KU Leuven: Brains are most susceptible to reading development in the first two years of primary education

75 children from Flanders took part in the study, who were followed up for several years. Each year, they were given some reading and language-related tests, and they went under the MRI scanner at three times: at the end of kindergarten, after second grade, and halfway through fifth grade. This allowed the researchers to observe how the brain develops during different reading phases and to what extent this differs in children with dyslexia.

“We were able to establish that the neurobiological differences between children with and without dyslexia are already present before they learn to read,” says Professor Maaike Vandermosten (Department of Neurosciences), lead author of the study. “In children with dyslexia, we see less volume at the bottom left of the brain. The connection between this region and the regions at the front is also less well developed.”

“In the further development of the reading regions on the left side of the brain, we found no structural differences between children with or without dyslexia. The development is therefore similar, but the differences that were already present at pre-school age are no longer made up for. In addition, we found that children with dyslexia show a different development in the brain regions on the right, outside the reading network. You can interpret that as a compensation for the reading problems these children experience, but that strategy does not seem really efficient.”

Reading interventions are traditionally started in the third year because there must be a ‘persistent’ problem. However, our study shows that the reading network is the most plastic and therefore subject to improvement in the years before.

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