SHOW 303: New Research Into Dyslexia
Dyslexia has fascinated educators and scientists since it was first identified in 1896, but its causes still remain something of a puzzle. Recent studies at Rutgers University and the National Institutes of Health suggest that the underlying causes may be physiological, even genetic. Researchers are discovering that dyslexic children experience different processing capabilities and slower reaction times; they are unable to process images quickly and have difficulty distinguishing very brief sounds. These findings argue for early intervention and skilled, supportive teaching as the keys to helping dyslexic children learn to read.
Activity: Taking a Closer Look
Notes & Discussion
Report From the Field: Rosemary Bowler, Executive Director, Orton Dyslexia Society
ACTIVITY: TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
Research scientists and physicians use an array of sophisticated technologies to look closely at the brain. You'll see at least one of these scanning techniques used in this episode of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS, which explores the causes of dyslexia.
CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scanning combines the use of a computer with x-rays passed through the brain at different angles to provide clear cross-sectional images displayed on a TV screen. Contrast dye may be used to make abnormalities show up more clearly. CT scanning can help detect tumors, blood clots, strokes, aneurysms and abscesses.
PET (position emission tomography) scanning combines CT scanning with the use of radioisotopes to produce three-dimensional images that provide information about metabolic and chemical activities in different parts of the brain. PET scanning is useful for detecting tumors, for investigating the origin of epileptic activity and for examining brain function in various disorders and mental illnesses.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exposes the brain to short bursts of powerful magnetic fields and radio waves while the patient is surrounded by electromagnets. This action stimulates hydrogen atoms in the tissues to emit signals that can be converted by the MRI machine's computer to reveal a detailed section of the brain.
Angiography involves injecting dye into one of the arteries to the brain and taking x-rays, which reveal the blood vessels in the brain. Useful for diagnosing hemorrhages, aneurysms and abnormalities of the blood vessels.
Conventional x-rays can reveal distortion or damage to the skull caused by a tumor, aneurysm, abscess or fracture, but cannot detect disease or abnormality of the brain matter.
IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Dr. Judy Rumsey, the National Institutes of Health researcher profiled on FRONTIERS, uses PET scans to track results of her experiments and to focus on brain activity in the frontal lobe, which may reveal more about how dyslexic individuals process information. Do you know which areas of the brain help control how you think, move; see and speak? The diagram below is labeled with major lobes, the broad surface area of the brain. Refer to an encyclopedia or a biology, psychology or health reference book and draw a line to connect each area with the appropriate functions listed.
- BALANCE & COORDINATION
- TOUCH & PRESSURE SENSATIONS
- MUSCLE MOVEMENTS
- RECOGNITION OF WEIGHT, SHAPE, TEXTURE
- ABSTRACT THOUGHT, EMOTION, CREATIVITY, CONSCIENCE,
- HEARING, TASTE, SMELL
In this activity, students learn more about the structure of the brain and the process of "mapping the brain," as observed on FRONTIERS. The diagram identifies major areas of the brain; students are asked to use reference materials to match functions associated with each particular area.
- Vision/occipital lobe
- Balance & coordination/cerebellum
- Touch & pressure sensations/postcentral gyrus
- Muscle movements/precentral gyrus
- Recognition of weight shape, texture/parietal lobe
- Abstract thought/frontal lobe
- Hearing, taste, smell/temporal lobe
- If 5% of the U.S. population of 250 million suffers from dyslexia, how many people might be affected? (12.5 million)
NOTES & DISCUSSION
- An effective way to introduce the topic of dyslexia might be to ask your students to share their ideas about it. (People most often describe dyslexia as a problem of scrambling letters, words and numbers -- an overly simplistic description of a complex reading difficulty.) The question is likely to reveal many of the misconceptions and much of the confusion about what this disorder really encompasses. Ask your students to compare their ideas with this definition provided by the Orton Dyslexia Society:
Dyslexia is a disorder that makes it difficult for individuals of average or above average intelligence to read, write or spell their native language. It often runs in families and may be caused by naturally occurring brain differences.
- If your students disagree on the nature of dyslexia, point out that there is also wide disagreement among professionals concerning every aspect of this disorder -- its cause, how to treat it, how to diagnose it and whether it is permanent. Some specialists argue that dyslexia is a distinct disorder; others believe it is a matter of degree of difficulty in learning how to read. Most researchers, like those featured on FRONTIERS, are cautious when presenting their conclusions about dyslexia and clearly label them as theoretical positions. An article in Scientific American magazine (July 1992) describes some of the difficulties professionals have in defining the problem.
- Some interesting facts about dyslexia:
Dyslexia affects an estimated 5% of the U.S. population and approximately 40 million people around the world.
Notable people diagnosed as dyslexic include Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bruce Jenner, Tom Cruise and Cher.
- For more information on dyslexia research and treatment, please contact the National Dyslexia Foundation, 333 Park Ave, P. O. Box 393, Boca Grande, FL 33921 (800-824-READ).
- The Orton Dyslexia Society offers information for educators (see "Report From the Field").
- Two books (among others) recommended by the National Dyslexia Foundation -- Keeping Ahead in School, by Mel Levine, and The Dyslexic Child, by Drake Duane and Paula Rome, both published by Educators Publishing Service, Inc. -- will be of help to educators who want to learn more about this learning disorder.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: ROSEMARY BOWLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ORTON DYSLEXIA SOCIETY
To learn more about dyslexia and the resources available for educators, we spoke with Rosemary Bowler, a former school administrator and now Executive Director of the Orton Dyslexia Society, the oldest national and international organization in the field. The Society is dedicated to providing medical and educational research about dyslexia, playing a leadership role in bringing about collaboration among groups within the field and keeping educators current about teaching methods.
"I have strong feelings about the issue of providing teachers with the tools they need to do their job well," said Bowler, who has had an opportunity to view dyslexia-related issues from various perspectives. "Our organization's number one goal for the 1990s is to overcome the 'one size fits all' philosophy for approaching children and young people in the classroom. We want teachers to learn how to identify and make accommodations for dyslexic children that are practical and realistic and won't disrupt teaching styles and schedules.
The Society offers many resources, including information about dyslexia; a collection of articles for educators; a directory of secondary schools and colleges offering programs for dyslexic individuals; instructional publications and a professional journal.
There are 43 local branches of the Orton Society in the U.S., where people can access such resources as education programs, teacher training and conferences, and support groups for children, teens and adults. The Society holds an annual symposium to present the latest research developments and provides hands-on workshop sessions for teachers.
For information, contact: the Orton Dyslexia Society, Chester Building, Suite 382, 8600 LaSalle Road, Baltimore, MD 21286-2044 (phone: 410-296-0232).
Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.