Can Dyslexia Be Cured?

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In a word, no. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects people into old age. However, that does not mean that instruction cannot re-mediate some of the difficulties people with dyslexia have with written language. A large body of evidence shows what types of instruction struggling readers need to be successful.

Now researchers can also “look” inside the brains of children before and after an intensive intervention and see for the first time the effects of the intervention on the brain activity of children with RD. The following are two such studies.

Aylward et al. (2003) imaged 10 children with dyslexia and 11 average readers before and after a 28-hour intervention that only the students with dyslexia received. They compared the two groups of students on out-of-magnet reading tests as well as the level of activation during tasks of identifying letter sounds.

They found that while the control children showed no differences between the two imagings, the students who received the treatment showed a significant increase in activation in the areas important for reading and language during the phonological task. Before the intervention, the children with RD showed significant underactivation in these areas as compared to the control children, and after the treatment their profiles were very similar.

These results must be viewed with caution because of several limitations. One limitation is the lack of specificity about the intervention that was provided, another is the small sample size, and the last is the lack of an experimental control group (i.e., a group of children with RD who did not receive the treatment). Without an experimental control group, we cannot be certain that the intervention caused the changes found in the brain activation because of so many other possible explanations.

Shaywitz et al. (2004) addressed these limitations in their investigation of brain activation changes before and after an intervention. They studied 78 second and third graders with reading disabilities who were randomly assigned to three groups:

  • the experimental intervention
  • school-based remedial programs
  • control

A summary of the instructional intervention and a full and detailed description of the intervention and out-of-magnet reading assessments can be found in Blachman et al. (2004).

Before the intervention, all groups looked similar in their brain activity, but immediately after the intervention the experimental and control groups had increased activation in the left hemispheric regions important for reading.

One year after intervention, the experimental group showed increased activity in the occipito-temporal region important for automatic, fluent reading, while at both time points the level of compensatory activation in the right hemisphere decreased.

Shaywitz et al. (2002) concluded, “These findings indicate that … the use of an evidence-based phonologic reading intervention facilitates the development of those fast-paced neural systems that underlie skilled reading.”

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