SEEING DYSLEXIA ON AN MRI SCANNER
THE DYSLEXIA RESEARCHERS
Drs Bennet and Sally Shaywitz and a team of researchers at Yale scanned 144 children’s brains while the children were reading and took MRI photographs of their brain activity. Half of these children were dyslexic and half non-dyslexic. Their aim was to discover if there was a noticeable difference in brain activity between the two groups and their results were published in the Journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in 2002 (the link to the original research is below). They concluded that there was a clear disruption in the neural systems of the dyslexic group.
I’m going to look a bit more at their images and results but please remember that I’m an enthusiastic parent and not a professional or expert in this field. This is a basic overview but I think it’s a valuable insight.
THE MRI TEST
For the study, the researchers selected children who were 10-13 years of age with an average I.Q. and an equal mix of boys and girls. The two groups were as standardised as possible with the only significant difference being that one group was dyslexic.
The children were asked to read whilst inside an MRI scanner and they were asked to read normally, to read new words within a context and then to read made up words. It was this last ‘pseudo word’ test that was most revealing.
The children were given words that feel like real words but they will never have come across before. To be able to read them they need to break down the word to pronounce it (for example ‘tetralemma’ or ‘huggle’).
In scoring their reading results, the dyslexics got an 85 point average whereas the non-dyslexics had a 120 point average. The non-dyslexics performed 40% better when because both groups were I.Q. matched they should have been the same.
MRI SCANS COMAPRISON: DYSLEXIC vs NON-DYSLEXIC
There were significant differences is the scanner images as well.
The scans of the non-dyslexic group showed specific areas of the brain lighting up during this task which indicates brain activity in those areas. The dyslexic brains also showed activity in these areas but their scans did not light up as brightly. This demonstrated a reduction in the amount of brain activity for this particular task in the dyslexic brain.
This was the first quantitative evidence that dyslexic brains work differently to their non-dyslexic counterparts.
This was also apparent in other scan results. In another exercise the dyslexic brains again lit up to a lesser degree than the non-dyslexic brains but the interesting observation here was that the dyslexic brains lit up in others areas that the non-dyslexic brains didn’t, showing the extra effort required for the tasks, and that the dyslexic brains were compensating
So what were the researchers’ conclusions? They concluded that in the dyslexic brains there was a deficit in the lower level language systems in phonology where they access sounds and structures of words.
They noticed that the dyslexics did have a reduced activity in the left posterior function, a failure in them to some degree and they noticed that the older dyslexic children when reading real, new words in context used additional ancillary functions in the brain in the frontal inferior gyrus as compensation.
The researchers also observed that the reading results were equally as accurate for the many of the older dyslexics than for the non-dyslexics in standard reading but not as automatic so it took more effort. This was seen in the extra areas that lit up in the dyslexic’s brain which again demonstrated that they were compensating.
Hopefully, that all made sense and helped to show that there are real, quantitative differences in the ways that dyslexic brains. Knowing this helps us devise strategies for learning that are better suited to a dyslexic processing system.
Thank you! Goodbye 🙂
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