highly predictive of reading outcomes. This region is known to be important for language, reading and speech.

Using MRI brain scans to measure these developmental changes improved the prediction accuracy of reading difficulties by 60%, compared to traditional assessments alone.

“What was intriguing in this study was that brain development in regions important to reading predicted above and beyond all these (other) measures,” said Hoelt.

Despite this predictive relationship, MRI brain imaging is unlikely to be a widespread means of diagnosis because of cost and time constraints. Instead, the researchers hope their findings lead to further investigation of what may be influencing the brain during this critical period of reading development.

Therefore, as this recent research reveals once again, when approached by parents whose children are having difficulties learning to read, or have been diagnosed with dyslexia, I always explain the importance of early reading intervention. While concurrently encouraging multi-sensory reading instructional methods as a means to ensure these learners experience success learning to read.

About the Author, Jennifer Huber is a medical imaging scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with more than 20 years of experience in academic science writing. She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California Santa Barbara.

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