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### Developmental Timeline of Dyslexia

Final piece in a series comprising four parts focusing on non-apparent disabilities.

Nadine Gaab has dedicated over 15 years to unraveling the mysteries of young brain development, with a specific emphasis on non-apparent disabilities—physical or mental conditions not readily discernible to others.

Describing her work as both challenging and fulfilling, Gaab, an associate professor of education, highlights the significance of closely observing children during the learning process. This includes examining various facets of their learning journey such as brain development, behavior, genetics, and environment.

Established in 2021 at the Graduate School of Education, the Gaab Lab delves into the realm of atypical learning paths, particularly focusing on children with dyslexia, a language-based learning challenge. A pivotal inquiry the lab undertakes revolves around identifying the emergence of brain characteristics associated with dyslexia.

Historically, individuals grappling with reading difficulties often exhibit irregular brain structure and function. Gaab poses a critical question: Does this development stem from daily struggles in school, or does it predate their kindergarten experience? Addressing this query holds significant implications for educational policies.

Through the Boston Longitudinal Dyslexia Study (BOLD) initiated in 2007, the lab unearthed that certain brain traits observed in third or fourth graders were already detectable in preschoolers. This discovery sparked further investigation, leading to a follow-up study in 2011 to pinpoint the early onset of these markers.

In an ongoing research endeavor, Gaab’s team enrolls infants aged between 3 and 8 months who possess a familial predisposition to reading challenges, such as having a parent or sibling with dyslexia. The study tracks these infants into elementary or middle school, revealing that some atypical brain features related to white matter, connectivity patterns, and other metrics found in older children manifest as early as infancy.

Gaab stresses the importance of recognizing developmental divergences in children before formal reading instruction commences. This proactive approach advocated by her lab contrasts with the traditional “wait to fail” model prevalent in elementary schools, which often leads to adverse outcomes like low self-esteem and shame among students with reading difficulties.

The Gaab Lab’s exhaustive workdays, extending from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., involve comprehensive sessions with young learners encompassing behavioral monitoring, psychometric assessments, brain imaging, and speech evaluations.

Prior to undergoing brain scans, the young participants engage in a simulated MRI experience while watching engaging movies like “Kung Fu Panda.” This strategy aims to alleviate any apprehension associated with the MRI procedure, turning it into an enjoyable game that requires them to remain perfectly still.

Collaborating closely with the learning disability community, grassroots parents’ organizations, and governmental bodies, Gaab’s lab recently partnered with [ppp1]—a parent-led advocacy group championing systemic educational reforms and dyslexia prevention legislation—to conduct research on early identification of children at risk of reading challenges and the necessity for school-based screenings.

This collaboration, among others, supported the implementation of a mandate by former state Secretary of Education James Peyser in June 2022, requiring [ppp2] in schools and districts, effective as of July 2023.

Gaab underscores the prevalence of children worldwide grappling with disabilities, particularly invisible disabilities that often go unnoticed. She advocates for shining a spotlight on these brilliant individuals with invisible disabilities, emphasizing the importance of providing tailored interventions and accommodations.

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