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New test could predict dyslexia and other learning difficulties much earlier, study reveals

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A new test may be able to predict common learning difficulties such as dyslexia in children as young as seven or eight, it has been revealed.

The research, published by the Aalto University in Finland, is among the first to explore how the brains of children with dyslexia differ from peers using Magnetoencephalography (MEG) technology.

Dyslexia is a common, lifelong learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling among both children and adults.

While the condition does not usually impact intelligence, it can disrupt studies and cause children to fall behind in school if not identified early; the most common symptoms of dyslexia include reading and writing very slowly, confusing the order of letters in words, and having poor or inconsistent spelling.

To carry out the study, the researchers first identified children between the age of seven and eight at low or high risk of dyslexia based on school performance.

The participants were then asked to listen to nonsensical four-syllable words from a loudspeaker and repeat them out loud.

MEG technology, which measures the weak magnetic fields arising from electrical activity in the brain, was used to pinpoint which areas of the brain were being activated.

It emerged that “considerably less brain activation” was found in the left cerebral hemisphere among the children at risk of dyslexia.

While the processing of language and speech can occur in both the right and left regions, the left hemisphere typically takes over these functions as the child develops – suggesting that dyslexia may develop during this transitional phase.

Using the findings, the researchers believe that a new test could be developed to help quickly identify children with dyslexia to ensure they can receive essential support.

Commenting on the study, author Dr Anni Nora said: “The words were nonsense words that really don’t mean anything. We wanted to see how the kids learned to create memories of new words. We noticed that children at a high risk of dyslexia also have deficiencies in learning new words based on hearing them.

“Their memories of new words were not very precise, and they weren’t capable of differentiating the made-up words from each other. This is an indication of a broader difficulty in processing words in the brain, which makes learning to read more difficult as well”

According to the latest statistics, one in 10 people in the UK have some form of dyslexia.