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Dyslexia May Have Physiological Cause

By Marc J. Jenkins

Two members of the Harvard Medical School faculty recently made a significant breakthrough in the study of dyslexia, a brain disorder that impairs reading ability.

The two researchers, Dr. Albert M. Galaburda, a neurologist, and Dr. Thomas L. Kemper, a neuropathologist, studied the brain of a 20-year-old dyslexic, who died in an accident, and found structural abnormalities in the language center, part of the left hemisphere of the brain.

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Dyslexia, a reading disorder affecting 10 to 15 million Americans, most commonly causes "reverse reading," the frequent confusion of letters such as "d," "p" and "b" and words like "was" and "saw."

Scientists in the past have considered dyslexia to be a psychological disorder, but this study provides "the first clear demonstration of structural changes in the brain" in a dyslexic person, Kemper said yesterday.

Viewing dyslexia as a physical rather than psychological disorder "suggests a different approach toward teaching and helping them," he said.

Kemper said more research is needed to prove the significance of his findings. "This is simply one brain; this is only one step," he said.

There are few opportunities to obtain more brains of dyslexics, he added. "It was only sheer chance that we came upon this one," he said.

Because of the limitations of the study, no cure or major advances in treatment are in sight, Kemper said.

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