New Study Reveals Brain Scan Can Accurately Predict Reading Skills in Children

By Amy Taylor on October 12, 2012

Studies show that a child who struggles with reading at the age of 7 is likely to continue struggling with it at the age of 17. Now, what if there is a way to figure out, before the kid reaches 7 that he or she has this kind of difficulty, would it be possible to address the issue right away and prevent the child from suffering? Well, it is possible – a new study suggests.

Researchers from Stanford University has discovered a way to spot neural structures associated with poor reading skills in children through brain scanning. This in turn, could lead to an early warning system that will help struggling students.

Brain scan showed accurate results

In their study, researchers scanned the brain of 39 children once every year, for three consecutive years. Simultaneously, participants took a standardised examination that measures their language, reading and other cognitive skills.

The Stanford team looked at the white matter regions of the brain and measured their development by way of fractional anisotropy (FA). Surprisingly, such regions that were linked to reading skills, have accurately predicted the tests scores of the children.  

The brain scan results showed that children with above-average reading skills demonstrated an FA value in 2 types of nerve bundles, particularly in the left hemisphere inferior longitudinal fasciculus and the left hemisphere arcuate fasciculus. Although at first the FA value was low at these areas, it actually increased over time. On the other hand, those with poor reading skills had high FA value at first but it went down over time. The study was published in the National Academy of Science.

Possibility of developing early intervention protocol

These findings, according to the researchers, may eventually influence reading lessons provided to pre-elementary students. By early detection, children with low learning abilities can be addressed at the soonest time possible, even before they enter primary education.

Although the Stanford team has not explored in what way these children can be trained, they believe that early screening can reveal whose children are at risk. With this, guardians and teachers could provide them with programs that will enhance and improve their FA values.

According to Jason D. Yeatman, the study lead-author and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Stanford, once an accurate model of the maturation of the brain’s reading circuitry to children’s acquisition of reading skills has been made, and once the factors affecting it have been understood, it is possible to develop early intervention protocols for kids who have reading difficulties.


Source of this article:

Development of white matter and reading skills, PNAS

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