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Games may help dyslexic children read faster and more accurately, but they’re not a perfect solution

Games may help dyslexic children read faster and more accurately, but they’re not a perfect solution

Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua recently studied the effects of playing video games on children with dyslexia. The result: just 12 hours of time spent with action titles led to faster reading times than a year’s worth of traditional reading exercises.

Simone Gori, a co-author of the study, compared the process to a spotlight. “Doing this action video game lets you move this spotlight faster and more accurately,” Gori told The Scientist.

The study will be published in the March 18 issue of “Current Biology,” but you can pay to read the full article now.

Gaming as a shortcut to reading speed

So why does this work? There’s much we don’t know about dyslexia and what causes it, but some studies suggest that it may be linked to fine motor skills. “Developmental dyslexia: The role of the cerebellum,” a study by Roderick Nicolson and Angela Fawcett, suggested the connection lies in the cerebellum.

“Initial studies revealed that children with dyslexia suffered severe deficits in skills including not only phonological skill but also picture naming speed, bead threading and balance,” Nicolson’s article stated. “Given the growing evidence that the cerebellum is directly involved in acquiring ‘language dexterity’, all the above deficits are directly consistent with cerebellar impairment.”

“Dyslexia and motor problems in children,” a study conducted by Karin Berg of the University of Bergen, Norway, tested 20 children between ages 10 and 12, and found that 60% of children with dyslexia had trouble with fine motor skill, particularly tasks related to hand-eye coordination.

Video games with lots of action – such as the Raving Rabbids games used by Facoetti and team – require a person to make more judgments, take into account more variables, and act faster than games which don’t require fast reaction time and snap decision-making.

Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and Shawn Green of the University of Rochester had participants of their study broken down into two groups, where one group played The Sims, and the other played Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament for 50 non-consecutive hours.

Both groups were then tested for their reaction time and ability to process information quickly via auditory and visual tests. For example, participants had to look at a screen, and judge where a collection of dots was moving. Participants who played the first-person shooters were able to come to a conclusion 25% faster than those who played The Sims.

It makes sense that children who played Raving Rabbids, a game that also requires quick assessment and fast reaction time, would train the brain to operate faster. In children with dyslexia, this translates to faster, more accurate reading.

It’s important to keep this in perspective: Facoetti’s study was primarily focused on reading speed, not reading comprehension. As Facoetti puts it, “These results are very important in order to understand the brain mechanisms underlying dyslexia, but they don’t put us in a position to recommend playing video games without any control or supervision.”

So video games may not be the saving grace and proper tool for kids struggling with dyslexia, but they might help us understand and navigate the road we take to get there.

Our reporting contains an image from this The Scientist story.