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Remediation Improves Children's Reading Skills

Remediation Improves Children's Reading Skills

Photo: Child gets reading remediation 

Scientists have uncovered the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain.

As the researchers report brain imaging of children between the ages of eight and ten showed that the quality of white matter – the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter, where information is processed – improved substantially after the children received 100 hours of remedial training. After the training, imaging indicated that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.

"Showing that it's possible to rewire a brain's white matter has important implications for treating reading disabilities and other developmental disorders, including autism," said Marcel Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI). Together with Timothy Keller, a CCBI research scientist and author of the first developmental study of compromised white matter in autism, he initiated the study.

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, agreed: "We have known that behavioral training can enhance brain function. The exciting breakthrough here is detecting changes in brain connectivity with behavioral treatment. This finding with reading deficits suggests an exciting new approach to be tested in the treatment of mental disorders, which increasingly appear to be due to problems in specific brain circuits."

The study was designed to discover what physically changes in the brains of poor readers who make the transition to good reading. The scientists scanned the brains of 72 children before and after they went through a six-month remedial instruction program. Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a new brain imaging technique that tracks water movement in order to reveal the microscopic structure of white matter, they found a brain change involving the white matter cabling that wires different parts of the brain together.

"We're excited about these results," Just said. "The indication that behavioral intervention can improve both cognitive performance and the microstructure of white matter tracts is a breakthrough for treating and understanding development problems. It lets us see educational interventions from a new perspective."; Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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