Visual Spatial Attention Deficits Can Impair Reading Acquisition

This man is brilliant.  His name is Dr. Harold Solan.  We’ve mentioned him before in the context of visual attention and reading.  He was inducted into the  National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2003 in large measure due to his body of work showing that visual attention is not only an essential reading readiness skill, but is responsive to therapeutic intervention.  He has directly mentored me and Dr. Tannen and Hong in visionhelp, but has indirectly influenced every developmental optometrist and many thousands of patients.  His chapter, Models of Reading Disability and Their Implications in Hung & Ciuffreda’s Models of the Visual System is among the seminal works published on vision and reading.  I was delighted to learn from a colleague this evening that Solan’s work on visual attention and reading has been directly supported by a new study from Andrea Facoetti’s lab in Italy.  Here is a nice UPI summary of the implications of Facoetti’s research:

PADUA, Italy, April 8 (UPI) — Researchers in Italy said they found a causal connection between early problems with visual attention and a later diagnosis of dyslexia.

Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua in Italy and colleagues Sandro Franceschini, Simone Gori, Milena Ruffino and Katia Pedrolli assessed children before they were taught to read for visual spatial attention — the ability to filter relevant versus irrelevant information — through tests that asked them to pick out specific symbols amid distractions.

The children also took tests on syllable identification, verbal short-term memory and rapid color naming. The children were tracked for the next two years for measures of reading, Facoetti said.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found the test results showed children who initially had trouble with visual attention were also the ones to later struggle in reading.

“Visual attention deficits are surprisingly way more predictive of future reading disorders than are language abilities at the pre-reading stage,” Facoetti said in a statement. “Because recent studies show that specific pre-reading programs can improve reading abilities, children at risk for dyslexia could be treated with preventive remediation programs of visual spatial attention before they learn to read.”

The complete citation for the journal article is:  Franceschini S,  Gori S, Ruffino M, Pedrolli K, Facoetti A.  A causal link between visual spatial attention and reading acquisition.  Current Biology 2012;22:1-6.
The paper concludes:

“Overall, our results demonstrate for the first time that independently of speech-sound perception, as well as nonalphabetic cross-modal mapping skills, visual attentional functioning predicts future reading emergence and development disorders. These findings virtually close not only a long-lasting
debate on the causal role of visual spatial attention deficits in dyslexia but also open the way to a new approach for early identification and more efficient prevention of dyslexia.”

The type of RAN (rapid automatized naming) and serial search activities utilized in this research lends even further support to the significance of attaining mastery on vision therapy procedures such as Hart Chart Saccades and Michigan Letter Tracking, as we’ve alluded to before.

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO


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