Researchers have found that functional brain scans and tests of reading skills when taken together are better at predicting which children will have ongoing reading problems.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by led by Fumiko Hoeft at Stanford University School of Medicine.
As part of the study, researchers examined 73 Pittsburgh-area children of ages 8 to 12, who were identified as struggling readers, ran for a school year.
The researchers administered standard tests at the start of the year, for early literacy skills, including word identification, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, efficiency, and phonological processing, this last a critical measure of how well children process the sounds of letters and letter combinations.
The study also involved functional MRIs (fMRIs) to depict how the children's brains' worked when they had to read two words and say whether they rhymed, a test of phonological awareness and to make these tests more sensitive to differences among children, the researchers analysed the images using a method called 'voxel-based morphometry' that uses the density of the brain's white and grey matter to zero in on activation patterns in specific parts of key brain regions.
The children's ability to decode text was tested by using the Word Attack subtest of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, a standardized measure of decoding. And it was determined which test method (either or both) predicted reading skill more strongly.
Researchers found that the model combining the behavioural and neuro-imaging measures predicted future decoding significantly better than either of those methods alone.
Researchers suggested that although MRIs might not be suitable as widespread screening instruments, they might be considered for use in children showing early reading problems, especially to differentiate children who have a true language disorder from those who simply need time to mature.
The findings of the study were published in the June issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).