Raising and educating kids with dyslexia

Posts tagged ‘brain research’

Scanning the brain

We now have some cool images of my son’s brain thanks to his participation in the study on reading and reading difficulties by the Gabrieli Lab at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Part of the study involves an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain to understand brain basis of reading and language. I cannot say that I even begin to understand this. Even the few questions I did ask about the research made me realize the complexity of the subject and the knowledge of neuroscience of the technicians conducting the testing. Yet, it felt good to be participating in some research that will lead to a better understanding of dyslexia.

The MIT campus in Cambridge is always fascinating to visit. From our designated parking spot, we made our way to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research that took us alongside a railroad track. People sat in the building above us as we walked through an underpass noisy with the sound of air being sucked through large vents and the humming of air-conditioners.

Even on a Sunday afternoon it seemed that the MRI scanner was in constant use as one appointment ended and our appointment began.

For nearly two hours, my son laid head first in the scanner. The lower half of his body protruded out of the scanner. The only thing I could clearly see was the bottom of his sock-clad feet. As a mother, I was not impressed with the state of the bottom of his socks, but I was impressed by his cooperation and perseverance to remain still during the specific tasks he was given to complete and to enable good quality images of his brain to be obtained. At $30 an hour, he had some incentive.

We were informed that my son’s brain is one of the last five brains to be scanned in this study. The study, with 500 children and adults taking part, which began three years ago, is nearing its end. This is good news for us as we can expect to see a report from the study in six months time, rather than waiting over three years like those who participated earlier in the study. The only concern, my son pointed out, was that his twin brother would not be taking part in the fMRI part of the study and would therefore miss out on the remuneration.

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Intelligence and dyslexia

It seems we equate being able to read with intelligence. Maryanne Wolf raised this notion in the recent HBO documentary Journey Into Dyslexia. This does not make sense. What I could understand more is if we equated being able to read with being educated. But, even that’s not true.

HBO’s synopsis of Journey into Dyslexia quotes a recent poll that indicates eighty percent of Americans equate dyslexia with mental retardation. Mental retardation is a very loaded term. On one hand, the term implies a lack of intellectual ability to learn or the lack of skills for daily living. On the other hand, the term is used to make fun of other people. The term should not be used, especially to label a person. Perhaps it was used in this instance deliberately, because it is charged with meaning and it does get a reaction.

Instead, adults and children need to be fairly and honestly educated about dyslexia. On the surface, someone who is dyslexic may look like they do not have intellectual ability. Cognitive testing reveals that, with dyslexia, the ability to read has nothing to do with intelligence. I can vouch for this because testing, using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), has shown that my dyslexic children are intelligent and have well above average IQs. So, let’s get it out there – dyslexic people are intelligent. Brain research has found, and the HBO documentary Journey Into Dyslexic testified to this, that reading in people with dyslexia activates areas of the brain that are different from the area of the brain usually activated by reading in people without dyslexia.

We should equate knowledge, learning more and not making assumptions about dyslexia with intelligence and being educated.

Dyslexia in Chinese

Does a person diagnosed with dyslexia in English experience dyslexia in another language, such as Mandarin?

Once my children had been diagnosed with dyslexia and placed on Individualized Education Plans by the school system, my experience has been that the schools remove foreign language from the schedule to free-up time for support services to be inserted. In addition, the presumption is that learning another language will be difficult as they already experience difficulties with the English language.

There does not seem to be much research into dyslexia and learning different languages. The most recent research I did find from 2010 contradicts previous research in 2008 that suggested if a person were dyslexic in one language they would not be dyslexic in another language such as Chinese. But, according to the 2010 research, reported by Dyslexia Research Today, that involved using fMRI to study the brain activity of dyslexic readers of both English and Chinese, there was common brain activity in both types of readers that indicates dyslexia would manifest itself if both languages were learned.

This is disappointing. With our trip to Hong Kong and China coming up this summer, my daughter is showing an interest in learning Mandarin. Perhaps her enthusiasm will overcome her dyslexia.

Testing the dyslexic brain

The following is an interview with my dyslexic son following his three-hour assessment at the Gabrieli Lab in Cambridge, MA to assist in their research on reading and the dyslexic brain:

G: Mom, why don’t you blog about my testing.

Mom: Okay. How was the testing? What did you do first?

G: I forget! Oh, they asked me which hand I wrote with and which hand I used for my fork and which hand I hold a spoon in. I was mostly right-handed but I was in between right and left for some things.

Mom: Did they ask if your parents were right or left-handed?

G: Ask Dad because he had fill out a packet.

Mom: Then what?

G: She [The technical research assistant] took me to a room. There was a board with numbers placed randomly. I had to connect the numbers in order. Then I did the same with the alphabet and then I had to put numbers and letters together – like 1A, 2B. It was difficult. That took a while.

Mom: Then?

G: We did regular testing like I’ve had at school. I had to read words. I had to tell her a sentence for what the person was doing in a picture.

Mom: How long did that take?

G: That took a while. There were many different things.

Mom: Then what?

G:I had to spit in a cup.

Mom: Did she tell you why you had to do this?

G: No

Mom: She didn’t say anything about it? Did you know what it was for?

G: Yes, DNA.

Mom: How did you know that? [Dad interjected at this point saying the research assistant had explained the spit was for DNA when they arrived for the testing.]

G: She told me she got spat on by tons of five year olds. She gave me an easy story to read. I read it and she timed me. At the beginning I had to read as many words as I could.

R; How well did you do?

G: Pretty good. I also had to answer yes and no questions. I got them mixed up.

Mom: What do you mean?

G: Does March come before June?

Mom: Does… you got that wrong?

G: Yes, it was confusing.

Mom: That’s fine. Was that the end?

G: No, then I read a harder story and filled out questions. The stories kept getting harder.

Mom: How many stories?

G: I did about five. The last story was full of words I didn’t know so I couldn’t answer the questions. I guessed.

Mom: Was that the end?

G: Yes, I got paid $50, which you still owe me. [Payment was in the form of Border’s gift cards. We, as parents, have agreed to give cash in exchange for the gift cards.]

Mom: What did she say at the end?

G: Good job.

Reading the brain

We’re participating in research on reading and reading difficulties performed by the Gabrieli Lab at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Well, the kids are participating. The Gabrieli Lab’s studies are designed to investigate the behavioral and neural basis of reading and reading impairments. My understanding of what that means is vague. They hope the results of their studies will help them to better understand dyslexia and benefit people with dyslexia in the future. I can understand this purpose. I really do hope the studies will benefit people with dyslexia in the future – perhaps my grandchildren or great grandchildren.

For the kids, the incentive for participating in the studies: payment – although this comes in the form of Borders or Barnes and Noble gift cards! The drawback: books or bookstores do not motivate my dyslexic kids! The solution: parents give cash in exchange for gift cards. The result: happy kids! Books purchased so far: Frommer’s Hong Kong – an up-to-date guide published in 2001. It looks good. Books to be purchased very soon: Frommer’s China or other guides. Guess where we’re headed this summer for an educational summer vacation!

As the Gabrieli Lab’s studies are looking at people with and without reading and language difficulties, all three of our children are involved. We provided information for eligibility. The studies involve two trips to the Gabrieli Lab at MIT. The first trip requires giving developmental history details, between 2-4 hours of diagnostic testing and providing spit in a cup for DNA collection. The second trip entails MRI and/or EEG brain imaging – fMRI that captures images of the brain painlessly & non-invasively using magnetic fields – that also take two hours. A stop at Chipolte, added to either trip, on the way home is preferable!