How otherwise bright people struggle to read

We frequently hear from parents of bright kids who are just having a tough time with reading. A new study, published in the January 1, 2010 issue of the journal Psychological Science, looks at the relationship between intelligence and reading ability.

From Medical News Today:

The researchers found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a dyslexic can be both bright and not read well.

The study examined data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, an ongoing 12-year study of cognitive and behavioral development in a representative sample of 445 Connecticut schoolchildren. The researchers each child in reading every year and tested for IQ every other year.

From Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, and co-director of the newly formed Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity:

“I’ve seen so many children who are struggling to read but have a high IQ,” said Shaywitz. “Our findings of an uncoupling between IQ and reading, and the influence of this uncoupling on the developmental trajectory of reading, provide evidence to support the concept that dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty with reading in children who otherwise have the intelligence to learn to read.”

Typical readers learn how to associate letters with a specific sound. “All they have to do is look at the letters and it’s automatic,” Shaywitz explained. “It’s like breathing; you don’t have to tell your lungs to take in air. In dyslexia, this process remains manual.” Each time a dyslexic sees a word, it’s as if they’ve never seen it before. People with dyslexia have to read slowly, re-read, and sometimes use a marker so they don’t lose their place.

So what’s the answer for parents with otherwise bright kids who struggle with reading? Shaywitz’ previous research into dyslexia suggests that a neurological signature for dyslexia is under activation of the parieto-temporal region of the brain. A Stanford University study that examined brain imaging scans of children with dyslexia who used Fast ForWord programs showed normalization of activity in this critical area of the brain (used for reading). Furthermore, the students in the Stanford study showed significant improvements in reading and oral language skills on a number of assessments.

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2 Responses to “How otherwise bright people struggle to read”

  1. creativepotager Says:

    I have been/still am one of those people who struggles to read (and spell) yet I do very well in other areas of my life. I wasn’t tested until the age of 28. The psychologist who did the test recommended I not go on to University though I had just successfully completed 1st year university courses at college. I ignored his advice. Three years later, I completing university with a B+ average as a single parent with two young children while working half-time. I was exhausted but thrilled to find that I could do it. From then on I never let my reading or spelling stand in the way of anything I wanted to do.

    I love to read, learn and write. I have continued to do this my whole life. I still read slowly and out loud in my head and new words that I haven’t heard aloud before are extremely difficult to pronounce. Sometimes I’m not able to find even a beginning to start writing a word. But computers have made things much easier. The immediate feedback of spelling and grammar errors have been immensely helpful. The amazing experience I have had is that the impact of my dyslexia appears to continue to get less and less over the years. So maybe that part of the brain for reading can and does develop over time.

    Thank you so much for posting this research.

  2. brain training advocate Says:

    I’m a firm believer that once a functional weakness in the brain has been identified an appropriate training regime should be able to help strengthen the function. The scientific evidence now abounds to support the concept that our brains are plastic and respond to carefully designed exercise.

    Thanks for this post!

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