Sowing Seeds of Literacy: Factors That Promote Language and Reading Acquisition Along the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory From Infancy to School Age
CitationZuk, Jennifer. 2018. Sowing Seeds of Literacy: Factors That Promote Language and Reading Acquisition Along the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory From Infancy to School Age. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractLearning to read is crucial for academic and societal achievement. Dyslexia, a prevalent learning disorder specific to reading, is typically identified only after persistent difficulty with reading. Early identification and targeted instruction for children at risk for dyslexia offers great potential to employ a proactive (rather than reactive) approach; however, effective implementation requires further specification of factors that contribute to subsequent outcomes, how early these factors arise, and the role of environmental experience. Therefore, this dissertation investigated factors that promote language and reading acquisition through a series of multidimensional neuroimaging studies that span the developmental trajectory from infancy to school age.
The first study examined factors associated with better reading outcomes among at-risk children in a longitudinal investigation from kindergarten through second grade. At-risk children were classified by early screening, then characterized behaviorally and with diffusion-weighted imaging, and longitudinally tracked to evaluate subsequent word reading outcomes. Kindergarten-age factors on cognitive-linguistic, environmental, and neural levels were observed to significantly differ between at-risk children who subsequently did not develop dyslexia relative to those who did, suggesting that these factors, present at the start of formal instruction, may promote reading acquisition. The second study evaluated the role of environmental experience through the lens of musical training. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, school-age children with musical training demonstrated enhanced activation during reading-related processes in brain regions disrupted among children with dyslexia. This suggests that musical training is associated with activation in regions important for reading, which could potentially facilitate the development of a compensatory neural network to support children with dyslexia.
The final study considered how early these factors may arise by examining the extent to which brain structure in infancy may relate to subsequent language and precursor literacy skills in preschool. This longitudinal diffusion-weighted imaging study found that white matter pathways in infancy were positively related to several aspects of language and precursor literacy skills in preschool.
Collectively, these studies suggest a dynamic interaction between predispositions from infancy and environmental experience in shaping the developmental trajectory of language and reading acquisition. These findings carry important implications for educational and clinical practice.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41127180
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