August 05, 2008

Dyslexics Benefit Permanently from Remedial Training: I'll Vouch for That

When I was a child I had a fever. My hands didn't feel like two balloons, but the high fever I had at the age of about 5 as the result of a strep infection went untreated for more than twenty-four hours. The result was that part of my brain lost functionality and, as I found out many years later, that part of my brain was involved with interpreting numbers and symbols. I was left with a nearly lifelong learning disability when it came to mathematics of any sort. Throughout my education, I was an honors/advanced placement student in every subject except math in which I struggled to barely pass classes year after year until my first try at college. I had to take remedial algebra and couldn't even pass that after two attempts. I gave up.

It wasn't until I was just over 30 that my condition was diagnosed. I learned strategies to deal with the problem and essentially use different skills than "normal" people would use to interpret the symbols that had never made sense to me before. Within a year, I could do math. I went back to school and earned a 4.0 in math courses, acing everything from algebra to calculus to three semesters of statistics. It still wasn't easy, but at least I could do it.

This is all completely anecdotal, of course, but a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University looking at the effects of remedial training on classic dyslexics (I neer had a problem with letters, only with numbers, which isn't what most people think of when they hear "dyslexia") confirms my anecdote. They've found that 100 hours of intensive remedial training rewires the brain and overcomes the disorder, apparently for good.

Remedial instruction rewires dyslexic brains, provides lasting results, study shows

A new Carnegie Mellon University brain imaging study of dyslexic students and other poor readers shows that the brain can permanently rewire itself and overcome reading deficits, if students are given 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, shows that the remedial instruction resulted in an increase in brain activity in several cortical regions associated with reading, and that neural gains became further solidified during the year following instruction.

"This study demonstrates how remedial instruction can use the plasticity of the human brain to gain an educational improvement," said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) and senior author of the study. "Focused instruction can help underperforming brain areas to increase their proficiency..."

The new findings showed that many of the poor readers' brain areas activated at near-normal levels immediately after remediation, with only a few areas still underactive. However, at the one year follow-up scan, the activation differences between good and poor readers had nearly vanished, suggesting that the neural gains were strengthened over time, probably just due to engagement in reading activities...
Dyslexic kids today are lucky. When my disorder began way back in the early 1970's, most educators and parents hadn't heard of dyslexia, and because of that simple fact I wasn't diagnosed. Today, there's a very good chance that a dyslexic child will be diagnosed and can receive proper intervention instead of struggling through life as I did and as, I'm sure, many thousands of others my age and older had to do.

And if your kid has a fever of more than 102°, don't wait for a day to see if it will go away on its own or say a prayer and confine your child to bed. It doesn't work and the damage can have repercussions that you've never thought of. I say this from personal experience.

Sphere: Related Content