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Interview with Dr. Sally Shaywitz

Aired July 21, 2003 - 20:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: New research on the brain may unlock the mystery of dyslexia. A reading disorder that affects 1 in every 5 school children. The research is the subject of this week's cover story in "Time" magazine.
Is this the first time we've hoped the brain can be reprogrammed?

Dr. Shaywitz, Sally is her first name, is author of the new book "Overcoming "Dyslexia." Yale University of School of Medicine and one of the experts cited in the "Time" article. Welcome and congratulations.

DR. SALLY SHAYWITZ, YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Glad to be here.

ZAHN: Tell me a little bit of what the most revealing thing that you have learned after studying dyslexia after 20 years, particularly how the brains works?

SHAYWITZ: Well, the exciting thing is there is actually a science now of studying reading and that's made it possible primarily by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development who studied it. And what we found there is really a difference between the brains of children in adults who are good readers and those who struggle to read. Because we can now actually see what happened in the brain and so when someone's trying to read, it's so phenomenal.

ZAHN: And we also have graphics on the air. If you glance over to the screen to help people understand what is going on in the brain at that time. Now, I guess this brain imaging is the proof that the you've been look for, that dyslexia is biologic in nature. And with this, you have been able to disspell many the old myths about dyslexia. Like what.

SHAYWITZ: Well, it used to be a myth that it wasn't real or that children were not trying hard enough. So we know it is real. We know it lives in the brain and we know how to fix it, so that's an enormous amount of progress. We know that there are three areas in the brain that good readers use. Areas on the left side of brain, one area in the front and two areas in the back. And when we study children who struggle to read or adults, we see that the area in the front of the brain lights up. But the areas in the back of the brain don't activate. So there's a significant difference in the brain organization in good readers compared to poor readers.

ZAHN: And I guess the other that is going to be so interesting to a lot of parents out there who are wondering -- a younger age than school age whether child has a problem. You actually have some guidelines for them to follow and things they should look out for.

What should we as parents be looking for.

SHAYWITZ: Exactly, because now that we understand what reading's about, we know what to look for. It has to do with children beginning to appreciate the individual sounds in words. And the first kind of word that children come across that they have to listen to just part of a word are rhymes. So what a parent of a preschooler can look for is the child who has trouble, for example, at the age of 3, of learning her nursery rhymes. Jack and Jill or Humpty-Dumpty. That's so simply for most children. But if you see otherwise bright child struggling, that's a good clue or if the child has trouble figuring out rhymes.

If you say, what rhymes with cat? And the child can't come up with bat or sat, that's another important clue. And also what people haven't realized until recently is dyslexia, because it has to do with appreciating the sounds of spoken language, children may have trouble with their spoken language. They may mispronounce words, or they have trouble -- they have baby talk. They may say aminal for animal and it goes on past when you'd expect it. And then as children get older, perhaps four years or so, they have trouble learning the individual letters of the alphabet and they have trouble remembering them. So they don't recognize an A or a B. It's not that they can't do the theme song, ABC, but they don't recognize the individual letters. And finally, children, as they get to be 4 and 5 years old, learn how to recognize the letters in their own name. And children who go on to have reading problems, have difficulties even in recognizing the letters in their own name.

ZAHN: So the bottom line is there is hope that parents can pick up on some of these symptoms earlier and now that you know what to do about it, you can actually improve the reading proficiency of a lot of children in this country?

SHAYWITZ: Exactly. There is real hard evidence. It's not philosophy, but evidence about what works, so if you recognize it early, you can really help it and give children a much, much brighter.

ZAHN: Well in my judgment you are doing the lord's work. Thank you very much for all of the fine research you have done over the years and congratulations on both your "Time" cover and your book.

SHAYWITZ: Thank you.

ZAHN: Dr. Shaywitz.

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