Reading is fundamental. It’s a skill we all acquire early in life and heavily rely on it all thought the years to learn new skills, amuse ourselves, keep up to date with what’s happening in the world and communities with friends, family, colleagues, business associates, doctors and so on.
But it’s a well known fact that some kids pick on reading pretty fast, while others struggle for a while before they acquire the skill.
A new study conducted by Northwestern University suggests that the problem is related to what the brain does in order to decipher speech when it’s faced with noise. The researchers also say that there may be a way to predict which preschoolers are set to encounter difficulties.
The goal of the study was to develop a way that informs as early as possible when certain children are at risk of encountering learning difficulties later in life. The experts say that the sooner the risk is detected, the sooner experts can intervene and the more the risk can be diminished or managed.
While there are currently some simple tests that pre-schoolers can take so that experts can assess their risk of encountering difficulties, they are limited, and the team from Northwestern University set out to develop better ones that can even test babies.
For their project the researchers looked at the brain waves of 3 year old children and tried to determine how well these brains recognize certain sounds, consonants in particular, when mixed with background noise. The working theory was that this could help identify which of the children are more likely to have trouble learning how to read.
Nina Kraus, senior author on the study and director at the Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, gave a statement saying that the method will end up being “a biological looking glass” if it’s proven to be accurate.
She went on to add that “If you know you have a 3-year-old at risk, you can as soon as possible begin to enrich their life in sound so that you don’t lose those crucial early developmental years”.
Young children need to be able to connect sounds with meanings if they are to learn how to read. The research has shown that pre-schoolers who can accurately connect the sound of a letter to its visual appearance find it a lot easier to learn how to read.
Another problem that younglings might encounter is confusing letters, or finding it hard to distinguish between them. For instance, if the brain takes more time to distinguish the letter “D” from the letter “B”, chances are the child will also find it harder to decipher words and string together sentences.
Noise if a problematic element in the equation as it puts addition stress on the system when the brain has to focus on tuning out competing sounds, all while focusing on others and the entire process not lasting any longer than a few fractions of milliseconds. The researchers have found that consonants are more likely to be affected by noise than vowels, as the latter are louder and longer.
The Northwestern University team tested 112 children with the age between 3 and 14 and predicted how easy or hard it will be for the 3 year old subject to learn how to read. The subjects later took the current standard test for predicting the risk of encountering difficulties, and the researcher are now waiting for the subjects to reach the appropriate age for acquiring the skill and assessing how accurate or inaccurate their predictions are.
The study was published earlier this week, on Tuesday (July 14, 2015) in the journal PLOS Biology.
Image Source: schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au