Lancaster University

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Brain Communication Key To Dyslexia

12/01/2009 09:47:38

Some children with dyslexia suffer from a lack of communication between the two halves of their brain according to researchers at the Universities of Lancaster and Edinburgh. The discovery was made by psychologists who developed the first ever computer model of the two halves of the brain operating in a young child learning to read.

They inputted written words and observed how the computer had problems with reading when it was programmed to mimic a brain where the right and left halves do not communicate properly. This resulted in the computer learning to read only half as effectively compared with a second computer model of a fully-communicating brain.

The research opens the way to developing new treatments for the learning disorder which affects an estimated 5-10 % of the population or up to 6 million people.

Professor Padraic Monaghan of the Department of Psychology said: “The significance of our work is to fill the gap in the understanding of what causes dyslexia in the brain and the reading difficulties we observe.

“Where you’re reading under normal conditions, the two halves of the brain co-operate for identifying the word, but there are problems when the two hemispheres do not communicate effectively.

“The computational model which we programmed with an impaired link in the brain learned to read more slowly. When it read words like “pint” it had particular difficulties because these are irregularly pronounced compared to words with the similar spelling eg “lint”. Some types of dyslexics have particular problems with these words.”

The findings mean there is now the research on which to develop practical interventions in the classroom for children with dyslexia.

“A very important step in our understanding of dyslexia is to understand the brain’s functioning in people with reading difficulties, and the two halves of the brain communicating is critical to this.

“You can learn to read with dyslexia but it takes a lot more practice and a lot more effort.”

Another cause of dyslexia is also visual and this may be in addition to the problem of a lack of communication between the two halves of the brain.

“Some children can’t focus both eyes on a word and they see the letters floating around which makes them very hard to read. They can be helped to read more effectively with tinted glasses.”

The research was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust and the EU but is currently unfunded.

Monaghan, P. & Shillcock, R.C. (2008). Hemispheric dissociation and dyslexia in a computational model of reading. Brain and Language, 107, 185-193.