A Stanford research group found that brain scans can reveal neural differences in children of varied reading abilities by measuring the rate of development in certain brain regions.
The team found that white matter development in specific regions of the brain in children with good reading abilities is initially low but increases with time. Conversely, children who are poor readers generally have an initially higher level of white matter development in those regions that will then decrease with time.
These white matter regions are associated with performing functions correlated to reading ability. The rate of development was measured via fractional anisotropy, which measures the density of fibers in white matter, the diameter of the fibers and the amount of myelination along the fiber. Neurons wrapped in myelin sheets are able to more quickly conduct information along their length.
Researchers said that the information could potentially enable educators to intervene earlier with children who read poorly. Jason Yeatman, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in psychology and the lead author of the study, said that by the time students reach elementary school there are not many good ways of helping them catch up in reading skills.
To conduct the study, researchers scanned 39 children’s brains once a year for three consecutive years. The team also administered standard tests to determine the children’s cognitive, language and reading skills.
The research appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.