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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
Computer game helps dyslexics
School children
People who are dyslexic may have difficulty with reading or spelling
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Psychologists in Finland have developed a computer game to help children with dyslexia.

They say it improves reading ability by training a specific part of the brain.

This program is very simple and easy to use and it can be applied in any language

Teija Kujala, University of Helsinki, Finland,

The Helsinki-based team hopes to make the software available worldwide.

The game is suitable for four-to seven-year-olds and could be used at home under parental supervision.

Team leader Teija Kujala of the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the University of Helsinki, Finland, told BBC News Online: "This program is very simple and easy to use and it can be applied in any language.

She said: "We observed improvement in reading generally. The brain started to process auditory information better."

Learning problems

People who are dyslexic may have difficulty with reading, spelling, understanding language they hear, or expressing themselves clearly in speaking or in writing. They are often gifted in other ways.

The underlying cause of dyslexia is largely unknown but it is thought to be due to a problem in processing auditory or visual information, or both.

To help dyslexic children improve their reading, the scientists developed a computer game based on matching shapes with sounds.

A group of seven-year-olds at a Finnish school took part in a pilot study.

The children were played sounds of different pitch, duration and intensity, which were represented on screen by a series of rectangles moving up and down with the music.

The subjects were asked to follow the pattern of sounds and press the space bar when the last element of the pattern was played. If they got it right, they were greeted with a smiling face.

The game led to a significant improvement in reading accuracy and some gain in reading speed in the 24 dyslexic children tested.

Underlying cause

Further tests showed the training had boosted brain activity in the auditory cortex.

This area of the brain is important in the processing of auditory signals or more particularly of speech and language.

The work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could also shed light on the roots of dyslexia.

It suggests that the condition arises from a general problem in the way the brain processes auditory information rather than a specific difficulty in discriminating between sounds used in language.

The British Dyslexia Association welcomed the new research.

Its policy and local services director Carol Orton said: "This study emphasises the need for early identification of dyslexia.

"We are particularly interested in a strategy that develops pre-requisites for learning and avoids the sense of failure that even very young children experience when they find learning to read hard," she told BBC News Online.

See also:

16 Mar 01 | Education
Scientists find cause of dyslexia
07 Sep 99 | Health
Scientists identify dyslexia gene
16 Feb 01 | San Francisco
Brain scan aid to dyslexics
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