June 10, 2008
News Flash: Music training may be able to rewire brains of dyslexic children
This entry doesn’t have anything to do with China, but it ought to be of interest to anyone who has an interest in children or in a young child. Since I hope that everyone has a child somewhere that they are interested in, I decided to share this on my blog
In April, I ran across an article describing some cognitive science research which indicates that musical training in young children might actually be applied proactively to rewire the brain so that it is no longer dyslexic. This research is enabled by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners, both being tools that enable study of the brain and cognition without invasive techniques. I will link you to the articles themselves at the bottom of this entry, but I will also summarize the article thusly:
Using the fMRI brain scanning, the neural “wiring” that makes a child dyslexic can now be detected years before the child begins to learn to read. Given that this neural wiring can now be detected, what does it show about the brains of dyslexic people?
Using fMRI, it has been shown that brains of dyslexic people respond to fast-sounds versus slow-sounds differently than the brains of non-dyslexic people. A normal person’s brain switches tracks when listening to fast versus slow moving sounds. This could be described as a process analogous to changing gears on a bicycle. Using fMRI, they’ve figured out that a dyslexic child’s brain doesn’t switch tracks at the same time as other children. This basic wiring pattern can be detected years before a child actually begins to read. In other words, dyslexia can now be diagnosed before the symptoms even begin to show up.
All interesting but what can one “do” with that information? Well, here’s the exciting part: It is hypothesized that the dyslexic child grows up hearing fast-articulated sounds indistinctly and thus leads to failure differentiate the sounds. It is theorized that this affects the perception of sequence order within the sounds. In other words, a child who doesn’t hear the sounds distinctly doesn’t learn to sequence those sounds, either. The end result is that the child’s brain lacks skill in detecting sequence. When the child learns to read, this failure to learn sequencing, occasioned by the failure to switch gears, is manifested specifically by the reading disorder of dyslexia. Some researchers theorized that just maybe they could stimulate the children to switch gears and thus stimulate the brain to hear sounds and thus rewire the brain to hear and to overcome dyslexia . . . and it seems to have worked!
Using a computerized music program, the researchers were able to stimulate the dyslexic children to use the “fast” track of their grey matter to listen to sounds. As a result of stimulation that nudged the children’s brains to practice switching gears in how they heard sounds. It appears that the researchers were actually able to change the neural wiring just enough to stimulate development of the “gear switching” part of the study group’s brain. As a result, the children began to hear the sounds more distinctly. These were “hard wired” changes. Eventually, when the children learned to read, their brains had already been trained to switch tracks like “normal” kids: they heard the sounds, they sequenced the letters in the words, and they showed no sign of dyslexia!
The researchers do not make so bold a claim, but I am willing personally go to out on a limb and exclaim, “Eureka, what a potential breakthrough in early childhood education!” Imagine if significant numbers of children could be spared from dyslexia through early childhood intervention.
That’s why this is pretty interesting stuff! It reinforces my belief that there are many, many reasons that every child needs to be involved with music. So now you have yet one more obligation where your children are concerned – to sing fast little ditties and tongue twisters. I imagine that learning to hear the sounds of a second language would be very beneficial to those little brains, too! C’mon adults, get in there and play with the children in your life! (When was the last time you said this one: If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, then how many peppers did Peter Piper pick?) Go dust off that book of songs and nursery rhymes!
Okay, now here’s the citation to the articles.
The scientific article is at:
"Neural correlates of rapid auditory processing are disrupted in children with developmental dyslexia and ameliorated with training: An fMRI study," published Oct. 16 in an online edition of the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience (this is a $1,200 per year subscription journal, I haven’t seen the article).
The press releases as published by their authors for general consumption is here:
You can find more by doing a Google search with appropriate words.