Brain scans can predict children's reading ability, researchers say

October 11, 2012
The study findings could eventually influence reading lessons for pre-elementary children, tailoring lesson plans to individual needs. Credit: Karen Struthers/iStock

(Medical Xpress)—New research can identify the neural structures associated with poor reading skills in young children, and could lead to an early warning system for struggling students.

If a 7-year-old is breezing through the "Harry Potter" books, studies indicate that he or she will be a strong reader later in life. Conversely, if a 7-year-old is struggling with "The Cat in the Hat," that child will most likely struggle with reading going forward.

New research from Stanford shows that can identify the neural differences between these two children, and could one day lead to an for struggling students.

The researchers scanned the of 39 children once a year for three consecutive years. The students then took to gauge their cognitive, language and .

In each case, the rate of development (measured by fractional , or FA) in the regions of the brain, which are associated with reading, accurately predicted their test scores.

Specifically, children with above-average reading skills exhibit an FA value in two types of nerve bundles – the arcuate fasciculus and the left hemisphere inferior longitudinal fasciculus – that is initially low, but increases over time. Children with lower reading skills initially have a high FA, but it declines over time.

The findings could eventually influence reading lessons for pre-elementary children. Previous studies have shown that a child's reading skills at age 7 can accurately predict reading skills 10 years down the road. A child who is struggling at 7 will most likely be a poor reader at age 17.

"By the time kids reach elementary school, we're not great at finding ways of helping them catch up," said Jason D. Yeatman, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Stanford and the lead author on the study.

The good news: Early screening could reveal which students are at risk; at an early age, the brain is plastic, and genes, environment and experiences can affect FA values.

"Once we have an accurate model relating the maturation of the brain's reading circuitry to children's acquisition of reading skills, and once we understand which factors are beneficial, I really think it will be possible to develop early intervention protocols for children who are poor readers, and tailor individualized lesson plans to emphasize good development," Yeatman said. "Over the next five to 10 years, that's what we're really hoping to do."

The research was published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Explore further: 3-year study finds significant differences in white matter processes related to children's reading development

More information: www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/10/04/1206792109.full.pdf+html

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study reveals areas of the brain impacted by PTSD

January 23, 2017

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the VA Boston Healthcare System are one step closer to understanding the specific nature of brain changes associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For health and happiness, share good news

January 22, 2017

Service members, including both active and recently separated, have been called upon to fight overseas and to assist during natural disasters at home. They can face unique challenges when they return in both the workplace ...

The great unknown—risk-taking behaviour in adolescents

January 19, 2017

Adolescents are more likely to ignore information that could prompt them to rethink risky decisions. This may explain why information campaigns on risky behaviors such as drug abuse tend to have only limited success. These ...

Mandarin makes you more musical?

January 18, 2017

Mandarin makes you more musical - and at a much earlier age than previously thought. That's the suggestion of a new study from the University of California San Diego. But hold on there, overachiever parents, don't' rush just ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.