Problems with visual attention before a child is able to read may lead to a later diagnosis of dyslexia, according to a new study published in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.
“Visual attention deficits are surprisingly way more predictive of future reading disorders than are language abilities at the pre-reading stage,” said Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua in Italy.
The researchers believe that the findings not only end a long-term debate on the causes of dyslexia but also pioneer a new approach for early identification and intervention for the 10 percent of children who will struggle with extreme reading difficulties.
For a period of three years, the researchers studied Italian-speaking children, from the time they were pre-reading kindergartners until they entered second grade. The team evaluated pre-readers for skills in visual spatial attention—the ability to filter relevant vs. irrelevant information—in which the children were asked to pinpoint specific symbols among distractions.
The children were also tested on syllable identification, verbal short-term memory, and rapid color naming, followed over the next two years by measures of reading.
The findings revealed that kids who initially had difficulties with visual attention were the ones to struggle later with reading.
“This is a radical change to the theoretical framework explaining dyslexia,” Facoetti said. “It forces us to rewrite what is known about the disorder and to change rehabilitation treatments in order to reduce its impact.”
He emphasizes that simple visual-attention tasks should help identify young children at risk for dyslexia. “Because recent studies show that specific pre-reading programs can improve reading abilities, children at risk for dyslexia could be treated with preventive remediation programs of visual spatial attention before they learn to read.”
Source: Cell Press