[Research] Reading Disorders

Neuroscience illuminating the influence of auditory or phonological intervention on language-related deficits



Remediation programs for language-related learning deficits are urgently needed to enable equal opportunities in education. To meet this need, different training and intervention programs have been developed. Here we review, from an educational perspective, studies that have explored the neural basis of behavioral changes induced by auditory or phonological training in dyslexia, specific language impairment (SLI), and language-learning impairment (LLI). Training has been shown to induce plastic changes in deficient neural networks. In dyslexia, these include, most consistently, increased or normalized activation of previously hypoactive inferior frontal and occipito-temporal areas. In SLI and LLI, studies have shown the strengthening of previously weak auditory brain responses as a result of training. The combination of behavioral and brain measures of remedial gains has potential to increase the understanding of the causes of language-related deficits, which may help to target remedial interventions more accurately to the core problem.



Interventions and training programs involving phonological and auditory tasks have repeatedly gained remedial effects in dyslexia, SLI, and LLI. Neuroscientific research has demonstrated that improved behavioral performance is coupled with changes in both brain function and brain anatomy. Neuroimaging has revealed normalized training-induced brain activation patterns, whereas electrophysiological measures have demonstrated the normalization of strength and timing of brain responses and oscillatory activity after training. Training effects have been observed also in white matter. Especially in the study of dyslexia, neuroscientific studies have illuminated the location of aberrant brain functions, which has enabled to specify the models of the impairment. Neuroimaging studies have also highlighted partly similar and partly specific patterns of neural activation as a result of different training programs. Gains from very different phonological and auditory tasks as well as training effects in the parietal cortex support the models that propose the involvement of some domain-general neural mechanisms, such as attention, in language-related impairments.


In our opinion, neuroscientific studies thus give an important contribution to the treatment of language-related impairments. Specifically, we argue that the use of both neuroscientific and behavioral measures in intervention studies can increase the understanding of how and why interventions change the deficient neural networks, if methodological requirements are met (cf. Bishop, 2013). From educators’ perspective, neuroscientific research methods are seldom directly applicable to the assessment of remedial interventions. However, keeping up-to-date in such research can provide educators with better understanding of the causes of language-related impairments and help them to target interventions more accurately.


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