Dyslexia is typically diagnosed in children when they are around second or third grade in school. A team from Children’s Hospital Boston reports that they have discovered signs of dyslexia in children as young as 4 or 5 years old by studying their brain scans. This could be monumental news for families, who “often know that their child has dyslexia as early as kindergarten but they can’t get interventions at their schools,” says Nadine Gaab of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Children’s.
Early intervention would be ideal in cases of dyslexia. Rather than waiting for a child to exhibit reading delays, a diagnosis before the child even begins to learn to read could boost confidence and help them avoid the label of being a “poor student.” As Gaab said in an interview with Reuters, “Often, by the time they get a diagnosis, [children] usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid, parents telling them they are lazy. We know they have reduced self esteem. They are really struggling.”
In the Children’s Hospital study, a group of 36 preschoolers had their brains scanned by Gaab and her colleagues while they did a variety of tasks that deal with phonological processing. Phonological processing is the ability to recognize and manipulate the individual sounds that form language. Children with dyslexia have trouble with mapping sounds of spoken language onto letters that make up words. According to Gaab, the study shows that children who had a family history of dyslexia did not use the area of their brains typically used for processing this information.
Gaab explains that her study is too small at the moment to form the basis for any test for dyslexia. She and her team have just received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to do a larger study. Ultimately, she says, “If we can show that we can identify these kids early, schools may be encouraged to develop programs.” In the meantime, parents can go to their pediatricians and ask for their child to be assessed for signs of early dyslexia.
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