Tackling the Early Identification of Dyslexia with the Help of Neuroimaging

Recent studies suggest that by using neuroimaging technology, we can identify children as dyslexic as early as kindergarten and begin intervention before they start struggling with reading and writing.

Dyslexia is typically diagnosed around 2nd or 3rd grade, which is after the start of early reading instruction. The early years of reading instruction are essential in a child’s education, and are the times that intervention is most effective—and most absent. Since a majority of children are not diagnosed with dyslexia until after this critical intervention period, they do not receive the proper intervention that could lessen the severity of their troubles with dyslexia later on. There are recent studies, though, that suggest dyslexia might be able to be identified earlier in a child’s education using neuroimaging technology. A recent publication by Ola Ozernov-Palchi and Nadine Gaab, “Tackling the Early Identification of Dyslexia with the Help of Neuroimaging” (Perspectives on Language and Literacy, February 2016) takes a look at recent neuroimaging studies and explores the possibility of using neuroimaging technology to identify dyslexia at a younger age.

Neuroimaging utilizes fMRI machines, or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, to track the magnetic flow of hydrogen molecules throughout the brain. When a participant is asked to complete a task, certain pathways of his brain are activated and light up on the MRI scanner. By tracking brain functioning in dyslexics, one can have a better visual understanding of the “underlying mechanism of dyslexia.” Several studies which utilized neuroimaging, including the Boston Longitudinal Dyslexia Study (2011), or BOLD study, have recognized decreased gray matter activity in the brains of dyslexic compared to non-dyslexics during a rapid automatized naming test, which tests a participant’s ability to quickly name an object shown in front of him. The BOLD study also recorded that preschoolers who are in a family with a history of dyslexia displayed decreased neural activity during first-sound matching tests, while preschoolers with no family history of dyslexia did not. Another study by Linkersdorfer et al. (2014), used neuroimaging to find that first graders who would later be diagnosed with dyslexia, had a much thinner cortex than first graders who did not receive a diagnosis in dyslexia in regions in their brains associated with auditory, visual, and executive functions.

Across additional recent fMRI studies, it has been observed that pre-diagnosed dyslexic children exhibit the same neural differences that are found in dyslexic adults—which suggests that by using neuroimaging technology, we can identify children as dyslexic and begin intervention before they start struggling with reading and writing, as early as kindergarten perhaps. Ozernov-Palchik and Gaab argue that neuroimaging is a tool, among others, that would help with early identification and intervention of dyslexia—tools that should require more attention and study so that we can identify dyslexia at an early age and start providing the proper intervention.

Recent studies suggest that by using neuroimaging technology, we can identify children as dyslexic as early as kindergarten and begin intervention before they start struggling with reading and writing.
Tackling the Early Identification of Dyslexia with the Help of Neuroimaging