Potential harms are not mentioned, while potential benefits are inflated. This story falls far short of the CNN report we also reviewed.
Good reading skills are fundamental to educational, social and financial success. Dyslexia is a type of reading disability characterized by difficulties in word recognition, spelling and decoding. Most studies suggest early intervention is important, but little is known about why some children respond better than others. This research suggests that brain scans can provide insight to underlying mechanisms of dyslexia and perhaps help track and refine interventions that could be tailored to individuals.
Sophisticated imaging of the brain and its function is an expensive diagnostic tool. Applying these sophisticated tests to all children would be a huge expense. While other stories at least mentioned cost (for example the CNN report quoted the author of the study as saying, “…as the usage of fMRI becomes more useful and commonplace, the high cost per scan would go down”) this story fails to do so.
The study was a small one and deserves many cautions in its interpretation. The authors of the study for example, noted, “…these findings suggest that brain imaging may play a valuable role in neuroprognosis….” Compare that caution conclusion with, “Scientists using brain scanning technologies say they have been able to predict with 90% accuracy which children with dyslexia will be able to improve reading skills over a period of a few years.” Although the study did not speak to any interventions, the story suggests otherwise in a subheading, “Study Suggests Interventions to Help Dyslexics Learn to Read.”
The story demonstrates an all too familiar bias with regard to screening tests; there are no down sides. A couple of words of caution (again the CNN story got it right) about the implications of testing and test results would have been useful. If, for example, the fMRI and DTMRI scans are as accurate as this study indicates, might treatment be withheld from children who do not have the brain scan results that promise likely improvement?
While the story does describe the study in some detail, including its relatively small size, there are many aspects that are not addressed. We are not provided with any information about interventions that may or may not have occurred in the intervening 2-1/2 years or anything about the children enrolled and possible important differences at baseline. Again, the CNN story does a much better job evaluating the evidence.
We would have liked to have seen a brief comment on the prevalence numbers quoted for dyslexia. While the numbers quoted are correct, the variation is dependent of the definition used and the testing methods.
The only comments from an expert who was not a member of the research team come from the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The story fails to tell readers that this institute provided funding for the study and issued a news release praising the results, thus the source doesn’t seem to be as independent as readers deserve.
This story provided even less background than other stories about current methods for assessing dyslexia and responses to interventions.
Functional MRI and Diffusion Tensor MRI are research tools not routinely available in community hospitals and not routinely used in clinical practice. The story does not provide any information on their availability. It also doesn’t tell us anything about the two approaches and why/how they are different. It just name-drops fMIR and DTI as if readers are supposed to know what that means.
The story refers to the background of research that suggested certain brain regions might have a connection to the reading ability of people with dyslexia; and it makes clear what is new about the findings of this study.
At least three quotes come from a news release. Other quotes came from responses to e-mailed questions – which may not provide the same insight as a telephone or in-person interview. We appreciate the labeling of the comments as coming from e-mail exchanges and news releases. But we don’t think the best journalism was employed on this criterion. Why the reliance on a news release? And why not at least a phone interview with McCandliss?