“Hacking” the dyslexic brain




Inventors have long been experimenting with technology to make reading and learning easier. But if you’re dyslexic, it’s likely you’ve been subjected to all kinds of testing to understand why you struggled to learn to read, and how to help you learn.

Throughout history, we’ve seen many odd and strange “cures” for dyslexia. In 1944, Life magazine showed how children were diagnosed and treated for everything from “glandular imbalances” to “deep-seated emotional disturbances.”

Today, dyslexic kids and adults continue to be poked and prodded: psychological assessments, vision tests, reading tests, DNA tests, MRIs, electric current treatment, and the list goes on.

AI and dyslexia hacks

In recent years, I’ve noticed that artificial intelligence (AI) is being touted as the next-best-thing for helping children with learning disabilities. Put very non-scientifically, artificial intelligence mimics (and hopefully improves on) the way a human would perform a task.

For dyslexia, AI proponents suggest it could help with early diagnosis, teaching reading and writing and even treating dyslexia. Lexplore, for example, uses rapid reading assessment with eye tracking and AI to diagnose dyslexia in schools (see their video at the end of this post to learn more).

Grammarly is one such tool that many dyslexics love. That’s because it’s an excellent tool for proofreading and finding spellings and grammar errors. It’s better at suggesting alternative spellings than spell check and even deciphering the meaning of text.

Science and tech “dyslexia brain hacks”

Using smart tech to support dyslexics is one thing; “hacking the neural code” is a different story.

AI may one day be used to rewire brains.

Electric current therapy is also being tested as a method to help dyslexic children learn to read faster. Reading rates accelerated by about 13 percent, which is equal to about six weeks of reading intervention (source).

Thousands of children undergo MRI testing every year. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to study the difference in the dyslexic brain when reading, and to create screeners and reading programs. On the plus side, this has contributed to a greater understanding of the dyslexic brain, and the need for early diagnosis and specific reading intervention.

Dyslexia MRI
MRI – dyslexia study

But are parents fully informed of the pros and cons of these tests, such as how the results of genetic (DNA) analysis will be used, and if they can opt out? Are they aware of the ethical issues? Do we want dyslexia to be considered a genetic disorder or genetic mutation? Do we want parents to start screening for dyslexia in pregnancy?

How far will we go to “cure” dyslexia?

Nothing about us, without us

I’m both curious and cautious to see where science, technology and AI will take us. Will it improve lives or subject dyslexic children and adults to unnecessary or unsafe interventions?

Many dyslexics have expressed concerns that science and technology shouldn’t be seen as a “fix” or “cure” for dyslexia. Dyslexia is a brain difference–not something that necessarily needs to be cured. Many in our community have asked: Where does my dyslexia start and where does it end? Would I still be “me” if you alter my brain?

Ultimately, all of this needs to be done in partnership with the dyslexic community. We are not lab rats.

What do you think? Are you curious or cautious about the role that science and tech could play in diagnosing and supporting dyslexic children and adults?






How technology helped me cheat dyslexia (WIRED)

Machine learning opens up new ways to help people with disabilities (MIT Technology Review)

Using artificial intelligence to help students with learning disabilities learn (The Tech Edvocate)

AI Has Already Started Reshaping Special Education

Hearing through the chaos

Reading biological bases – Brain volts (Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at NorthWestern University)

Brain MRI Diagnoses Dyslexia Early

Can I Get an fMRI Scan to Show That My Daughter Has Dyslexia?

No child left without a brain scan? Toward a pediatric neuroethics

What If a DNA Test Could Show How to Teach a Student With Dyslexia?

New Haven Board of Education concerned about ethics of genetic-based reading intervention program

If you start screening sperm donors for dyslexia, where do you stop?

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