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Study Uses Brain Scans To Forecast Early Reading Difficulties

Update Date: Sep 16, 2014 03:46 AM EDT

With the help of brain scans, researchers are now able to predict how young children learn to read, according to a new study. 

The findings of the study offer clinicians a possible tool to spot children with dyslexia and other reading difficulties before they experience reading challenges. 

In U.S. children usually learn reading for the first time in kindergarten and become proficient readers by third grade. Researchers examined brain scans of 38 kindergarteners as they were learning to read. 

They found that the developmental course of the children's white matter volume predicted the kindergarteners' abilities to read. 

"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 the press release.

"What was intriguing in this study was that brain development in regions important to reading predicted above and beyond all of these measures," said Hoeft.

According to statistics, around 15 percent of Americans have major trouble reading. 

"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."

The research is published online in Psychological Science.

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