Understanding Dyslexia

April 07, 1998

Dyslexic children appear to inherit a weakness in the area of the left hemisphere of the brain responsible for the perception and production of the sound patterns of speech, associated with gene markers on chromosomes 6 and 15.

At the 7th Novartis Foundation Public Lecture, Professor Margaret J Snowling will present research showing how these language processing deficiencies hinder the dyslexic child's reading by preventing him or her from setting up a well-specified system of direct connections between printed and spoken words.

The effects of this can be seen even in some four-year-olds who, by dint of having a dyslexic first-degree relative, may develop dyslexia in the future. Their knowledge of nursery rhymes is poorer than that of their contemporaries as are their abilities to name objects and repeat unknown words. And as they grow up, dyslexic children, unlike reading-age-matched non-dyslexic children, appear to learn to read by building their sight vocabulary without using spelling-sound correspondences.

3 to 6 % of the population have difficulty acquiring reading and spelling skills. Why this is and how it should be treated are extremely controversial questions. Professor Snowling will explain her view that identifying the underlying cognitive causes of dyslexia is fundamental to understanding the genetics and neurobiology of the condition. She will also outline the treatment implications of her theories.

Professor Snowling is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and has recently been elected as a Vice President of the British Dyslexia Association. As well as holding several editorships, she is a member of the MRC Advisory Board and the ESRC College, and she has acted as consultant to the US National Research Council.

SARA ABDULLA, B.Sc, M.Sc, Science Writer in Residence at the Novartis Foundation

Novartis Foundation

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