Dysfunction of Rapid Neural Adaptation in Dyslexia

The results of neuroscience research by Professor John Gabrieli and a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have indicated reduced adaptation across a variety of diverse stimuli when studying neurophysiological adaptation to stimulus repetition in adults and children with dyslexia. They have suggested that “dysfunctional adaptation in representing consistent features of stimuli may be a core neural signature of dyslexia”.

The full research article can be found at: http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(16)30858-3

Professor John Gabriele said, “You learn something upon the initial presentation that makes you better able to do it the second time, and the ease is marked by reduced neural activity. Because you’ve done something before, it’s easier to do it again”. (Source and further information: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/dyslexia-learning-difficulty-why-how-major-reason-discover-found-mit-boston-neuroscientists-a7488701.html)

The study involved reactions to repetitions of words (from a single voice and also from different voices – the dyslexic group had significantly reduced adaptation to a consistent voice), pictures of objects and faces. All of these elicited less adaptation in the dyslexic group compared with the non-dyslexic group. 

Dr Kate Saunders of the British Dyslexia Association said: “this is exciting new research, which has the potential to make a major contribution to our understanding of the underlying brain processes that may make it more difficult for dyslexic individuals to learn, particularly for very complex tasks such as learning literacy skills. These tasks rely heavily on the ability of the neurological mechanisms concerned, to react when a stimuli is seen or heard for the first and then a second time in a way that makes it easier the second time. This study has suggested that the neurology of dyslexic individuals appears to be less effective at this process than non-dyslexic individuals.

Dyslexia is complex and there are differences between dyslexic individuals in the way their dyslexia manifests. However, research such as this may help to provide an important part of the jigsaw puzzle in our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that may be implicated. Current advances in technology mean that researchers are able to monitor brain activity to a greater and greater degree. This is helping to produce real strides forward in the field and this current study presents an exciting new avenue for further research and exploration.

The more we understand about the neural mechanisms and processes underlying the way in which the dyslexic brain processes information, the more we can design interventions, support and classroom practice to ‘teach the way they learn’. It may also help us to understand the wider effects of dyslexia on the processing of information such as a string of instructions, common series (e.g.: days of the week, months of the year), dates, names, a series of numbers, telephone messages, copying accurately from the board and early letter formation, all of which can be problematic for dyslexic individuals”.


Dr Kate Saunders, CEO, British Dyslexia Association 22.12.2016