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Rhythm and Language

We have included this article as an attempt to explain why we think music is so beneficial to our learners. We find that encouraging language through music and rhythm makes it easier for our dyspraxic learners to produce speech--similar to the way it helps improve speech flow in stutterers. Our findings are anecdotal, so we were very excited to see this research.

Dyslexics May Miss Rhythm of Sounds, Language Mon Jul 22, 5:37 PM ET

By Merritt McKinney

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a finding that challenges conventional thinking about dyslexia, the results of a new study raise the possibility that the learning disorder is caused by difficulties in perceiving the rhythm in sounds.

Assuming that future research confirms that this problem plays a major role in causing dyslexia, it may be possible to develop tests to identify young children who are likely to develop the learning disorder, the study's lead author, Dr. Usha Goswami of University College London, UK, told Reuters Health.

People with dyslexia, despite normal intelligence and vision, have difficulty reading, writing and spelling. The exact cause is uncertain, although a person's genes are thought to play a role.

"We have known for a long time that dyslexic children have subtle spoken language problems," Goswami said. For instance, dyslexic children have a hard time with rhyming exercises and may mix up the first letters of words, changing Bob Dylan to Dob Bylan, she explained.

Researchers know that these and other difficulties predict how well a child will learn to read and spell across a variety of languages, Goswami said, but "what we haven't been able to find is the perceptual problem underlying these difficulties."

Previous studies have shown that even before children start school, their ability to "segment" syllables at the vowel--such as "sw-eet" and "str-eet"--predicts their ability to learn to read and write, even in languages that do not use an alphabet, such as Chinese.

In the new study, Goswami and her colleagues used a test that measures the ability to perceive rhythms in non-speech sounds. They compared dyslexic children with a group of children the same age who did not have reading problems. The researchers also tested a group of children who learned to read at an early age and compared them with same-aged children who had not yet learned to read.

Compared with children who did not have reading problems, dyslexic kids were less sensitive to rhythms in sound, the authors report in the advance online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( news - web sites). And kids who started to read early were better at picking up rhythms in sounds than children who had not yet learned to read.

Past research has focused on the troubles dyslexic children have in breaking down words into segments or "phonemes" as they learn to read. But since the new study found that dyslexic children had difficulties hearing the rhythm in sounds that were not words, the findings suggest that dyslexia may involve a more basic problem with perceiving sounds than previously thought, according to Goswami.

In children with dyslexia, "something is wrong with the perceptual mechanisms underpinning language acquisition long before reading is taught," she explained. "However, there is no simple test available to diagnose this."

If the key problem behind dyslexia turns out to be difficulty perceiving the rhythm in sounds, it may be possible to develop a test that could identify children at risk for dyslexia, Goswami said. Since children's language abilities are still forming until about age 8, such a test "would enable very early language-based intervention that could potentially be very powerful," the UK researcher said.

Goswami and her colleagues are now working to reproduce the study in 10 other countries. She said that if a problem with perceiving rhythms is indeed the basic deficit of dyslexia, then it should be related to reading and spelling abilities in other languages, at least in those that have consonant-vowel syllable structures.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2002;10.1073/pnas.162368599.