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Reading and the Brain - Dyslexia Sidebar

When Peter Oathout collapsed in tears instead of finishing an elementary school test, his father took immediate action. Mark Oathout knew there was something seriously awry in the development of his once cheerful and confident child. “[Peter] didn’t want to quit, but he couldn’t read the questions,” remembers Mark Oathout. Peter’s parents scoured the Internet for answers and stumbled onto a burgeoning new field — the neuroscience of reading.

The Oathouts became involved in a research study, led by Dr. Andrew Papanicolaou of the Texas Reading Institute, which uses magnetic imaging to explore what the brain does when we read. Dr. Papanicolaou’s research showed that the brain activity of dyslexic readers clusters disproportionately on the right side of the brain, rather than on the left side like that of successful readers. “It’s like trying to paint with your toes,” explains Dr. Papanicolaou in the film. “You are doing something using perfectly normal equipment, but not suitable for the purpose.”

The imaging revealed that Peter’s school troubles were rooted in the way his brain functioned. He was dyslexic. After a year of weekly, research-based tutoring, Peter’s reading skills jumped from the 10th percentile of readers to the 85th. “To see your child go from being unhappy…to being an excited-to-go-to-school kid, it feels like a miracle,” says Mark Oathout in “Reading and the Brain.”

“Reading and the Brain” is a new 30-minute television show that will air on PBS stations across the country beginning in fall 2006 (check local listings or visit to watch the show online).

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