Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sound Training Rewires Dyslexic Children's Brains

Source: ScienceDaily “Sound Training Rewires Dyslexic Children's Brains For Reading” (November 4, 2007)

Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030114055.htm

(Credit: Image courtesy of Children's Hospital Boston)

According to a brain-imaging study published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, some children with dyslexia struggle to read because their brains aren’t properly wired to process fast-changing sounds. A study was done by Dr. Nadine Gaab, of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at Children’s Hospital Boston, involving sound training that can rewire children’s brains thus taking away sound processing problems.

Dr. Paula Tallal, of Rutgers University, first discovered in the 1970s that children with developmental dyslexia may have an underlying problem processing sound but it had never tested using brain imaging. In the study, Gaab used functional MRI imaging to examine how the brains of 9 to 12 year old children with developmental dyslexia and normal readers, responded to sounds, both before and after using educational software called Fast ForWord. In the first test, Gaab provided two types of sounds: fast-changing and slow-changing to see how the children’s brains would respond. These sounds resembled vocal patterns found in speech. The fast-changing sounds changed in pitch or other acoustic qualities quickly – over tens of milliseconds – as in normal speech. The slow-changing sounds changed over only hundreds of milliseconds. The results showed that in typical readers, 11 brain areas became more active (refer to image A) when the children listened to fast-changing, compared to slow-changing sounds. In dyslexic children, the fast-changing sounds didn’t trigger this ramped-up brain activity (refer to image B). The dyslexic children instead processed the fast-changing sounds as if they were slow-changing, using the same brain areas at the same lower intensity.

With the computer program (Fast Forword Language), Gaab found that the brains of children with dyslexia changed after completing exercises. These exercises involved no reading – only listening to sounds, starting with simple, changing noises, like chirps that swooped up or down in pitch. Children were told to indicate for instance, whether the chirp’s pitch went up or down. The sounds were played slowly at first then gradually sped up thereby increasing the difficulty. The exercises were then repeated with increasingly complex sounds: syllables, words, and finally, sentences. After eight weeks of daily sessions, dyslexic children’s brains responded more like typical readers’ when processing fast-changing sounds, and their reading improved. However, it is unclear whether the improvement lasts beyond a few weeks as follow-up tests were not done.


I was very interested to discover that music (with the definition in mind that music is sound) can help literally rewire dyslexic children's brains. I proceeded to do some further research to see whether or not other studies had been done on this topic involving the use of sound training to rewire children’s brains and surprisingly, all I found were links and websites containing this very article with the study done by Dr. Nadine Gaab. I am curious to find out whether or not certified music therapists have tried exploring the use of music with dyslexic children. Since this study was done 3 years ago, my only disappointment was that I was unable to find any information regarding a follow-up on the children who participated. Given that the results were extremely positive and possibly ground-breaking, I am surprised that Dr. Gaab or Dr. Tallal did not do any follow-up tests with the dyslexic children’s brains to see whether the results were long-term or only temporary. As a musician, I am certainly fascinated by the idea that musical training could help improve dyslexic children’s reading. Perhaps if this research area is developed further, music educators could use this as an aid for not only helping children with developmental dyslexia, but also as a tool to help all children learn and/or improve their reading abilities from an early age.