New Dyslexia Research & Fast ForWord by Dr Martha Burns

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
Brain Science, Dyslexia

"What's the new research on dyslexia", asked Dr Martha Burns in a recent presentation.

Dr Martha Burns is a neuroscientist, author of over 100 journal articles and multiple books, and a leading expert on how children learn. 

She explained, "Well, this just came out in the journal 'Biological Psychiatry' this year on the disruption of functional brain networks in dyslexia. It's from Dr Sally Shaywitz 's laboratory.

Neuroscientists are trying to figure out what distinguishes a child with dyslexia from a typically developing child. Is there a way we can identify dyslexia based on understanding the brain? What is it about the brain that's different? 

And essentially what they found was three major nodes. That when they compare typical readers with dyslexic readers, and by the way, this was students nine years old to adult, to 19 years. The adults were still having problems and by the way, this is after years of tutoring. 

The brain still is not looking the same. I will say the students did not have Fast ForWord, I'm pretty sure of that because I don't think Sally Shaywitz has ever done it that I know of. But they did other forms of tutoring.

What were the nodes? Three, the left inferior parietal lobe, you are going to see this over and over again, left inferior parietal lobe, the left inferior frontal lobe and this part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that recognizes letters. It's called the word form area.

If you want to really sound like you are a neuroscientist, call it the fusiform gyrus but you don't have to.

What did the Fast ForWord program change? Well, these are the kids with dyslexia, we see exactly what Sally Shaywitz said. These are the students before they went through the neuroscience based exercises that train all the skills needed for effective reading. No activation in the visual work form area, very little activation. They are weak in the left inferior parietal lobe and very weak in the left inferior gyrus.

What was different six weeks later, remember this was six weeks of the  program? Activation of the visual word form area, which we never highlight. We never talk about that. These kids can recognize letters now.

And there wasn't one letter in Fast ForWord language program, not one. So this remarkable change has been caused by the cognitive and language exercises in the program.

Phonological area here, in the inferior frontal gyrus. What do we change? We change the brain so it can benefit from reading instruction. That's what the Fast ForWord Language program does. Then the other programs are designed to build upon that, but one of the things I want to remind you is it also takes the teacher. Reading has to be taught. Reading is not acquired naturally. If you look at a 100 kids who never got formal education, maybe one of them will figure out how to read.

Reading has to be taught. So Fast ForWord is just a tool that we plug into the educational process to make the brain ready to learn to read".

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