Study Suggests Treating Dyslexia Before Kids Learn to Read

The learning disability is linked to problems with visual attention, researchers contend

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THURSDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Treatment for dyslexia can begin even before children start learning to read, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Italy found that the learning disability may be linked to problems with children's visual attention. They said their findings could lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments for those with the condition.

"Visual attention deficits are surprisingly way more predictive of future reading disorders than are language abilities at the pre-reading stage," Andrea Facoetti, of the University of Padua, said in a journal news release.

In conducting the study, published online April 5 in the journal Current Biology, the researchers followed children in Italy for a period of three years, beginning when the kids were in kindergarten and just starting to learn to read until they entered the second grade. The researchers analyzed the children's visual spatial attention, or their ability to distinguish between what is relevant and what is irrelevant, by asking them to identify certain symbols while they were being distracted. The children were also given tests on syllable identification, verbal short-term memory and rapid color naming.

The study found that children who had problems with visual attention also had trouble reading, the researchers said.

"This is a radical change to the theoretical framework explaining dyslexia," Facoetti said. "It forces us to rewrite what is known about the disorder and to change rehabilitation treatments in order to reduce its impact."

The study's authors argued that simple visual-attention tasks would help identify children at risk for dyslexia early on. "Because recent studies show that specific pre-reading programs can improve reading abilities, children at risk for dyslexia could be treated with preventive remediation programs of visual spatial attention before they learn to read," the researchers said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on dyslexia.

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