Brains are most likely to develop reading in the first two years of primary school

75 Flemish children participated in the study, and they were followed from kindergarten to fifth grade. ‘We knew that some of them had at least a 50% chance of developing dyslexia, given that one of their parents had it,’ says neuroscientist Mikey Vandermosten (KU Leuven). Our research question focused on the cause of dyslexia, and whether it really existed before you learned to read.

Your research shows that there is indeed a difference in the brain. What I saw?

The children underwent reading and language tests each year and had an MRI scan at three different times: at the end of kindergarten, after second grade and from midway through fifth grade. We made this a fun experience by camouflaging the device as their fortress, because the MRI scan can be a deterrent, especially for young children, while it was necessary for our research to look at development in the brain.

What we saw is that the left-sided cerebral cortex is different in children with dyslexia. The connection to the areas in the front of the brain is also less developed. So they start with a delay in the area of ​​the brain that is important for learning to read.

We use the left side of our brain to learn to read?

We also process visual things like words written on the right from an early age, but once we learn to read them, the left is dominant. In children with dyslexia, we saw that they developed more right-sidedness. It seems as if their brains want to compensate for the lag on the left side, but this doesn’t seem to be really effective because they still struggle with reading.

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According to you, the first two years of elementary school are important for reading problems. why?

The results show that brain regions in the reading network change more in first and second grade. Reading interventions such as speech therapy often start only in the third year, because there must be an ongoing problem. But by then, the reading grid will no longer be plastic. If you want to prevent further deficits, it is best to intervene when these brain areas are most likely to improve.

In further development of the reading regions on the left side of the brain, we no longer found any structural differences between dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. They develop similarly. But discrimination that already existed in preschool age is no longer compensated for without early intervention.

Ideally, should we intervene before there can be a diagnosis?

‘This is correct. For children with reading and language difficulties, this can make a big difference. With a number of tests at a young age, it can quickly be established whether there is a higher risk of dyslexia. The genetic aspect is also important.

We don’t have to take out the big guns right away in order to intervene. We are now investigating how to help preschoolers with a simple computer game. Every day they play on a tablet for fifteen minutes. This requires very little effort from parents and supervisors and children enjoy it. It can be a way to build a head start while they learn to read in first grade.

Early intervention, in the form of games, may reduce their delay. Usually this help starts now in the third year, but after that the brain becomes less likely to develop.

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De studie “Structural brain dynamics across reading development: a longitudinal MRI study from kindergarten to fifth grade” Bab T. Van Phan, D. Sima, D. Smeets, P. Ghesquière, J. Wouters en M. Vandermosten is gepubliceerd in Mapping the human brain.

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