Cerebellar Involvement in Reading and Math Disabilities
Eden, Guinevere F
Brain imaging studies have shown that the cerebellum, traditionally associated with motor function (Manto et al., 2012), is active during reading (Martin et al., 2015) and math (Arsalidou & Taylor, 2011). Cognitive deficits have been attributed to cerebellar dysfunction not only in patients with cerebellar lesions (Jeremy D. Schmahmann & Sherman, 1998) but also in children with the reading disability (RD) developmental dyslexia (Roderick I. Nicolson et al., 2001). Most models identify dyslexia as a language-based disability, point to left-hemisphere cortical anomalies as the reason for poor phonological decoding (Pugh et al., 2001) and orthographic word recognition (Richlan et al., 2010), and advocate for intervention with structured literacy instruction. Yet one theoretical model implicates the cerebellum in dyslexia and as such has advanced remediation approaches targeting balance, motor control, and other cerebellar functions. However, the cerebellar deficit theory of dyslexia is controversial (Vellutino et al., 2004; Zeffiro & Eden, 2001) and the cerebellum’s involvement in reading is not well understood. Therefore, the goal of my thesis research is to conduct a systematic program of research using functional magnetic resonance imaging to characterize the activity of the cerebellum during single word processing and measure its functional connectivity with left hemisphere cortical regions known to be involved in reading. First, I examine and compare a group of well-characterized typically reading children and adults, and test for the suggested age-dependent increase cerebellar activation during reading (Martin et al., 2015). Second, with this normative sample as a reference point, I study children with dyslexia and compared them to these typically reading children using the same experimental protocol, thereby testing the cerebellar deficit hypothesis. Third, I study children with a more complex learning disability, having both a RD and math disability (MD) and extend the studies on word processing to math (arithmetic) processing. Finally, I discuss the implications of our results, which do not support the cerebellar deficit hypothesis, in the context of the existing literature and methodological factors.
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