Neuropsychology and reading
The science of reading
The science of reading and difficulty with reading (dyslexia) is developing rapidly. We now understand how children learn to read, what part of the brains are involved, what happens when these processes don’t work (dyslexia) and how to overcome these reading problems (for a good account of the science of reading and dyslexia, see Sally Shaywitz’s book Overcoming Dyslexia). Neurogames uses this understanding to help children develop reading skills. It has been shown that good intervention produces brain changes to the extent that dyslexic children’s brains can change to resemble those of children who can read (Meyler et al 2008).
The importance of phonics
The evidence shows that the key skill in leaning to read is developing the ability to phonologically decode words. Language including spoken and written language can be broken down into small units of sound (phonemes). When learning to read children have to work out (decode) the link between symbols (letters) and sounds (phonemes). The Letter Lillies game teaches children all the phonemes in English.
Most children with the right instruction start to develop these skills between the ages of 4 and 7. A number of children, however, seem to have a difficulty in learning this relationship between sounds and letters and this is termed dyslexia. The core disability with dyslexia is in not being able to phonologically decode words. There can also be other reasons for difficulty in reading including slow learning in general, brain injury, attention problems and poor teaching of phonics. Neurogames are specially formulated to help children with dyslexia and other conditions to learn phonological decoding.
Once a child has learnt the relationship between sounds and letters they need to learn to put these together to make words. This process, known as synthetic phonics, is taught using the Word Patchgame. Research has shown that this is one of the most effective ways to learn to read. Over time children learn to become fluent readers and start to learn to rely on automatic word recognition. TheWord Patch game teaches automatic word recognition for the 100 most common words in English. These words make up about half of all written material. By learning these, children become more fluent readers.
Brain regions involved in reading
In normally developing children reading is associated with distinct brain areas on the left side of the brain including the parieto-temporal region for word analysis, the occipito-temporal region for word form and the inferior frontal gyrus for word articulation and analysis (see Shaywitz 2003). Children with dyslexia show reduced activation in the normal left hemisphere sites and typically engage the right temporoparietal areas (Goswami 2008). Studies have shown that good intervention based on phonological decoding results in the left side of the brain being activated again (Meyler et al 2008)
See chapter 16 Goswami, U. (2008) ‘Reading’ in our book J. Reed & J. Warner-Rogers (2008) Child Neuropsychology: Concepts, Theory, and Practice. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Shaywitz, S. (2003) Overcoming Dyslexia New York: Vintage
Meyler, A., Keller, T. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Gabrieli, J. D. E., & Just, M. A. (2008). Modifying the brain activation of poor readers during sentence comprehension with extended remedial instruction: A longitudinal study of neuroplasticity. Neuropsychologia, 46, 2580-2592