A New Take on Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a term used to describe difficulty with reading, writing and spelling. The latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?(DSM-5) refers to the disorder as Specific Learning Disability in Reading and along with this new diagnosis, new research has emerged to explain the underlying causes of this learning difficulty.

Since the development of the fMRI machine (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), we have learned more about the brain than ever before. This technology allows us to make conclusions about brain activity based on increased blood flow to specific areas of the brain when those areas are activated during a task such as reading. Researchers could now tell exactly which brain areas were involved in reading and for the very first time, they could shed light on the root causes of reading difficulties.

So, where do reading difficulties stem from?

fMRI scans were able to determine that the areas of the brain involved in oral language and comprehension are also involved in reading. This lead researchers to re-evaluate the relationship between spoken language and reading and what was once thought of as a visual task, we now think of as primarily an auditory task. This finding has strong implications for Dyslexia in that we now know that in correcting the way in which auditory information is processed, we can assist learners in becoming better readers.

The Fast ForWord approach

In 2007, researchers from Harvard, Rutgers, MIT, Stanford, and Dartmouth Universities conducted a study using fMRI scans on both average and struggling readers. They found that struggling readers show lower levels of activity in the areas of the brain involved in reading. Knowing what we do about the relationship between auditory processing and reading the researchers introduced a temporal training intervention (Fast ForWord) to both the average readers and the struggling readers. The results were remarkable. They found that after 8 weeks of training, both the average and struggling readers showed increased levels of activity in the areas of the brain associated with language and reading. This study was later replicated by researchers at Stanford University adding to the reliability of the results.

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