Enhancing Reading Comprehension through Intensive Training

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Photo Credit: Tim Pierce

A new training regime that improves reading comprehension in children has been shown to also boost brain connectivity in kids with autism. This training, as written in June’s Human Brain Mapping, is able to enhance communication within the brain’s language areas.

Rajesh Kana, associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama states, “This is a hard-core, long and intense intervention, which probably is the reason we are finding some changes in connectivity.” The therapy focuses on children who are capable of reading aloud but have difficulty comprehending the meaning of the words.

The researchers studied 31 children with autism who have average oral reading abilities but low comprehension skills. For the course of 10 weeks, at 4 hours a day, the therapists coached 16 of the children to use visual images to understand the words they were reading. The remaining 15 children did not receive this training.

By using visual aids, the children were able to further expand their interpretation of what the words meant, as they were able to describe the colors and shapes in each image.

The children were screened through a brain scanner, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record any changes in resting brain activity before and after the therapy sessions. With several sets of brain regions becoming active at the same time in the children, there was significant evidence that several areas were communicating as connected networks.  One network includes language areas such as Broca’s area, in the frontal lobe, which involves speech production and sentence comprehension. Another element of the network is Wernicke’s area, which is located under the sides of the head and incorporates the understanding words.

By the end of the study, it was evident that children that participated in the intensive training had stronger connectivity within the language network than the children who did not receive any training. Furthermore, the enhanced connectivity was associated with improved scores on a reading comprehension exam.

Lucina Uddin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, states, “Knowing what effective therapy looks like in the brain may help clinicians predict how individuals respond. This is a great model for the kind of work that needs to be done in the field in general.”

For the original article, please click here.

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