Furthermore, neuroimaging is able to reveal the brain plasticity associated with phonological based intervention for dyslexia. Phonologically based reading interventions comprise of explicit and methodical instruction in phonological awareness and decoding strategies (Gabrieli, 2009). Decoding is the ability to determine the sound (phonology) of a word from letters.
Decoding strategies are vital because relating sounds to letters is how one learns to read (Blischak, 1994). Shaywitz et al. (2004) used fMRI to investigate the effects of a phonological intervention on the brain organisation and reading fluency of children aged 6 to 9 with dyslexia. They found that children who received phonological intervention for a year saw significant improvements in their reading fluency. Furthermore, they displayed increased activation in the left occipitotemporal brain system, the brain area typically associated with reading (Maisog et al., 2008). This highlights that, by rehabilitating brain function in areas normally associated with reading, phonological intervention improves reading ability by ‘correcting’ the abnormal brains of children with dyslexia. However, perceiving the brains of dyslexic individuals as abnormal and trying to develop the ideal brain activation could be oppressing compensating strategies that they have successfully developed.
As shown earlier, increased activation in the right IFG has been found to be a compensatory mechanism for dyslexic children during reading (Maisog et al., 2008). Hoeft et al. (2011) carried out longitudinal research whereby at the beginning of the study, neuroimaging was carried out on children with and without dyslexia, along with a standardised assessment of reading ability. During fMRI, participants undertook a word rhyme judgment task. The test involved making rhyming judgements on a pair of presented words designed to initiate phonological analysis. Reading ability was then further assessed two and a half years on whereby dyslexic children who showed greater activation in the right IFG during a rhyme-judgement task showed greater reading improvement.
Typical readers did not show this pattern. Therefore as children with dyslexia can still improve their reading ability by recruiting areas not typically associated with reading, endeavouring to develop the ideal brain activation ignores successful compensating strategies they have developed (Hoeft, et al., 2011). However, alongside increased activation in brain areas typically associated with reading, Shaywitz et al. (2004) also reported an increased activation in the right IFG after successful intervention.
Therefore, by revealing the brain plasticity involved, neuroimaging has highlighted that successful interventions improve reading ability by not just ‘correcting’ the brains of dyslexic individuals but also further strengthening their compensating areas they have developed. In turn, neuroscience shows that interventions allow children with dyslexia to flourish in education and value their neural circuits developed. Finally, neuroscience can also play role in early identification of individuals who will go on to developing dyslexia. For example, Molfese (2000) carried out a longitudinal study on 48 children using auditory event-related potentials (ERPs). ERP is a non-invasive technique to measure changes in electrical activity to displayed stimuli (Luck, 2014). In Molfese’s (2000) study, ERP measured brain responses to repeated speech and non-speech sounds in infants of just 36 hours of birth, and then in successive years near their birthday. At aged eight, all the children were assessed on standardised tests measuring their intelligence and linguistic ability.
Molfese (2000) found that the ERP measures recorded at birth categorised with 81.25% accuracy the normal, poor and dyslexic readers at aged eight. Therefore as neuroscience can successfully identify those who will develop dyslexia early in life, interventions could be carried out before reading problems later emerge at school.
Currently, identification of dyslexia is established via behavioural measures when children are 9 or 10 years old after the child has begun to display reading difficulties (Molfese, 2000). As children grow up and go through cognitive and linguistic development they become less cognitively flexible and therefore have a reduced ability to learn new skills (Witelson, & Swallow, 1987). Therefore, by identifying dyslexia earlier, interventions can be carried out before school which increases the chances of improving reading skills. Once at school, dyslexic individuals will not be at a disadvantage to their peers and hence can flourish in other aspects of education.
Therefore it is clear that earlier identification of dyslexia by neuroscience methods could play a crucial role in a dyslexic child’s education. Hopefully, in the future, such measures could be implicated into a routine procedure for diagnosing dyslexia. However, while early identification can positively affect child’s academia, it is possible that it could negatively their emotional well-being. For example, dyslexic students consider a label of dyslexia to be associated with stupidity (Harter, 1999).
In turn, it comes as no surprise that dyslexia has been found to negatively affect the self-esteem of those diagnosed with it (Guilli, Mallory & Ramirez, 2005). Early identification of children that will develop dyslexia could make them feel abnormal and stupid, even before they show any reading problems. However, by remediating the child’s later emerging deficit before school, once at school they are no different to their peers.
Ultimately, by being able to identify dyslexic individuals early, neuroscience can be the gateway to eliminate dyslexia and the negative emotions associated with it, instead of just trying to reduce their impact with compensatory strategies at school.