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Patterns or Phonics? Unraveling Dyslexia and Statistical Learning


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Thursday, December 2, 2021

​Sometimes looking at a learning issue from a new angle will generate innovative ways of helping those who deal with the problem.

This may be the case with a new research paper published by Christopher Conway, Ph.D., Director of the Brain, Learning and Language Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital and Sonia Singh, Ph.D., of The University of Texas at Dallas, which looks at an aspect of human cognition called statistical learning and how it relates to dyslexia.

Their paper, Unraveling the Interconnections Between Statistical Learning and Dyslexia: A Review of Recent Empirical Studies, examines whether dyslexia is associated with reading and language deficits or more associated with the ability to discern patterns in letters and words and the patterns related to how sounds map with the letters and words. The ability to learn these types of patterns is referred to as statistical learning.

A Different Kind of Problem?

“The primary view of dyslexia is that it is a phonological issue, meaning that some people have problems processing and perceiving speech sounds," Conway said

If dyslexia is a statistical learning problem, then it's not about understanding speech sounds per se, but instead about learning the patterns you're exposed to throughout your life.

Conway said that from infancy, we are perceiving and hearing sounds of speech, coming to an understanding of what order words should go in and the meanings of words. These patterns show us how to order words to make sense. The same is true of written language. Most people learn what letters can go together and what letter combinations don't make sense.

Earlier Diagnosis Potential

The research looks at whether dyslexia is associated with impairments in recognizing patterns when it comes time to learn to read. If you're having trouble figuring out patterns of letters and their associated sounds, that means you'll have trouble reading apart from any difficulties processing speech sounds.

“Statistical learning is a cognitive measure," Singh said, “so it can be measured outside of reading."

She said a measurement for pattern learning can provide more accessibility, so parents and healthcare providers don't have to wait until reading age to predict whether a child will have trouble reading. It has the potential to solve a dyslexia problem before it appears.

Read the full published article here: