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Dyslexia Detector (video)
January 10, 2002

Interviewees: Thormas Zeffiro and Guinevere Eden, Georgetown University.

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Produced by Curt Epstein

Copyright Center for Science and the Media, with additional footage from the International Dyslexia Association.

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Functional MRI Network


With the first half of the school year in the books, many parents fear the news that their child is falling behind in learning due to reading disabilities.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, researchers are working to identify disabilities such as dyslexia as early as possible.


Early detection is the key

It isn’t as well known as it should be for something that affects between 5 and 10 percent of the population, but dylexia can be a serious learning disability, affecting millions learning how to read. While researchers are proving that dyslexia does in fact have a biological basis, there does seem to be some basis for it even being hereditary, according to Guinevere Eden, co-director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. "It turns out that dyslexia does run in families. We know now that there are certain chromosomes that contribute to dyslexia and it’s not uncommon when we see a child with dyslexia that once we speak to the parents about it, that the parent also remembers having similar problems when they were a child."

Eden and her husband Thomas Zeffiro, co-director of the center, are searching for ways to detect the early onset of dyslexia so that those at risk can receive learning intervention before they fall behind. According to Zeffiro, "Reading is a very complex skill, and like any complex skill it can break down for a number of reasons. Part of our work is to find out just what the components of reading skills are and which brain mechanisms support which of those components."

To separate those components, the researchers use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI and a video screen. "This is a test in which the child has to look at a computer screen and determine the direction of motion of some dots that are moving on that screen—either to the left or to the right. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but a simple test like that actually seems to be a very good marker for the presence of reading disability or for the chance that reading disability may develop later in life," says Zeffiro. While the child is viewing the video screen, the fMRI is viewing their brain activity, and provides visible differences in the function of the brains of dyslexics, as compared to those without the disability.

Using this data could provide the basis for a test that would find dyslexics before sagging grades do.



by Curt Epstein


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