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Brain Scans Of Kids Predict Reading Woes

October 12, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology, Pediatric Radiology
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MRI brain scans can flag, at an early age, children who are likely to struggle with reading, according to new research from Stanford University.

Such knowledge could be important because early intervention seems to be crucial to improving reading skills. Previous studies have shown that if a child is having trouble with reading by age 7, he or she probably won’t get much better at it. As Jason D. Yeatman, lead author of the new study, put it:

By the time kids reach elementary school, we’re not great at finding ways of helping them catch up.

Yeatman is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Stanford. He was quoted in a university news release. The study was published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers performed three brain scans, each a year apart, on 39 children, using diffusion-weighted imaging. The children’s ages ranged from 7 to 15. The kids then took standardized tests to measure their cognitive, language, and reading skills.

In each case, the rate of development in the white matter of the brain accurately predicted their test scores. White matter has been found to be associated with reading.

At the moment, such knowledge may not be of much use. Environment and experience can affect white matter development, but we don’t really know what sorts of programs or activities might reshape the white matter to produce better reading skills.

Nonetheless, Yeatman was optimistic. “Once we have an accurate model relating the maturation of the brain’s reading circuitry to children’s acquisition of reading skills,” he said, “and once we understand which factors are beneficial, I really think it will be possible to develop early intervention protocols for children who are poor readers and tailor individualized lesson plans to emphasize good development.

“Over the next five to 10 years, that’s what we’re really hoping to do.”

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Related seminar: Pediatric Radiology

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