UW Today

This is an archived article.

March 26, 2001

Study seeks 500 Puget Sound children with reading, spelling problems

Reading and spelling do not come easily to children who have dyslexia. Some other children can read well but have trouble with spelling or handwriting

That’s why University of Washington researchers are on a scientific genealogical hunt and are looking for 500 first- through ninth-grade boys and girls in the Puget Sound area who are having problems reading or with spelling and handwriting. The children and their families are needed for a study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, designed to find a genetic marker for the early identification of dyslexia and specific writing disability.

Dyslexia, a reading disorder, runs in families, according to Ginger Berninger, principal investigator of the UW’s multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center and a professor of educational psychology. Specific writing disability without reading problems may be just as common as dyslexia, but is less diagnosed and treated. Under Berninger’s direction, the center is investigating treatments for these genetically based disorders and is engaged in outreach to help schools teach children with these disorders more effectively.

To be eligible, parents should submit prior written evaluation of their child by a school or clinical psychologist. Both of a child’s biological parents and any siblings also need to participate. Eligible children and their families will be given a series reading, writing and language tests at the UW, and each person will be asked to provide a small sample – about two tablespoons – of blood. The process takes about 3? hours.

“At present the only way of determining if a child has dyslexia is to have the child fail in school for years, and that certainly can be detrimental,” said Jennifer Thomson, research associate professor of educational psychology. “If we had a blood test to identify dyslexia or specific writing disability in at-risk children in families with a history of these disorders, schools would be able to have interventions in place before children experienced repeated failure.”

Dr. Wendy Raskind, a UW medical geneticist, is leading the effort to develop such a blood test.

Families interested in volunteering for the study or learning more details should contact Thomson at (206) 616-6377 or thomsonj@u.washington.edu. Children participating in the study this spring will be invited to attend a free intervention program at the UW next summer to help them with their reading or writing.

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For more information, contact Thomson at (206) 616-6377 or thomsonj@u.washington.edu.