Scientists Discover Evidence of Brain Rewiring in Kids

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Babies, Research Reveals: Tweens

Imaging shows compromised white matter (blue area) in poor readers, left; increase in structural integrity (red/yellow) among poor readers who received instruction, center; and after instruction, previously poor readers had the same structural integrity as good readers. Credit: Timothy Keller, Marcel Just

Fantastic news for parents who are trying to help their kids master the skill of reading: Two scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have found evidence that a child's brain can actually rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain, after receiving instruction to improve their reading skills.

In a report published this week in the academic journal, Neuron, scientists Timothy Keller and Marcel Just explain that after being trained in reading skills, imaging showed the capability of children's brains to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.

For these children (ages 8 to 10), the quality of their brains' white matter -- the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter where information is processed -- had improved substantially after they received 100 hours of remedial training.

"Showing that it's possible to rewire a brain's white matter has important implications for treating reading disabilities and other developmental disorders, including autism," says Just, director of CMU's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI), in a statement about the study.
The study was designed to discover what physically happens within the brains of poor readers who become good readers.

The researchers scanned the brains of 72 children before and after a six month remedial reading program. At the outset, 47 were poor readers and 25 were reading at a normal level. The good readers and 12 of the poor readers weren't given remedial instruction, and their brain scans showed no changes.

"The lack of change in the control groups demonstrates that the change in the treated group cannot be attributed to naturally occurring maturation during the study," says Keller, a CCBI research scientist and author of the first developmental study of compromised white matter in autism.

So, the next time your kids say they don't feel like reading, remind them: Improving their reading skills could actually help them grow more powerful brains.

Related: Tips for Family Reading, Reading and Language Development

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.