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Dyslexia not the same the world over
Updated: 2004-09-11 09:54

Chinese schoolchildren from Beijing have helped track the cause of a baffling reading disorder which can affect children learning any language.

New research into the cause of dyslexia challenges the conventional wisdom, which says that dyslexia across different languages has the same root cause inside the brain.

According to a study by a Chinese and American research team published in the journal Nature, the neurological source of reading difficulties is, in fact, dependent on culture.

Project leader Li Hai Tan, from the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, United States, along with Chinese and American colleagues, studied patterns of brain activity in schoolchildren reading the character-based Chinese language.

Tan said the results point to a dysfunction of an area of the brain called the left middle frontal gyrus as the cause of impaired reading of Chinese writing.

This is a very different location in the brain to that thought responsible for reading difficulty of an alphabet script, such as English or Italian.

Tan hopes the findings will allow the development of specific tasks to stimulate this particular area of the brain, helping learners of the Chinese language.

The condition known as dyslexia is a developmental learning disorder characterised by reading problems in people who have normal intelligence and schooling.

Dyslexia and other learning disorders have a major effect on the Australian school system, with some experts saying as many as 20 per cent of children have reading difficulties. Three to 5 per cent of children are thought to have a difficulty originating from a neurological dysfunction.

Professor Judith Rivalland, an Australian expert in language and literacy at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, says that research into the neural aspects of reading development is one of many areas of study required to improve our understanding of the complexity of learning disorders.

"Of greater importance to the public is realising we are in need of highly skilled teachers who are able to identify the specific needs of children," says Rivalland. "There is a range of learning disorders, hence we need to plan and implement appropriate programs in a systematic and ongoing manner."

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