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Brain Scans Could Detect Dyslexia in Children

Update Date: Aug 14, 2013 12:16 PM EDT

Dyslexia is a disorder in which the brain cannot process certain written symbols, resulting in an increased difficultly in reading and understanding texts. Symptoms could range from the inability to read to difficulty in speaking. Children who suffer from dyslexia could be at an academic disadvantage especially if the condition is left untreated. With proper diagnosis, which often occurs by the time children reach the second grade, dyslexia can be easy to live with. In a new study, researchers were interested in finding out a new way to detect dyslexia before children even start to read.

For this study, the researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new MRI technique called diffusion-weighted imaging that could potentially help screen children for dyslexia before the symptoms even show up. The MIT researchers worked with researchers from the Boston Children's Hospital. Together, they studied the brain scans of 40 children who were from four to six-years-old. The children were given different pre-reading tests that examined how capable they were in trying different sounds.

The team discovered that children in kindergarten who have below average pre-reading capabilities also had a different type of brain structure seen in the arcuate fasciculus, which is the part of the brain in charge of language processing. The arcuate fasciculus appeared to have 40 percent shrinkage in children who scored lower on the pre-reading tests. The researchers hope that this new MRI technique that specifically looks at that particular region of the brain could be a new screening tool. However, more work needs to be done to determine the long-term effects of having this shrinkage.

"We don't know yet how it plays out over time, and that's the big question," lead researcher Professor John Gabrieli said. "We do not know how many of these children will go on to develop problems. But anyway, we want to intervene before that, and the younger you do that the better. We already know that reading programs and interventions can really help."

The researchers plan on monitoring the children to see if how they grow academically over the next years. The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. For more information from MIT, click here.

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