Diagnosing dyslexia takes years, but MRI scanning could bring faster results and better treatment for young children.
Dyslexia makes learning to read extremely difficult. A child or adult with dyslexia might be perfectly bright and intelligent in other areas, but they struggle to manipulate the sounds and letters of language. It’s a troubling problem for anyone, young or old, who is learning to read.
According to the Dyslexia Center of Utah, roughly 15% to 20% of the population has language-based learning disabilities of which dyslexia is the most common.
One of the most important parts of helping dyslexic students is diagnosis, but it can also be the biggest hurdle.
The current method of dyslexia diagnosis
The way we currently diagnose dyslexia is concerning for parents, teachers, doctors, and scientists, but right now, it’s the best we have. Essentially, a child needs to fail, over and over again, before someone, either a teacher, mentor, or parent, considers dyslexia.
A child has to be unable to read over the course of several years before he or she can even be looked at for dyslexia. Not only does this mean any potential treatment comes long after the issue started, it often results in shattered self-esteem. The dyslexic child has already struggled for years, lowering their confidence and making future learning difficult.
MRI-related research: writing the map
In 2013, MIT researchers studied the brains of kindergartners with poor pre-reading skills. Using MRIs, they discovered a common trait among these children: the size of the arcuate fasciculus was similar. (This is a part of the brain that connects two language processing areas.) This seemed to support earlier studies on adults that showed this structure of the brain is smaller in people with poor reading skills.
But there’s a gaping hole in the findings. Is the smaller arcuate fasciculus the cause of poor reading skills, or is the fact that these people read less the cause of a smaller arcuate fasciculus? In order to solve the riddle, younger test subjects were needed.
In December of 2015, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience released the findings of their groundbreaking work in dyslexia research; research that used infants as their test subjects.
Because an MRI requires the subject to remain still, they essentially waited for the baby to take a nap, then gently placed the child in the MRI machine. With the help of the child’s parents, they were able to accurately scan the brains of babes. (It might surprise parents to learn that the technique had a 70% success rate!)
The results? They discovered noticeable differences in the arcuate fasciculus.
This means that children with dyslexia could be diagnosed at a much earlier age. More research is needed, but this is an important step in helping dyslexic kids learn, grow, and become more confident students.
Can’t be used to “prove” dyslexia, but can provide clues
MRI scans may someday be used to help diagnose dyslexia and provide clues to help set a child’s education on the right path. It could play a key role alongside traditional methods, such as psychological evaluations, but it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to take our children for an MRI scan and leave with a sure diagnosis of dyslexia.
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