French researchers believe they have discovered a possible cause—and even treatment—for dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that can make reading, writing, spelling, and sometimes math, challenging. The characteristics vary from individual to individual, but can include difficulties with skills like forming and naming letters, grasping separate speech sounds within a word, and remembering the letters of the alphabet in sequence. They may invert letters and numbers or report seeing words “dance” on the page. Without extensive classroom supports, kids with the condition can struggle to keep up in school.
In a promising new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, University of Rennes researchers Guy Ropars and Albert le Floch have identified a tiny yet crucial difference between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people.
All of us have light-receptor cell patterns in each eye that allow us to see. Researchers found that in non-dyslexic subjects, these patterns are asymmetrical, so the brain chooses one eye to be dominant or override the other, creating a single image in the brain. In dyslexic subjects, light-receptor cells were found to be arranged in matching patterns in both eyes. This means there is no dominant eye, so a mirror image is produced, which may confuse the brain and produce reading errors, researchers report.
"Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia," co-author Ropars told the Agence France Press (AFP). He added that it could also mean they’ve happened upon a “relatively simple” method of diagnosis: simply looking into someone’s eyes. Typically, dyslexia is diagnosed via a series of tests administered by a psychologist.
In their research, Ropars and le Floch also discovered slightest delay between the brain processing the main image and mirror image, which allowed them to test a treatment. The quickest flash of an LED lamp—so fast it is invisible to the naked eye—effectively cancelled out the mirror image in the brains of dyslexic subjects while they read.
“For dyslexic students, their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene,” the study authors told AFP.
We know that dyslexia isn’t limited to mixing up bs and ds—that those with dyslexia, about one in five people, struggle with many language-related challenges and that getting a diagnosis can be tricky. However, it is worth watching how this research develops.
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