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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 16:30 GMT
Scientists find cause of dyslexia
boy writing
The study should help dyslexics, say campaigners
Scientists say they have discovered the biological basis for dyslexia.

Research published in Science magazine suggests that parts of the brain crucial to reading are not working properly in dyslexics.

The problem exists across many nationalities, but the research found that English-speaking dyslexics suffered most, because the language is so complex.

The study has been welcomed by support groups for dyslexics.


We have always said that the dyslexic brain is different

British Dyslexia Association
A spokeswoman for the British Dyslexic Association said: "This endorses what we have always said, and that is that the dyslexic brain is different.

"We hope that educators will accept this and therefore identify children with dyslexia earlier and adapt their education so that they are not left behind."

The study looked at why dyslexia is more common among English or French-speakers than Italians.

The English language is made up of just 40 sounds, but these can be spelt in more than 1000 different ways, say the researchers.

In Italian, the language's 25 sounds are made up in just 33 ways.

Brain activity

The scientists behind the study used a body scanner to monitor brain activity in adults while they read.

They found that people with symptoms of dyslexia showed less neural activity in parts of the brain that are vital to reading (in the temporal lobe).

Comparing dyslexics in various countries, they found that English-speaking dyslexics experienced far more problems with reading and writing than the others.

And they say this is because it is so difficult in English to tell how a word is pronounced from the way it is written.

For example, there are different ways of sounding the letter combination "int".

It could sound like mint or pint.

Likewise, clove and love sound very different even though their last three letters are the same.

The same is true of French, where the same sound can be spelt in various ways.

For example: au temps sounds like autant.

It seems the Italian language is one of the most logical and simplest to master.

The researchers say in Italian, letter groups almost always represent the same unique sound from word to word.

Language reforms suggested

The main scientist behind the study, Eraldo Paulescu, suggested languages like English and French could be changed to make them easier for people to read.

He said: "There is an argument for reforming complex orthographies, or writing systems, to improve literacy problems in these languages."

However, the British Dyslexic Association said this was a call which was unrealistic and unlikely to be taken up.

A spokeswoman said, in general, the study should encourage people with dyslexia.

"We hope it will lead to a greater understanding of dyslexia and that people realise that there is no reason why dyslexics should be held back from realising their full potential," she said.

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See also:

10 Jul 00 | Education
Bringing dyslexia to book
20 Jan 00 | Education
Rose-tinted help with reading
07 Sep 99 | Health
Scientists identify dyslexia gene
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