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Expert Speaks at MIT About Causes of Dyslexia

by Solvegi Shmulsky

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – On February 12, 2014, world-renowned expert Dr. Andrea Facoetti spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about dyslexia, including evidence for a key risk factor that has emerged recently. In a 2012 longitudinal study, Facoetti and a team of researchers at the University of Padova found that visual-spatial attention deficit was an early predictor of dyslexia.

Manju Banerjee, Vice President and Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT) and Dr. Andrea Facoetti at MITIn the age of text readers and digital media, why is understanding the nuances of dyslexia so important? Information in auditory and visual forms is everywhere—think podcasts, digital readers, and YouTube—yet the need for children and adults to read words remains high. In the classroom, the workplace, and countless other environments, individuals must read in order to communicate and navigate effectively. Dyslexia impairs reading in five to 17 percent of the population, and, according to a preview of the Facoetti talk, “A student with dyslexia reads in one year the same number of words as a typically developing reader in two days.”

Facoetti is pictured at right at MIT with Manju Banerjee, Vice President and Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT).

Why is Facoetti’s research significant? This groundbreaking research helps to explain the complex causes of dyslexia. Until recently, dyslexia was thought to emerge primarily from a dysfunction in auditory processing--that is, in connecting print to speech or decoding. Current research has added another dimension to understanding dyslexia, particularly developmental dyslexia. Facoetti’s research points to the key role of visual-spatial attention in reading. His research has the potential to provide early and targeted intervention to those who have difficulty with reading because of challenges in visual attention. This approach to addressing dyslexia has until recently largely been ignored. 

“New, research-based discoveries about the underpinnings of dyslexia are important to Landmark College,” said Dr. Peter Eden, the president of the College. “We are committed to innovation and research that advance education for students who learn differently, and vital findings like Facoetti’s can inform our work.” 

Dr. Andrea Facoetti is the director of the Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the University of Padova, Italy. His research examines the role of visual attention in dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder. This event was arranged by Dr. Matthew Schneps, director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Hosting the event at MIT was The Gabrieli Lab at MIT, a neuroscience center specializing in the study of brain-behavior connections across the lifespan. Event cosponsors Landmark College and Landmark School, which are separate institutions, share the mission to educate bright learners with LD, including dyslexia. Together their programs serve students who learn differently from elementary school through the bachelor’s level of college.

Landmark College was the first institution of higher learning to pioneer college-level studies for students with dyslexia. Today Landmark College, offering two and four-year degree options, a graduate level certificate in universal design with technology integration, and summer programs for students who learn differently, is a global leader in integrated teaching methods for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, ADHD, and ASD. Students, faculty, and other professionals from all over the world are drawn to Landmark College for its innovative educational model—designed through research and practice to help all students who learn differently become confident, self-empowered, and independently successful learners.

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