Could video games help kids with dyslexia?
Italian researchers are investigating the short term benefits of playing video games for kids with dyslexia.
Published Thursday, February 28, 2013 1:21PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 28, 2013 1:23PM EST
Not too many parents would ever encourage their children to spend hours playing video games, but new research suggests some games might actually be beneficial to kids with dyslexia -- at least in the short term.
The new study comes from researchers in Italy who found that action video games might make children with dyslexia read better. In fact, they say that 12 hours of video game play did more for the children’s reading skills than what they could be expected from a year of traditional reading treatments or even spontaneous reading.
The researchers believe the reason certain video games might be helpful is because dyslexia might be linked to problems with visual attention, rather than problems with language.
They say that video games can help children to learn to focus their attention more efficiently.
People with dyslexia have difficulty reading, often because they have problems "decoding" words into smaller units of sound. The condition, which can range from mild to severe, is thought to be genetic and not related to IQ.
The researchers in this study say that children with dyslexia often have trouble with visual spatial attention long before they begin trying to read.They have difficulty filtering relevant information from irrelevant data in tests that asked them to pick out specific symbols amid distractions.
Lead researcher Andrea Facoetti, an assistant professor with the Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the University of Padua, says action-based video games can help teach that skill.
"Action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment," he said in a statement. "Dyslexic children learned to orient and focus their attention more efficiently to extract the relevant information of a written word more rapidly."
To test his theory, Facoetti had a team test the attention skills of 20 children with dyslexia before and after they played video games.
They divided the children into two groups: one who played an action-based game on the Wii console called “Rayman Raving Rabbids”; and the other played non-action games.Each group played for 80 minutes at a time for nine sessions.
They then tested their reading and phonological skills (their ability to break words up into different sound), as well as their attention skills.
Both groups tested about the same before playing the video games. But the children who then played the 12 hours of action video gamers were able to read faster without losing accuracy, based on a comparison with their pre-game scores. They also improved to about the same level as kids who were given traditional rigorous reading treatments that train children how to decode words.
Those who played the action game improved their reading time by about 0.39 syllables per second, while the non-action game saw an improvement of just 0.08 syllables per second.
The study was not able to determine if it was the games themselves that directly improved the kids' reading score. Nor could it answer whether the improved test scores were temporary, or if they offered any long-term improvement. But the researchers say this study is an important first step.
"These results are very important in order to understand the brain mechanisms underlying dyslexia," Facoetti said.
He added the findings aren’t enough to recommend that all children with dyslexia play video games.
But they say their study suggests there could be more fun and less resource-intense ways to teach children how to focus their attention enough to read.
"Our study paves the way for new remediation programs, based on scientific results, that can reduce the dyslexia symptoms and even prevent dyslexia when applied to children at risk for dyslexia before they learn to read,” he said.
The study will appear in the March 18 issue of Current Biology.