The small study was conducted at the University of Washington. The researchers studied 40 children, grades 4 to 9. The kids were divided into three groups:
- 17 had dyslexia (difficulty with reading and spelling)
- 14 had dysgraphia (difficulty with handwriting)
- 9 were typical language learners
Each child was given a fiber-optic pen that could record writing in real time. Then the kids were asked to do several things:
- Look at a letter and then write the next letter in the alphabet
- Fill in the missing letter in a word they were shown
- Plan a text about astronauts
- Rest with no task
While the kids performed the tasks, the researchers scanned their brain activity. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see what parts of the brain are most active at a given time.
The scans showed differences among the three groups of children. The typical language learners had more white matter. (White matter is made up of brain structures whose job it is to connect different parts of the brain and relay information quickly and efficiently.)
The kids with dyslexia and dysgraphia had less white matter. They also had more active functional connections in their gray matter. (That’s where thinking and language processing take place.) This means their brains were working harder to accomplish these literacy tasks than those of the typical language learners.
And the group with dyslexia had different patterns of connections than the group with dysgraphia. Their brains looked (structurally) and worked (functionally) differently. But bear in mind, that’s been shown only for the kids and tasks in the study.
As scientists study further, our knowledge may increase. If we understand what happens when kids with and without issues perform certain tasks, someday we may know better how to help them.
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