Dyslexia, a reading and language disorder, affects between 5 percent and 10 percent of the population. Sometimes called "word blindness," it is associated with reduced brain activity in a portion of the left half of the brain.
Researchers working at Stanford University report in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 20 dyslexic children aged 8 to 12 as well as a dozen normal children. The children were asked to perform simple rhyming exercises at the time.
The dyslexic children then took part in an eight-week program of intensive training designed to help them understand the rapidly changing sounds that are the building blocks of language.
The dyslexic youngsters reading skills improved in a number of tests, the researchers said. In addition, the active area of the children's brains changed, becoming much more like that of good readers.
"We see that the brains of these children are remarkably plastic and adaptive, and it makes us hopeful that the best language intervention programs in the future can alter the brains in fundamentally helpful ways," said Stanford psychology professor John Gabrieli.
The next step is to see if commercial reading improvement programs for dyslexics alter the brain as well as the one used in this test, said Elise Temple of Cornell University, lead author of the study.