It’s One of the Most Common Learning Disabilities in the United States
Every year, about 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with dyslexia, making it one of the most common learning disabilities. In total, it affects about 10% of the population. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that out of the students who receive special education for a learning disability, about 80% of them have dyslexia. It often runs in families and is a condition that you’re born with. You cannot “outgrow” or “cure” it; you learn to manage and live with it.
The disability can vary from mild to severe, which means you could live with it for years without realizing you have it. You might think that your eyes play tricks on you when you see numbers or letters backward. While many people look down on dyslexia because it’s a known learning disability, it’s more of a unique mindset. People are highly gifted and go on to lead successful lives. The only difference is that they learn differently from others because of their mind.
There are many symptoms of dyslexia. Some of them are easy to notice while others might seem like it’s just a part of your learning, and it’s not designated to any specific learning disability. The symptoms can be different depending on age. For instance, children who are younger than school age will learn words slowly, talk later than the average child, have problems remembering numbers, colors, and naming letters. They will also have issues forming words correctly, such as they will confuse words that sound alike, have difficulty playing rhyming games or learning nursery rhymes.
Because a lot of these symptoms are signs of other possible learning disabilities and some children naturally learn at a slower rate than others, it’s hard for doctors and parents to pinpoint dyslexia, and it’s often not caught until children start going to school, which is when teachers will notice it.
Symptoms of the disorders start to become more noticeable, especially for teachers, once children start school. Early elementary age is usually when tested and diagnosed so you can come up with the best learning plan for your child. One of the most common signs is that they are reading below their expected level, difficulty spelling, and they start to avoid activities that focus on reading because they feel confused and frustrated.
Other symptoms include problems with understanding and processing what they hear, trouble remembering the sequence of things, difficulty finding the right word or forming answers to questions, difficulty seeing, and understanding differences and similarities in words and letters. They will also spend an unusually long amount of time completing tasks that involve reading and writing. They might even get to the point where they don’t want to finish it or refuse because of their level of frustration.
There are many symptoms teenagers and adults will show that are similar to school-age children. For instance, they will have trouble reading and probably try to avoid activities they need to write and read. They will mispronounce words and have difficulty remembering individual words. If they need to read and write, they will take time with the task because they need to work through their confusion.
Some symptoms are different from what younger children will show, such as trouble summarizing a story or won’t be able to understand jokes or expressions. Another sign is that they will have difficulty learning a foreign language. As math problems become more complicated, they will have more struggles and might try to avoid any type of math.
There is no single test that can tell you if you or your child has the condition or not. You also cannot diagnose yourself, even if you have the majority of symptoms. You need to go to a specialist, and there are several factors they will analyze. First, they will get an idea of your educational background and medical history. Because dyslexia runs in families, they will also ask you if any family members have the condition.
They will need to get information about your home life so they can rule out any environmental factors. You will need to fill out questionnaires along with taking any neurological, vision, and hearing tests. There are also psychological and academic tests. Once everything is complete, the specialist will analyze the results and then contact you about a treatment plan. For instance, getting a tutor or getting extra help in school through an aid.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that’s been researched and discussed for decades. Professionals have looked for ways to help people who struggle with dyslexia to learn how to manage their condition and do whatever their heart desires. Doctors started to believe that games were suitable for children who had trouble reading, math, and sounding words because it gave them time to focus on specific sounds, symbols, and other factors.
Some of the games that have been around for decades include rhyming, matching, math, scrambling and unscrambling words, hangman, and so many others. Before video games, researchers started looking at how computer games could help children and studies proved that they gave them an advantage and helped build their confidence.
New Studies Look at Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
For years, scientists have looked at how people with dyslexia learn differently and why. One of the ways they test is through brain scans. They continue to focus on it because technology further advances right before our eyes, giving them better tools for scanning, research, and analysis so they can find other ways that are more effective to help people. One of the most recent imaging tests researchers are using is the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a technique that maps and measures brain activity.
One of the most recent studies by researchers at Yale University found that people diagnosed with the learning disability have abnormal connections between brain regions. Therefore, they need to rely on other brain circuits when they need to read and use different techniques to sound out words.
Many scientists, such as Elise Temple, Ph.D., of Dartmouth University, have looked into how gaming can help children with dyslexia. Along with Paula Tallal, Ph.D., at Rutgers University and other colleagues, focused on the first studies in this topic. However, instead of video games, they wanted to look at how computer games not only helped children with the disability but also changed their brains.
After studying several children who played a computer game for a while, and some did not, they found that the children who played had increased activation in multiple brain regions during phonological processing. Furthermore, the study showed that games helped the children significantly improve their language and reading skills, mainly when they consistently played the games over a series of days.
Paula Tallal Conducted Another Study Focusing on fMRI Technology
Paula Tallal, Ph.D., at Rutgers University, is known as a pioneer in research when it comes to the dyslexic brain. She is a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who has started to focus on this topic and continues to use new and improved technology to give more support to her thesis and build on her previous studies.
Using fMRI, Tallal found that those with dyslexia have decreased activity in the brain’s language critical left the temporoparietal region during phonological processing. That is one reason that they struggle with sound, sounding out words, and reading. Similar studies also showed that children with dyslexia didn’t show activation in the left prefrontal cortex when distinguishing between rapid and slow acoustic stimuli compared to children without the learning disability. By focusing on these factors, researchers and doctors can start to further narrow in on treatment plans, and teachers can gain a better idea of how to help their students in the classroom.
Another Study Proves that Action Games Might Improve Reading Skills
It’s important to note that scientific studies need to be repeated to prove their results. For instance, study A can conclude that video games improve reading skills, but this doesn’t mean that they are as credible as studies replicated several times. Therefore, researchers from study A will continue with new research, or other scientists will conduct study B to see if they get the same results. Once several studies replicate similar results, the thesis has a solid foundation of support.
One study that further supports video games is helpful to the dyslexic mind who received publication in Current Biology. The co-author of the study, Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua in Italy, concluded with her team that video games that focus on action content help improve reading skills in people with dyslexia. She states that action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment. Dyslexic children learned to orient and focus their attention more efficiently to extract the relevant information of a written word more rapidly.”
When Andrea Facoetti from the University of Padua in Italy and her team started researching dyslexia and how video games influenced their learning, they believed they could prove that video games would help – and they did. For this study, they had children diagnosed with the learning disability play nine 80-minute sessions of video games over time. They also tested their reading skills before and after playing the games to understand better and see a difference. To further improve the study, the researchers then compared the results to non-game players.
Facoetti states that the study results showed that the children who played video games read faster and more accurately than the children who didn’t play. She further believes that because the children who played showed more attention to their task than the children who didn’t, they could learn to focus more on their reading, and this would help improve their reading skills and spelling and writing.
Tallal Looked Into Rewiring the Brain Through Studies
Paula Tallal, Ph.D., at Rutgers University, decided to further her previous studies by looking into how video games could “rewire” the brain to improve reading and writing skills in people with dyslexia. To do this, she teamed with neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, who could further research the research through previous research and study he conducted. After building a team of researchers, they decided to focus on video games, brain imaging, and testing to notice changes in reading, writing, and other academic skills.
The study focused on neuroplasticity-based computerized video games that many believe are known to help rewire dyslexic brains. The study showed that computer games active the areas of the brain critical to reading skills. The researchers concluded that with intensive remedial training, dyslexic brains would start to function more like those who don’t have dyslexia.
One video training program that many researchers focused on in their studies is known as Fast ForWard. In fact, it’s supported by over 30 years of multilevel research, which includes over 300 research studies conducted using scientific learning software to demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. The studies show that the program provides intensive, highly individualized cross-training across a large number of attention, processing, cognitive, linguistic, and reading skills, all of which are vital for academic success.
One example of the program’s effectiveness looks at similar words, such as “ba” and pa,” which is hard for dyslexic brains to understand when it comes to distinguishing the sounds. The child will master the task in the game through earning points when they identify the correct sounds. Once learned, the game adjusts its playing level, so the child is challenged on a more advanced level the next day, all while being monitored via the Internet by a professional. There are other games in the program that will help with speed when it comes to brain processing and help children with English grammar.
One of the newest research areas is looking at if action and other types of fast-paced games are better when it comes to improving reading, writing, and other academic skills of children who have dyslexia. Because this area is newer, there are many studies needed to help build a solid foundation, but so far, it’s looking like action-packed games are a better option.
Scientists led one of the studies at Oxford University. They concluded that people with dyslexia showed delayed reactions when shifting their attention from sights to sounds. Therefore, fast-paced action video games, rather than games explicitly tailored for language learning, might help people with dyslexia improve reaction times. Another study further proved the researchers at Oxford University stated that action games not only helped enhance attention abilities when it came to the dyslexic brain but also created a ripple effect as it helped improve their reading abilities.
A BCBL Study Shows that Non-Violent Video Games are Better than Violent Ones
A study conducted at BCBL, the Basque research center, showed that action video games helped improve reading ability and visual attention for people with dyslexia. Researchers stated that the main objective you want to focus on is to use the most useful video game elements. These are not focused on violence. You can further help your children improve your cognitive ability by looking at games that are fast-paced and hold action instead of violent games.
The researchers focused on the difference between violent and non-violent games. Why? They wanted to focus on what specifically helped improve the visual attention and learning processes. It wasn’t clear that it’s all for entertainment, even if the person believes the game is for pure entertainment purposes. It’s because of the coordination and parts of the brain the person needs to use when they’re playing video games. The trouble is that violence can bring in other brain wires and chemicals, which can decrease the parts of the brain that the person needs to focus on to improve their abilities.
No matter how much you support the studies or your stance on video games, they can help people with dyslexia. Follow the guidance of professionals regarding the games and how much time you or your children should spend playing. While most studies focus on about an hour of playtime, this is also dependent on the person as some people. It is especially for young children, won’t have the attention span to play for that period. Some games, such as football and basketball, are non-violent but won’t give people the elements that they need to improve their brain function.
Another problem is that some people find it hard to get fast-paced games that are not violent for several reasons. First, you or your child might like them; or maybe gaming is newer to you, and you’re just not sure where to look. The best result is to focus on games with elements of surprise and create a sense of fun and excitement. Finally, it’s essential to focus on what you believe and feel. If you notice that your child is playing a specific game and their attention improves, that’s an ideal game. If their reading and writing skills improve, you know you have a good match for your child.
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“Action video games to fight dyslexia.” Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), Medical Express. December 2015.
“Undoing Dyslexia via Video Games.” American Psychological Association. April 2014.
“Video Games May Improve Reading Skills in Dyslexics.” Collthom, Dyslexia Help. March 2013.