Signs of Dyslexia Start Before Reading, Study Finds

Researchers found a causal link between visual acuity and dyslexia.

ByABC News
April 5, 2012, 10:21 AM

April 5, 2012— -- Signs of dyslexia may begin even before a child tries to read, according to new research published in the journal Current Biology.

Dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols, cannot just be considered a language problem anymore, as it affects comprehension and visual understanding of symbols and patterns, said Andrea Facoetti, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Padova and co-author of the study. It has been widely "accepted that reading disorders arise from a spoken language problem, [but] results demonstrate the critical role played by visual attention in learning to read."

Dyslexia is is the most common cause of reading and writing difficulties in the U.S., and according to the National Institutes of Health, up to 15 percent of the population may have dyslexia.

The researchers followed 96 Italian children for three years, between kindergarten and second grade. They found that the children who had difficulty identifying certain symbols within patterns and sentences had a harder time reading later on.

The ability to filter out and identify such information is crucial in isolating single letters or syllables before the written words are translated in corresponding speech sound, said Facoetti.

The study authors believe treatment for dyslexia should be changed to take into account such visual information.

"The possibility to dramatically reduce the reading disorder would have a great impact in improving the children's quality of life and in decreasing governmental costs," Facoetti said.

Interesting as the findings are, Dr. Stefanie Hines, director of the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital in Michigan, said they might not easily translate to U.S. children, because the orthography, or the relationship between sounds and spelling, is more complicated in English than in Italian.

"I would caution that the study was conducted on Italian children," said Hines. "The prevalence of dyslexia in Italy is lower than in the U.S."