When Dyslexics Become Good Readers

Abigail Marshall ©2019 DDAI

What Brain Science Tells us about Dyslexia and the Reading Brain

Girl reading book

Most brain research into dyslexia and reading focuses on dyslexic children and adults who are also struggling readers. Often, brain scan technology is used to observe differences in brain function when compared either to same-age individuals who are good readers, or to younger, nondyslexic subjects who read at the same level. These studies rest on an assumption that observed differences in brain structure or function are the cause of the reading difficulties.

However, many individuals with childhood dyslexia eventually become capable readers. Even though the path to acquiring reading skills may be delayed, reading comprehension skills may be well above average in adulthood, and many dyslexics successfully pursue higher education and earn advanced degrees. Scientists sometimes refer to these readers as being “compensated” or “resilient.”

When brain scientists have explored the differences between dyslexics who read well and those who continue to struggle, a different picture has emerged. More than two decades of research evidence makes it clear that for a dyslexic, the process of becoming a capable reader requires the development of some mental skills that are quite different from typical patterns of reading development. Here are some key findings:

Adult dyslexics who read well show an inverse pattern of brain use when performing phonetic tasks. While typical readers show increased left brain activation for such tasks, such activity is correlated with weaker reading skills in among dyslexics. The dyslexics who read well show greater activity in the right temporal and frontal regions instead. (Waldie, 2017; Rumsey, 1999; Horwitz, 1998)
Greater activity in right brain and frontal brain regions in dyslexic children correlates to and predicts later reading achievement. Conversely, a longitudinal study has indicated that dyslexic children who fail to develop these alternate mental pathways remain persistently poor readers. (Patael, 2018; Hoeft, 2010; Shaywitz, 2003)
The brain areas activated by capable dyslexic readers are tied to understanding word meaning. High-achieving dyslexic readers often perform even better than nondyslexic readers on measures of vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. (Cavalli, 2017)

One group of researchers observed, “These findings challenge the idea that normalization of neural activity is essential to remediate dyslexia.” (Waldie, 2017)

These studies provide insight into the reasons students often progress so quickly with a Davis program for dyslexia, which is keyed to the dyslexic learning style. Davis programs provide specific tools for controlling attention focus and for mastering word meaning, using strategies that come easily to most dyslexic learners.

See List of Research References

Aboud, Katherine S; Laura A. Barquero, Laurie E. Cutting. Prefrontal mediation of the reading network predicts intervention response in dyslexia. Cortex. Volume 101, Pages 96-106, 2018.

Eddy Cavalli, Pascale Colé, Chotiga Pattamadilok, Jean-Michel Badier, Christelle Zielinski, Valérie Chanoine, Johannes C. Ziegler. Spatiotemporal reorganization of the reading network in adult dyslexia. Cortex. Volume 92, Pages 204-221, 2017.

Eddy Cavalli, Lynne G. Duncan, Carsten Elbro, Abdessadek El Ahmadi, Pascale Colé. Phonemic—Morphemic dissociation in university students with dyslexia: an index of reading compensation?. Annals of Dyslexia. Vol 67, Issue 1, pp 63-84, 2017.

Hoeft Fumiko, McCandliss Bruce D, Black Jessica M, et al. Neural systems predicting long-term outcome in dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Vol 108 No. 1: 361-366, 2010.

B. Horwitz, J. M. Rumsey, and B. C. Donohue. Functional connectivity of the angular gyrus in normal reading and dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95(15): 8939–8944, 1998.

Leonard Christiana M, Eckert Mark A. Assymetry and Dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology. , 2008.

Smadar Z. Patael, Emily A. Farris, Jessica M. Black, Roeland Hancock, John D. E. Gabrieli, Laurie E. Cutting,. Brain basis of cognitive resilience: Prefrontal cortex predicts better reading comprehension in relation to decoding. PLOS One. Online: June 14, 2018.

Rumsey JM, Horwitz B, Donohue BC, Nace KL, Maisog JM, Andreason P.. A functional lesion in developmental dyslexia: left angular gyral blood flow predicts severity.. Brain and Language. 70(2):187-204, 1999.

Shaywitz SE, Shaywitz BA, Fulbright R, et al. Neural Systems for Compensation and Persistence: Young Adult Outcome of Childhood Reading Disability. Biological Psychiatry. 54:25-33, 2003.

Karen E. Waldie, Anna J. Wilson, Reece P. Roberts, David Moreau. Reading network in dyslexia: Similar, yet different. Brain and Language. Volume 174, Pages 29-41, November, 2017.

Welcome Suzanne E, Chiarello Christine, Thompson Paul M, Sowell Elizabeth R. Reading Skill is Related to Individual Differences in Brain Structure in College Students. Human Brain Mapping. 32 (8):1194–1205, 2011.

Welcome SE, Leonard CM, Chiarello C. Alternate reading strategies and variable asymmetry of the planum temporale in adult resilient readers. Brain and Language. 113: 73-83, 2010.

Welcome, Suzanne E; Christine Chiarello, Laura K. Halderman, Christiana M. Leonard. Lexical processing skill in college-age resilient readers. Reading and Writing. Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 353–371 |, 2009.

Whitney, Carol, Paddy Ross, Zhiheng Zhou, and Lars Strother. The Visual Word Form Area Natively Processes Shape Sequences: Implications for Developmental Dyslexia. PsyArXiv. June 9, 2019.

Yu, Xi; Jennifer Zuk, Nadine Gaab. What Factors Facilitate Resilience in Developmental Dyslexia? Examining Protective and Compensatory Mechanisms Across the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory. Child Development Perspectives. Volume 12, Issue 4 , Pages 240-246, 2018.

Yu: Xi Yu, Jennifer Zuk, Meaghan V. Perdue, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Talia Raney, Sara D. Beach, Elizabeth S. Norton, Yangming O, John D. E. Gabrieli, Nadine Gaab. Putative protective neural mechanisms in pre-readers with a family history of dyslexia who subsequently develop typical reading skills. bioRxiv 707786. , 2019.

Zuk, Jennifer; Jade Dunstan, Elizabeth Norton, Xi Yu, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Yingying Wang, Tiffany P. Hogan, John D. E. Gabrieli, Nadine Gaab. Multifactorial pathways facilitate resilience among kindergarteners at risk for dyslexia: A longitudinal behavioral and neuroimaging study. . bioRxiv 618298, 2019.

How to Cite this Article

Marshall, Abigail. (2019). “When Dyslexics Become Good Readers.” Davis Dyslexia Association International, www.dyslexia.com

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  • Sarah

    My dyslexic daughter started reading at 9, and was an above average reader by 11, learning simply by reading her fav books. What we need is a program that teaches spelling, a subject which is close to reaching third grade level.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Sarah, some of the Davis techniques that help with spelling are the “spell-reading” and “sweep-sweep-spell” exercises which build the habit of visual scanning from left-to-right and sequencing the letters of the words; and the visualization of the word done with Davis Symbol Mastery, that also includes spelling the word both backwards and forwards. Because English spellings are so variable and unpredictable, I think it’s very important to develop a good visual memory of both the letter sequence and the overall shape of the word, as well as to understand phonetic conventions. It’s also helpful to understand how word meaning relates to spelling — so understanding word morphology, roots and affixes can also be very helpful. I do think that most dyslexics tend to have difficulty with English spelling, even after they become good readers — but this can also improve over time.

  • Darren S

    Been 52, dyslexic I found this review helpful. As I will not give up on learning to Spall read

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