Brain scans could be used to identify learning disabilities early

Akira Ohgaki/via Flickr
April 1, 2013

Researchers in Western New York have been using brain scans to add to our understanding of how humans comprehend numbers. The new data could have implications in diagnosing learning disabilities earlier on, and aid in our understanding of why some kids struggle at school.

Jessica Cantlon, a 2013 Sloan Research Fellow, leads a team of brain and cognitive scientists at the University of Rochester looking for answers in the brains of kids.

She says the data they're able to collect from children's brain scans could be used to determine the probability of children encountering problems with subjects like math later in life.

"On one end of the spectrum we have shown that there is this evolutionarily primitive neural basis for math that's present in young children," says Cantlon. "And so the more we understand about what things should look like from a young age, the earlier we might be able to tell that something¿s going wrong."

Cantlon says the current method used to assess children struggling at school is behavior examination, but that can be ambiguous and inconclusive.

She says analysis of the brain scans can show what parts of the brain are typically involved and active when a child is undertaking an academic task like basic math.

Cantlon says this knowledge could provide a base for comparison with the brains of children exhibiting behavioral or learning difficulties, making diagnosis simpler and easier for teachers and parents to address the issue through altered approached to teaching.