Brain Scans Help Detect Early Childhood Reading Problems

First Posted: Sep 16, 2014 03:22 PM EDT

Brain scans may now be able to help predict how early children can start learning to read. Recent findings published in the journal Psychological Science show that it may be possible to diagnose certain reading difficulties early, such as dyslexia.

"We show that white matter development during a critical period in a child's life, when they start school and learn to read for the very first time, predicts how well the child ends up reading," said Fumiko Hoeft, MD, PhD, senior author and an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at UCSF, and member of the UCSF Dyslexia Center, in a news release. "What was intriguing in this study was that brain development in regions important to reading predicted above and beyond all of these measures."

For the study, researchers examined brain scans of 38 kindergartners as they were learning to read. They discovered that the developmental course of the children's white matter volume predicted their ability to read.

"Examining developmental changes in the brain over a critical period of reading appears to be a unique sensitive measure of variation and may add insight to our understanding of reading development in ways that brain data from one time point, and behavioral and environmental measures, cannot," said Chelsea Myers, BS, lead author and lab manager in UCSF's Laboratory for Educational NeuroScience. "The hope is that understanding each child's neurocognitive profiles will help educators provide targeted and personalized education and intervention, particularly in those with special needs."

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