Dyslexia: Retraining the Brain
December 31 -- About 10 percent of children have dyslexia. Since the disability can't be outgrown, just as many adults suffer with it, often undiagnosed and in secret. Now, new research is proving for the first time that adults, just like children, can be taught to overcome the disability.
Growing up, school was tough for Dee Register. Adapting to different jobs has been tough, too. "I got called airhead a lot," she says. "Last name is Register, so I got empty register jokes quite often."
At age 39, Dee finally learned what was wrong. "I've got medical proof that shows that I'm not an airhead. I just learn differently, and it takes me a lot longer." Dee has dyslexia. She recently found help with a program that teaches phonics-based reading. It's typically aimed at kids.
"We can teach older dyslexics all the same skills that we can teach a child," says Lynn Flowers, Ph.D., a neuro-psychology researcher at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Phonics teaches basic language decoding skills -- the sounds letters make, and how they work together. "Children who have dyslexia as well as adults who have dyslexia, need maybe more practice than others, but they also need to be taught these basic building blocks very, very carefully," Dr. Flowers tells Ivanhoe.
Brains of dyslexics have less activity in language processing regions compared to normal readers. Now, a new study shows the phonics tutoring not only improves reading skills but actually boosts that brain activity.
Dr. Flowers says, "They were making changes in being able to hear sounds and how the language worked."
When Dee started the training, she was reading at a 5th-grade level. Now, she's at college level and pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse. "I'll get that degree one day," she says. "Nobody's gonna stop me from getting that degree."
Dr. Flowers says the only area where she didn't see improvement after five weeks of the phonics training was in reading speed and overall comprehension when reading paragraphs, but she believes that will come in time for dyslexics who stick with the tutoring. Her study was published in the October 2004 issue of the journal Neuron.
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