Some would say that dyslexia is a commonly known learning disability. Everyone has heard about dyslexia but not much is known about the biological mechanisms underlying it, and diagnostic tools aren’t always precise. Dyslexia is defined as an unexpected difficulty in learning to read despite adequate intelligence, motivation, and educational opportunities. However, at its root, dyslexia is a neurobiological disease. As a neurobiological disease, it would be reasonable to assume that there would be some medical basis for determining dyslexia to some degree of certainty. Yet, this is not the case.
“Despite its biological basis, dyslexia can’t be diagnosed with a simple blood test or brain scan. When doctors make a diagnosis, they consider the results of a series of reading tests along with the symptoms reported by the person, their parents, or their teachers1."
Thinking about the children who are affected by dyslexia, this is highly problematic. Without an early diagnosis, children cannot get the help they need. As a disorder that affects language, this hinders the child’s ability to communicate, read, and do everyday activities. The impact that this must have on a child’s life is tremendous. Approximately, 5-10% of the population has confirmed dyslexia globally. Just think how much this percentage would increase if the diagnosis methods were perfected.
Why is this still a major problem in science today?
The problem behind diagnosing dyslexia stems from the way it affects each individual. Dyslexia does not have the same symptoms or severity of symptoms from case to case. That is why there is no single test that can test for dyslexia. As of right now, doctors use a variety of behavioral and speech tests, after a parent expresses concern for the potential for dyslexia, to piece together whether or not the child has this specific disorder. Furthermore, currently, dyslexia cannot be determined through brain imaging because there has not been enough research done to see the difference between a “healthy” brain and a brain from someone with dyslexia. These limitations stem from the problems in diagnosing who has dyslexia itself and the differences between each individual’s brain. Additionally, the cost is another major factor in limiting the testing for dyslexia because the variety of tests can range from $1-5K for several sessions.
The potential of a solution…
Thinking about this major issue brings up the question of what a solution could do for the general public and more specifically to the people directly affected by this disease. If the precise biological mechanisms of dyslexia could be discovered, the disease could be caught much earlier on with more certainty. Also, dyslexia can be treated early on, at a critical time point in a child’s life because the brain is developing. With the vast variety of resources available to people with learning disabilities, any child can learn and adapt to embrace dyslexia. The problem occurs when a child does not know they have a learning disability and struggles in school. The frustration associated with this complex is one that poses great stress and distress to the child. With no resources to truly help them and no understanding of why they are struggling, these children are unable to cope with their unknown disability as productively.
The Third Time’s a Charm: A look into some of our failed ideas before reaching the topic of dyslexia:
1. We considered doing a similar moonshot but on apraxia of speech. However, AOS is a disease more rooted in a motor planning-language impairment and we wanted to study a problem that was associated more with deficits in cognition, such as phonological processing and comprehension (dyslexia).
2. We entertained the idea of looking at trauma-related language disorders and how to better treat them using patients pre and post-trauma brain scans. However, this idea seemed too limited and, as a group, we wanted to focus more on birth disorders rather than disorders that stemmed from a traumatic event.