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Brain Scans Can Help Identify Reading Difficulties, Study Says

What if there was a way to identify kids who may end up as struggling readers even before they start school?

Researchers at Stanford University say they may be on the way to doing just that—now that they've discovered that brain scans can identify neural differences between young kids who are accomplished readers and those who are struggling with basic texts.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers said that the rate of development of white matter in the brain is a big clue to the development of reading skills in students as young as age 7.

The findings are significant because "previous studies have shown that a child's reading skills at age 7 can accurately predict reading skills 10 years down the road," said a news release from the university. "A child who is struggling at 7 will most likely be a poor reader at age 17."

Researchers figured this out by scanning the brain anatomy of 39 children once a year for three consecutive years and testing students to gauge their cognitive, language, and reading skills, the university said.

The information could lead to the development of an "early-warning system" that could help reveal which kids are at risk and could lead to the development of interventions to help them, said Jason D. Yeatman, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Stanford.

"Once we have an accurate model relating the maturation of the brain's reading circuitry to children's acquisition of reading skills, and once we understand which factors are beneficial, I really think it will be possible to develop early-intervention protocols for children who are poor readers, and tailor individualized lesson plans to emphasize good development," Yeatman said. "Over the next five to 10 years, that's what we're really hoping to do."

For a more detailed look at the study, check out the Inside School Research blog by my colleague Sarah Sparks.

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