The brain is a plastic organ! No, not literally, but it does possess qualities that allow it to repair itself or adapt to new pathways. The latest study from Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated that students with dyslexia “permanently rewired” their brains after only 100 hours of intensive remedial reading instruction. The study, published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychologia provides some exciting possibilities for the future of special education.

The instruction resulted in brain activity in the cortical region of the brain, the one associated with reading. Moreover, those gains not only continued, but also solidified a year after the training. Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the alterations in the portion of the brain responsible for language development and reading. Specifically, that is called the “parietotemporal area, which is responsible for decoding the sounds of written language and assembling them into words and phrases that make up a sentence.” Prior to remediation, poor readers showed less activity in that region than did good readers. That differential between the two groups decreased immediately after the dyslexic students participated in the remedial course. “However, at the one year follow-up scan, the activation differences between good and poor readers had nearly vanished, suggesting that the neural gains were strengthened over time, probably just due to engagement in reading activities.”

These findings contradict earlier beliefs that dyslexia results from visual problems, like transpositions of letters such as b and d, p and q, Only about 10% of reading difficulties have a visual cause. A much larger percent –70%– arise from “a difficulty in relating the visual form of a letter to its sound, which is not a straightforward process in the English language.”

The remediation consisted of specially trained remedial reading teachers working with three students per group for an hour a day. “The training included both word decoding exercises in which students were asked to recognize the word in its written form and tasks in using reading comprehension strategies.” The brain imaging study was the first to test students in their understanding of words in sentences, rather than simply word recognition.”

Clearly, this study can have significant implications for curriculum development in areas other than reading. Also re-training the brain to overcome some learning disabilities is a distinct advantage over medicating students. Targeted instruction may be the wave of the future in education.

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