NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Two Types of Reading Problems

July 14, 2003

The reading problems of many poor readers may actually be more correctable than traditionally thought; a new study finds that many students diagnosed as "dyslexic" have intact neural systems for processing sound and language, the same as normal readers. Their problem appears to be due to a lack of stimulation and to poor education.

The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, used an MRI to observe the brain activity of 43 young adults with known reading disabilities that had been tracked since elementary school.

Researchers found that readers with a "more environmentally influenced" type of dyslexia not only tested for slow reading but also for poor comprehension.

  • They seem to rely upon memory more than the linguistic centers of the brain for understanding what they are reading.
  • The over-reliance on memory could help explain the persistence of the poor readers' problems -- there is simply too much to memorize by rote.
  • A large body of research has shown that intensive tutoring can correct this kind of reading problem, especially if begun while the brain is still developing.
  • The students with "predominately genetic" dyslexia who compensated for their problems tended to have higher overall levels of learning abilities.
  • "More environmentally influenced" problem readers -- whose problems persisted -- were twice as likely to attend disadvantaged schools.

Diagnoses of dyslexia have increased rapidly in recent years, and students with a learning disability are provided special educational services.

Source: Bonnie Rothman Morris, "Two Types of Brain Problems Are Found to Cause Dyslexia," New York Times, July 8, 2003; Jamie Talan, "One new key for dyslexia," Dallas Morning News, July 14, 2003.  


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