Pitch test may sound out dyslexia

4th December 1998 at 00:00
RESEARCH findings could lead to a breakthrough in identifying dyslexic children before they learn to read, as well as helping those who already have trouble reading.

A team of academics from Oxford University's physiology laboratory and Newcastle University's department of physiological sciences investigated the sensitivity of children to changes in pitch - the "warble" in the tone - and visual motion, which determines the ability to see differences in printed words.

The researchers found that children with dyslexia were less sensitive to both visual and auditory dynamic stimuli than those in the control group.

John Stein, professor of physiology at Oxford and one of the researchers, said that the findings meant that children's basic sensory sensitivities determined their reading ability - something that had never before been suggested.

The conclusions of the study, published last month in the journal Current Biology, should make it possible to identify dyslexic children at an early age and "help their brains develop in a way that would help them to learn to read", Dr Stein said.

He hoped that dyslexic children's reading ability could be improved by helping them to hear the different sounds in words - necessary to pick up to match them with the letters - and see visual motion more easily. The next step would be to see if such results can be achieved.

Dr Stein explained: "We hope that we can turn the tests we used into ones that are more easily administered in schools so that we can see what the weaknesses are in children, and teach the teachers to work to their strengths or to iron out their weaknesses."

The research also may benefit those non-dyslexic children who have trouble with reading.

"Sensitivity to dynamic auditory and visual stimuli predicts non-word reading ability in both dyslexic and normal readers", Current Biology 1998, 8:791-797. To contact the research team, email: Caroline.Witton@ncl.ac.uk

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