Paying attention to reading: The neurobiology of reading and dyslexia

Paper by Sally E. Shaywitz and Bennett A. Shaywitz

This is a very interesting paper that discusses many bits of research that together provide irrefutable evidence of a "neural signature" for dyslexia. In other words, what was once a hidden disability can now be seen thanks to technological advances in neuroimaging. The paper goes into detail about the neural systems that are disrupted in dyslexic readers and about how various interventions can positively influence these neural systems.

The research suggests that intensive, evidence-based reading interventions consisting of 50 minutes of daily individual tutoring, with a strong and explicit phonologically based component, have a strong positive influence on neural systems and actually bring about significant changes in the brains of dyslexic readers.

The paper also brings together research that challenges the long-standing belief that reading is automatic and does not require attention nor any other cognitive process. Studies have shown that an area of the brain, the posterior parietal cortex, is involved in attention (via links to the prefrontal cortex), and when functioning of this area is disrupted it leads to problems in reading.

For example, a patient with Balint syndrome experiences difficulties with switching attention from one object to another. The research paper demonstrates that these patients generally display good reading skills until certain features were changed, like double spacing of words or angle of the words. These slight changes rely on the parietal areas involved in attention and therefore severely impaired the patient's reading ability.

The implications of these findings suggest that new interventions could be targeted to work on attentional mechanisms instead of solely the reading mechanisms. One approach that is discussed is pharmacological treatments that are used for treating ADHD as these are targeted to stimulate the attentional mechanisms. Reports indicate that using stimulant medication on children with both ADHD and dyslexia may be beneficial to improve reading ability.

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