+ MIT: Dyslexia Independent of IQ

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A brain imaging study at MIT suggests that reading difficulties are the same regardless of overall intelligence — and that more children could benefit from support in school, according to Emily Finn of the MIT news office .

About 5 to 10 percent of American children are diagnosed as dyslexic.  Historically, the label has been assigned to kids who are bright, even verbally articulate, but who struggle with reading — in short whose high IQs mismatch their low reading scores.  On the other hand, reading troubles in children with low IQs have traditionally been considered a byproduct of their general cognitive limitations, not a reading disorder in particular.

But a new brain-imaging study challenges this understanding of dyslexia.  According to John D.E. Gabrieli, MIT’s Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience, who is one of the researchers,

We found that children who are poor readers have the same brain difficulty in processing the sounds of language whether they have a high or low IQ.  Reading difficulty is independent of other cognitive abilities.

Gabrieli  performed the research with Fumiko Hoeft and colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Charles Hulme at York University in the U.K., and Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, also at MIT.

The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science, and may change how educators diagnose dyslexia, opening up reading support to more children who could benefit from it.


Rhymes are an effective way to probe dyslexics’ reading performance, since dyslexia is thought to entail difficulty connecting written words to sounds.

One hundred thirty-one children, from 7 to 17 years of age, were given a simple reading test and an IQ measure.  Each child was assigned to one of three groups: typical readers with typical IQs’ poor readers with typical IQs, and poor readers with low IQs.

All were shown pairs of words and asked to judge whether the words rhymed.

For some of the pairs, researchers used words that rhyme but don’t share the same final letters — such as “bait” and “gate,” or “night” and “bite.”  In those cases, rhyme could not be inferred simply from spelling.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers observed the activity in the brain regions known to be important for reading.

Results showed that neural activity in the two groups of poor readers was indistinguishable. 

“The brain patterns could not have been more similar, whether the child had a high or low IQ,” says Gabrieli.  Poor readers of all IQ levels showed significantly less brain activity in the six observed areas than typical readers. 

This suggests that reading difficulty is due to the same underlying neural mechanism — regardless of general cognitive ability. 

Currently, according to Gabrieli, many public school systems still require that a child have an otherwise normal IQ in order to receive a diagnosis of dyslexia and then appropriate intervention.  These findings could have an important impact on such an approach.

Essentially, the present thought is that the label “dyslexic” is reserved for children with a reading difficulty that can’t be explained by anything else.

The new study suggests that even children with low IQ scores might benefit from specific dyslexia intervention.

Gabrieli says he hopes the new results will encourage educators to offer reading support to more struggling students.  He stresses the importance of diagnosing dyslexia and other behavioral disorders sooner, rather than later.

Now,  you basically diagnose dyslexia when a child seems miserable in school.  Maybe you could intervene before they ever get that way.

Sole source: online article by Emily Finnhttp://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/dyslexia-iq-0923.html?utm_source=Twitter&utm_campaign=LDOnLine.org

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