New Clues To The Puzzle Of Dyslexia

There's new evidence that dyslexia, a common reading disability, is caused by a problem with processing sounds in the brain. Dyslexics get confused when trying to link rapid-fire consonants like "b" and "d" to specific letters, say scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. In a study published last week, the researchers recorded brain-wave responses of adults to a series of two beeps. The dyslexics showed distinct responses to both tones--but only when there was a half-second pause between them. As the gap shortened, delayed response to the first sound obscured the second. The good readers could consistently tell the two apart.

Other researchers have found hints of the problem in infants. Psychologists Dennis and Victoria Molfese at Southern Illinois University played a series of taped syllables, like "dee" and "bee," for newborns in the hospital and then recorded their brain-wave responses. Eight years later, when the same children were in third grade, the researchers tested the kids for dyslexia. Preliminary results show that 80 percent of the dyslexics exhibited a single trait as newborns: on average, they responded to sounds three tenths of a second later than other babies. "Kids should be treated early--before years of reading failure in school," says Dennis Molfese. If he's right, the nursery may be a good place to start.