Sally Shaywitz in her book Overcoming Dyslexia has sought to identify the physical reasons for dyslexia and identify the remedies. We look here at condensing her findings to a few pages of A4 and examine some of the other solutions that are available.
How do I know I am dyslexic?
A typical young dyslexic reader will probably exhibit some or all of the following indicators, surrounded, let it be said, by a sea of strengths:
- A family history of dyslexia
- Early language problems in articulation but not in comprehension
- Trouble learning the alphabet
- Problems associating letters and sounds
- Trouble sounding out words
- Confusion of words that sound alike
- Difficulty perceiving the detail in words
- Absolute terror of reading aloud
- Slow reading
- Disastrous spelling
- Diminished self-esteem
- Time is critical factor in performance
It’s a Physical Problem
Shaywitz looked at brain activity of dyslexic and non dyslexic readers, using MRI scans. The findings indicated that non-impaired readers tend to have markedly different brain activation patterns than dyslexic readers. As they read, good readers tend to use the rear left of the brain and to some extent the front of the brain. By contrast, Dyslexic readers
show a fault in the system: under activation of neural pathways in the rear of the brain. The studies show that as they get older struggling dyslexic users demonstrate over activation of the frontal region (known as Brocca’s region). This appears to be a compensatory reaction. This coincides with what is known about the reading style of many dyslexics. One means of compensating for a reading difficulty is to subvocalise as you read, a process that utilizes a region in the front of the brain, responsible for articulating spoken words. This is a much slower process than the more automatic activity of word forming that occurs at the rear of the brain.
Shaywitz believes this pattern of under activation provides a neural signature for the phonologic difficulties characterising dyslexics.
Dyslexic readers use compensatory systems to read
The non impaired reader on the left, activates neural systems that are mostly in the back of the let side of side of the brain; the dyslexic reader, on the other hand, activates systems on the right side and the front of the brain on the left.
New data suggest we are on the verge of being able to tease apart different groups of poor readers. Imaging studies now suggest there may be two major groups of poor readers. One, the classic dyslexic, is born with a glitch in his posterior reading systems. This group has higher verbal abilities and is able to compensate somewhat – improving his accuracy but remaining a slow reader. The second group appears to have developed into poor readers, probably as a result of poor teaching and a disadvantaged home environment.
One of the key questions Shaywitz addresses is whether dyslexic readers can develop fast paced word form reading systems? Shaywitz and her team embarked on a one year formal study, using fMRI to study boys and girls who were struggling to read and learn and who then received a year long experimental reading programme.
The final set of images obtained one year after the intervention had ended was startling, claimed Shaywitz. Not only were the right sided auxiliary pathways much less prominent but, more importantly, there was further development of the primary neural system on the left side of the brain. These activation patterns were comparable to these obtained from children who had always been good readers. This helps to explain why children who receive effective intervention early on develop into both accurate and fluent readers.
Images obtained one year after successful intervention.