Catching dyslexia before your child starts to read

stock-boy with bookAny child learning how to read can become frustrated at first, but once he gets the hang of it, reading can become fun. For a child with dyslexia, that day may never come.

Nadine Gaab, PhD, of Children’s Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience is enrolling 4- to 6-year-old children in a study to identify children at risk for dyslexia before reading instruction has even started.

Of the 2.6 million 6- to 11-year-old children diagnosed with learning disabilities in the United States, about 80 percent have dyslexia. In recent years, researchers have suggested several causes for dyslexia. One theory suggests that dyslexia may be caused by a difficulty in processing sounds quickly.

“Children with developmental dyslexia may be living in a world with in-between sounds,” Gaab says. “It could be that whenever I tell a child with dyslexia ‘ga,’ they hear a mix of ‘ga,’ ‘ka,’ ‘ba,’ and ‘wa.’” This inability to process rapid sounds becomes a problem when it’s time to turn written words into spoken language.

Gaab and her colleagues showed in 2007 that sound processing can be improved in 9- to 12-year-old children with dyslexia, using special video games that train them to listen carefully to changing sounds. After eight weeks of these games, the children showed better reading skills. What’s more, using brain imaging, Gaab showed that this training reduces functional differences between the brains of school-age children with dyslexia and those of typically developing children.

In the new study, Gaab is looking for the same sound-processing problems and assessing pre-reading skills in children as young as 4 who have a family member with dyslexia. If dyslexia can be spotted sooner rather than later, it would give these children a fighting chance, sparing them many struggles in school.

The study will be testing children through the end of November and especially needs children without a family history of dyslexia to serve as controls, particularly if they’ve just entered kindergarten. Visit Gaab’s research lab for more information.

And as a reminder to everyone: just remember that dyslexia has nothing to do with one’s level of intelligence. After all, one of this year’s Nobel Prize winners wrestled with dyslexia as a child!