This is an archived article.

July 20, 2001

450 children with reading, spelling or handwriting problems needed for study seeking genetic markers for learning disabilities

One of the joys of summer is finding a great new book to read. But it’s a pleasure that eludes millions of children and adults who have difficulty reading because of dyslexia.

Because so many children have trouble reading, as well as with spelling or handwriting, researchers at the University of Washington’s Learning Disabilities Center have launched a major effort designed to find a genetic marker that will allow for the early identification of youngsters with dyslexia and specific writing disability. The study, which was launched last spring, still needs 450 Puget Sound first- through ninth-grade boys and girls in the Puget Sound who are having problems reading or with spelling and handwriting.

The children and their families are needed for the study, which is being funded by the National Institutes of Health. The research team is especially interested in locating students in grades 4 to 9 who learned to ready fairly easily but have persistent spelling problems.

Dyslexia, a reading disorder, is genetic, according to Ginger Berninger, principal investigator of the multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center and a UW 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 also is engaged in outreach to help schools teach children with these disorders more effectively.

To be eligible for the study, parents need to 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 entire process takes about 3? hours.

“Right now, 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 directing 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. Families are needed now and for the next year for the study

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