Authors: Christina Fiedorowicz, PhD, C.Psych. Esther Benezra, PhD, B.C.L., LL.B. G. Wayne MacDonald, PhD. Barbara McElgunn, R.N. Alexander M. Wilson, PhD. and Bonnie J. Kaplan, Ph.

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada © 2001 250 City Centre Avenue, Suite 616 Ottawa Ontario K1R 6K7 Canada


This paper reviews recent research in the field of learning disabilities and, in particular, developmental dyslexia. It summarizes findings from numerous studies employing widely divergent methodologies which have attempted to establish the neurobiological correlates of learning disabilities, including genetic, neuroanatomical, electrophysiological, and neuropsychological investigations. On the basis of the evidence compiled, it seems impossible to deny that learning disabilities are a manifestation of atypical brain development and/or function.

Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada

3 The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada convened the authors of this paper to summarize the considerable research literature which has provided evidence that learning disabilities represent a neurobiologically-based condition. Preparation of this paper was primarily motivated by the need to further inform people in education, politics, and social policy that learning disabilities are a condition based on atypical brain development and/or function. The understanding and acceptance of the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities is crucial to the development of programs and policies necessary to assist individuals with learning disabilities. Important research efforts have focused mainly on developmental dyslexia, that is, reading disability, because it represents the most common and frequently identified learning disability. Reading is the primary academic problem in approximately 80% of children diagnosed with learning disabilities (Crago & Gopnick, 1994). Neurologicallybased learning disabilities represent a heterogeneous group of disorders that involve both learning and behavioural components. Although learning disabilities may be exacerbated by other variables, such as ineffective teaching strategies or socioeconomic barriers, this paper supports the position that the essence of learning disabilities is neurobiological in nature. Research into learning disabilities has been conducted through a variety of scientific perspectives. As discussed below, many studies show that reading disabilities have a familial transmission and that there is a genetic basis for the condition, with possible linkage to several chromosomes, especially 6 and 15 as well as 1 and 2. Research into toxicological, nutritional, and teratogenic agents, as well as prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal events indicates that these agents and events can have adverse affects on brain development and cause learning disabilities. Neuroanatomical studies (i.e. autopsy research, MRI and CT scan data) show that the brains of reliably diagnosed cases of developmental dyslexia lack ordinary temporal lobe asymmetry. Neuroimaging techniques (i.e. PET, rCBF, fMRI and SPECT) reveal atypical brain activity in specific areas directly correlated with developmental language disorders and reading subskill functions. Electrophysiological techniques (i.e. auditory brain stem evoked responses, EEG/Power Spectrum Analysis, control evoked response and magnetoencephalography) have also differentiated subjects with learning disabilities from controls. In addition, neuropsychological research indicates that phonological processing deficits are a primary difficulty in subjects with developmental dyslexia. Recent research, therefore, confirms the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities. Following a brief historical perspective, this paper summarizes the research findings of the etiology of learning disabilities as well as the way in which brain structure and function has been related to learning disabilities.

Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada


Historical Perspective
The association of learning disabilities with underlying neurological mechanisms has been noted in the early case studies of acquired alexia and developmental dyslexia, with the major contributions to this literature dating back to Dejerine in 1891 (Dejerine, 1891, 1892). Alexia refers to a syndrome in which an individual who is able to read, subsequently has a cerebral insult, such as a head injury or a stroke, and can no longer comprehend the written or printed word. This acquired reading deficit was correlated by Dejerine with pathological findings on postmortem examination, and because of this evidence, specific parts of the brain were localized as important to the task of reading. When an inability to develop fluent reading skills was initially recognized in children (Hinshelwood, 1896; Morgan, 1896), it was hypothesized that the functions subserved by the same areas of the brain affected in adults with acquired alexia must be implicated somehow in children and, therefore, cause difficulties in reading skill acquisition. Difficulty in acquiring the ability to read in individuals with normal intelligence was termed “developmental dyslexia.” The left angular gyrus; the left occipital lobe; the left calcarine, fusiform and lingual cortex; and the splenium of the corpus callosum were implicated as the likely areas of brain dysfunction in children with developmental dyslexia (Dejerine, 1891; Geschwind, 1979; Hinshelwood, 1896; Shallice, 1988). Pathological findings observed in an acquired reading disorder cannot be linked directly to a developmental disability, for reasons such as neural plasticity and the possible transfer of functions from one part of the brain to another. Nevertheless, the anatomical discoveries from cases of acquired alexia in terms of localization of dysfunction, the kind and extent of reading disability and its associated neurolinguistic and neuropsychological symptoms, as well as other neurobehavioural correlations have served as a useful model upon which to base research in learning disabilities, particularly reading disabilities. Since those early hypotheses were developed over a century ago, there has been an evergrowing body of evidence which continues to demonstrate the association of learning disabilities and neurobiological factors. This evidence includes research into the etiology of learning disabilities as well as evidence that the structure and function of the brain are related to learning disabilities.

Genetics of Learning Disabilities The familial nature of reading disability was first described by Thomas in 1905, and since then, pedigree analysis, sibling analysis, and twin studies have confirmed that it runs in families (DeFries & Gillis Light, 1996; Gilger, Pennington & DeFries, 1991; Hallgren, 1950; Lewis, 1992; Lewis, Ekelman, & Aram, 1989; Lewis & Thompson, 1992; Lubs et al., 1993; Tallal, Townsend, Curtiss, & Wulfeck, 1991; van der Lely & Stollwerk, 1996; Wolff & MeIngailis, 1994; Wolff, MeIngailis, Obregon, & Bedrosian, 1995). In fact, offspring risk rates are significantly elevated if a parent reports a history of reading disability, and the risks are sufficiently increased in families with parents who have a
Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada

5 reading disability to warrant use of family history as a component in clinical evaluation (Gilger et al. Gilger. & McLoughlin. Single-word reading has more recently been linked. polygenic inheritance and genetic heterogeneity (Finucci. 1996). 1996). Vogler and colleagues reported essentially the same risk: if one parent was affected. Pennington et al. Pennington & Gilger. major gene is responsible for a significant proportion of the variation present in reading. 1993. Thirty-five years later. Lewitter. Graham. Heritability estimates for various reading phenotypes have ranged from 0. Borecki. Stevenson. 1991. DeFries. Bartling. Pennington. Some research has supported an autosomal (not sex-linked) dominant mode of transmission (DeFries. Fredman. 1987). 1983). the linkage data reviewed below tend to support the latter model. & Pennington. Smith. 1989). the mode of inheritance has not yet been proven. albeit weakly. Borecki. other work has indicated recessive. 1976. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada .. act together along with a variety of environmental factors to produce the range of phenotypes observed.. & Decker. & Lubs. with both positive (Schulte-Körne. this finding has been disconfirmed by some (Bisgard et al. Kimberling. Potential explanatory modes of transmission of learning disabilities through genetics have been discussed in terms of three basic genetic models (Gilger. & Wadsworth. Hallgren (1950) reported that when one parent was affected. 1987). 1998) and negative (Sawyer et al. an average of 46% of the children were affected by dyslexia. however. 1996).. 1996. Despite the certainty of the existence of a genetic basis.. The model of Quantitative Trait Loci posits that genes of additive but unequal effect are responsible for the heritable aspects of the variance in a phenotype such as reading. that a number of genes at different loci may contribute to the range of reading ability/disability and that a simple locus is not likely (Gilger et al. 1984). 1994.. The Colorado twin study reported concordance rates of 68% for monozygotic twins and of 40% for dizygotic twins (DeFries et al. 55% of the sons displayed reading deficits (though there may be reduced risk in daughters) (Vogler. Hallgren. Pennington & Gilger. The multifactorial-polygenic model assumes that many genes. Olson et al. Kimberling. 1998) findings. Gillis. 1991).93 (Bakwin. Results of twin studies and a comparison of monozygotic and dizygotic concordance rates have provided suggestive evidence of a substantial genetic etiology of reading disabilities. Subsequently. DeFries & Gillis Light. The first molecular genetics study of dyslexia was published in 1983. This region has also been studied by others. 1950. further demonstrating that reading disability is caused in part by heritable influences.. A Mendelian genetic model stipulates that a single. The difference between identical and fraternal twins was significant. DeFries. and reported linkage between reading disability and a region of chromosome 15 (Smith. to a region on the long arm of chromosome 15 by Grigorenko and her colleagues (1997). and Pennington (1991) added other families to their sample and reported additional linkage for a region on the long arm of chromosome 15. namely. & Remschmidt.51 to 0. Currently. DeFries. 1991).. with additive and equal effect. 1973. 1996. & Pennington. Deimel. 1980. Smith. 1997. Pennington.

The ratio may not be as disproportionate as commonly held in the past. the influence of predisposing genes on the familial occurrence of dyslexia is now fully accepted. as well as the heterogeneity of the gene pools being investigated.. Grigorenko et al. & Brower. Petryshen et al.. 1999). 1999. Sufficient evidence exists thus far. Grigorenko. 1995). 1993. perinatal. In view of this large number of genes.. On the other hand. Fisher et al.. Roughly one-third of the estimated 60-100. One of the groups that failed to replicate linkage to this region examined their large sample thoroughly using both a qualitative phenotype and a quantitative measure of reading disability (Field & Kaplan. 1998). In addition to the influence of genetics as an etiological factor of learning disabilities. Rabin et al. Lieu. Several studies on genetics and learning disabilities have reported a susceptibility locus on the short arm of chromosome 6 (Cardon et al. Most recently.. 1994..6 Chromosome 1 has also attracted some attention with respect to the genetic transmission of learning disabilities. & Pennington.000 genes in humans have some influence on the central nervous system..5:1. Kelley. & Pauls. Prenatal. since there may have been underidentification of females with learning disabilities (DeFries et al. Kaplan. yet it is still unlikely that any one of them influences reading and no other brain function.. Meyer. 1989). Pennington. 1999. The increasing number of gene localizations may simply indicate the heterogeneity of the disorder. Sawyer et al. as did Grigorenko et al. In summary. several environmental factors also affect brain development. Wood. The short arm of chromosome 2 has been implicated in a single large Norwegian family with dyslexia (Fagerheim et al. Smith. In terms of the topic of this review paper. Shugart. the search for dyslexia-predisposing genes is actually a search for the genes that determine how the brain develops. 2000. 2000). It is important to note that discrepant results in this type of research do not necessarily mean erroneous research. 1998. identifying those specific genes that influence learning disabilities continues to be a challenge.. (1998) also failed to find linkage to this chromosome 6 region. to conclude that there is a genetic component to the etiology of learning disabilities and. 1997. and Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . thus. It is likely that the molecular genetics findings reviewed above are particularly relevant to the language areas of the brain. Smith..0 (Lubs et al. 1999). In other words. their neurobiological basis. and the male-female sex ratio across samples averages about 1. (1998). a new region on the long arm of chromosome 6 has been identified (Petryshen. 1998. Gayán et al. Kimberling . however.. (1993) reported suggestive evidence of linkage on its short arm. Ing. some have been unable to replicate this finding (Sawyer et al.. & Field. although much work is still needed to identify the contributing genes. It is clear that most of the male predominance in the previous rates of dyslexia was an artifact of the process of identification. No attempts at replication of this finding have yet been reported. 1993). The gender ratio for reading disabilities has also provided some evidence of a genetic basis. it is worth considering the fact that there probably are no genes that code specifically for dyslexia.

and teratogenic effects have all been shown to impact brain development and cause learning disabilities. 1989). 1992. Lazarra. Other studies on early brain development have attempted to isolate the specific effects of related medical complications. axon and dendritic growth. 1999. but also growth continues over a prolonged period of time. & Nass. in particular. including reading and arithmetic (Cohen et al. Anatomical development of a child's brain prior to birth consists of cell proliferation and migration. Siegel et al. including perceptual-motor and fine motor skills. 1989. perinatal asphyxia (Aylward. more favourable outcomes have been associated with higher birthweights (Brooks-Gunn. and postnatal events Many biological factors can impact brain development and result in learning disabilities (Bonnet. O'Callaghan. As well. 1992. Yamashita. Saigal. Hack. specifically. Roth et al. 1994. Taylor. Hack et al. & Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . & Breslau. Hoult. Handley-Derry et al. 1995). but methodological problems in the investigation of the fetal brain have made it difficult to determine exactly which event. 1997. Collin. & Fellman. and academic achievement. 2000). Boatright. and neurochemical changes (e. Hack et al. 1997). 1996.7 postnatal events.. Singer. leads to which specific outcomes.. 1991). nutritional.. memory. The study of these events has been substantial. and early postnatal phases of human development to later outcome and. 1996). perceptual motor.. Furthermore. Vohr et al. as well as toxicological. Klebanov. Etches. it is now well documented that postnatal growth and development do not simply follow a predetermined course based on cortical integrity at birth alone. Steiner. but that environmental events and toxin exposure can significantly alter longterm outcome. Lilien. Korkman. Klein. and attentional areas (Barsky & Siegel. Some studies have indicated that VLBW children have a higher rate of learning disabilities (35%).). & Baley. Significantly poorer performance has been reported on a variety of measures of cognitive skills for VLBW in comparison to normal controls. and hydrocephalus (Dennis and Barnes. Klein. to specific learning disabilities. 1993. Stoskopf. Hack. 1996. 1997.g. 1994.. Adverse Effects on Brain Development Prenatal. intraventricular haemorrhage (Ross. hyperactive behaviour. perinatal. & Rosenbaum. but also later cognitive and behavioural development.. 1994. Many studies have related stressful events in the prenatal. The studies of very low birthweight infants (VLBW) have varied along the dimension of birthweight and gestation. One of the most common consequences of early insult to the developing brain is birth before full gestational age or at less than full birthweight. 1982. Liikanen. Normal cortical growth can be disrupted by a wide range of events which influence not only early postnatal growth and development. Harvey. perinatal. or combination of events. & Schatschneider. Not only is the brain's early development complex. 1992. & Mohay.. synapse formation and loss. 1992. & Kyle. expressive language. 1997). Goldson. Dunbar.. Auld. Kolb & Fantie.. glial and myelin growth. & McCormick. Low et al. the learning disabilities were less related to the more typical languagebased learning disabilities than to arithmetic. bronchopulmonary dysplasia (oxygen dependence at or beyond 36 weeks gestation) (Robertson. Dykes. Generally.

& Sharich. Silbernagel. and unprotected. & Denson. Dennis.. is one of several hormone resistance syndromes which has been identified via molecular genetic studies and associated with poor school performance. and their IQ scores were lower. Maternal and/or fetal thyroid deficiency in utero has also been linked to adverse neuropsychological development (Rovet. Ehrlich.. Fletcher. at a later point. 1993).. A genetic syndrome. Neonatal seizures in the first four weeks after birth are among the most common neurological emergency. 1989. Toxicological. performed less well on all neuropsychological measures. & Czuchta. & Kero. Sorbara. 1993). Two specific categories of perinatal events that best predicted school achievement were gestational age and obstetrical history (Gray. and symptoms of hyperactivity (Hauser et al. the possibility that the developing brain is differentially sensitive to environmental agents was highlighted in a report by the U. as a specific learning disability. synaptic development. learning disabilities. they bear a striking resemblance to active thyroid hormones. Fenske.8 Ahmann. nutritional. Compared to the adult brain. and neurologic development (Porterfield & Hendry. National Research Council on pesticides in the diets of infants and children (1993). & Joy. 1991). Ishida. Unlike other organ systems. Children with these medical complications were demonstrated to be at risk for neurodevelopmental compromise and a variety of cognitive and academic difficulties. Resistance to Thyroid Hormone. and teratogenic effects Many toxic agents are known to damage the developing. intellectual. They may be indicative of subtle neurodevelopmental vulnerability which may arise. Carney. the unidirectional nature of central nervous system development limits the capacity of the developing tissue to compensate for cell loss during specific time frames (Faustman. Vähä-Skeli. & Ponce. brain by interfering with those processes undergoing development at the time of the exposure (Rodier. & Verloove-Vanhorick. PCBs and other dioxin-like compounds can affect neurodevelopment and learning. Chapieski. 1993). Transient Neonatal Hypothyroxinemia may also contribute to learning disabilities (den Ouden. process outgrowth. Bauer. Davis. in that. Dean. McCoy.S. 2000). 1993b). Thyroid hormones regulate neuronal proliferation. Burbacher. and myelin formation in specific brain regions and are essential for normal behavioural. with demonstrated difficulties in spelling and arithmetic as well as memory impairment for visual material (Temple. Hille. Severe perinatal complications were significantly related to problems in cognitive and motor development (Korhonen. migration. because these cells are essential for establishing the balance between inhibitory and excitatory activities in critical brain areas such as the hippocampus (Morgane et al. Landry. can mimic or disrupt Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . 1998). Loss of cells (microneurons) generated late in pregnancy is significant. Many studies have used retrospective designs to determine correlations between perinatal events and later outcomes. 1992). Sillanpää. 1988). 1995). Children whose mothers had had abnormal thyroid levels. Research has also been conducted into the effects of neonatal seizures (convulsions) on neurodevelopment and later outcomes. 1997. but who were not hypothyroid at birth. 1995). et al.

& Bookstein. Streissguth. At 11 years of age. (Ten ug/dL is currently the “alert” level for lead toxicity. Barr. Bellinger & Needleman (1994) reported that blood lead measured in the early postnatal period was the strongest predictor of effects on school age IQ. and that other dioxin-like compounds could have the same effect. as well as decreases in stamina and memory compared to matched control children from areas with very low pesticide use. and are known to cross the placenta and reach the 5-year-old children from agrarian and non-agrarian regions of Mexico who had very similar backgrounds and lives. this cohort was twice as likely to be two years behind in reading comprehension. 1996). (Lonky. & Sampson. and 80% of clinically-diagnosed young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome were found to Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . in a follow-up study of the infants (Stewert. 1994. 1992. The first study to look at the possibility of effects on children from exposure to pesticides was conducted in Mexico quite recently (Guillette. New York. Alcohol has been found to have a significant impact on brain development in utero in several studies. A study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—III. 1996) has replicated the early findings of the Jacobson study.5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL) and all cognitive function scores (Lanphear et al. Sampson. McMillin. Ness. Mather. found an inverse relationship between blood concentration levels as low as 2. Streissguth. 1994). 2000). 1999). The children from the agrarian regions where pesticides were used had difficulty with eye-hand coordination. Reihman.9 their actions. and social and emotional competence. 1990).) The major classes of pesticides are inherently neurotoxic and can affect the developing brain. had problems in attention. except for pesticide use in their homes and environments. This study compared 4. & Greenhouse. planning.. Lower performance on IQ tests has been associated with two or more alcoholic drinks a day in mid-pregnancy (Carmicheal Olson. and organization. 1992). Darvill. and Bhatara (1998) have suggested that the convergence of such studies could imply that these neurodevelopmental effects are mediated in part by alterations in hormone binding to the thyroid hormone receptor. and had an average IQ deficit of 6 points (Jacobson & Jacobson. Tobin. 1998).. and with poorer visual recognition memory at 7 months of age (Jacobson & Jacobson. Neonates whose mothers had higher exposures to contaminants in Lake Ontario fish had lower scores on three clusters of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scales. 2000). 1992) and for delinquincy (Needleman. including the memory subscales of the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities. Since that time a number of studies have found long-term effects from early exposure to lead (Feldman & White. The neuropsychological and cognitive effects of low-lead exposure was demonstrated in a ground-breaking study by Herbert Needleman and colleagues in 1979. Higher cord blood PCB levels were found to be predictive of lower performance on the Fagan test at 1 year of age and impairments on cognitive measures. Barr. Streissguth et al. A longitudinal study of children exposed to higher background levels of PCBs associated prenatal exposure with weaker reflexes at birth and less responsiveness. McFarland. Hauser. & Daly. The increased absorption of lead in children may be a factor in attentional problems and aggressiveness (Riess & Needleman. An ongoing follow-up study from Oswego.

and achievement test scores which persist into childhood. Coles et al. 1991). hours apart. despite average intellectual capability (Kalieta. & Pilot. resulted in a massive loss of neurons in the rat forebrain. & Randels. Laskin. lower IQ scores (Olds. and irritability (Fishbein & Meduski. The research on the effects of cocaine use in pregnancy has given mixed results. & Gray. Levinson. and nutrition present an important facet of etiology. In addition. & Sobol. In summary. Watkinson. Several studies have followed children who were chloride deficient. during the time of synaptogenesis. the new insights gleaned from the research in the fields of developmental toxicology. Prenatal marijuana exposure was related to increased omission errors in vigilance (Fried et al. Children who are deficient in calcium and iron are more susceptible to lead toxicity (Mahaffey. Gortmaker. and behavioural problems in play and social interaction as well as a specific pattern of attentional deficits on a computerized test of attention were also found with moderate amounts of alcohol intake during pregnancy (Brown et al. impulsive behaviour (Fried. and behaviour problems (Weitzman. Henderson. but not abolish them (Hu. and cocaine have been examined in several large prospective studies.. IQ. & Siegel. Most of these children showed a neurobehavioural syndrome of language disorder as well as other academic and social deficits. marijuana. A recent experimental animal study (Ikonomidou et al. Streissguth. 1997). research has accumulated which indicates that nutritional factors can affect the response to toxic exposures. mental composite scores.. 1990. Malnutrition has been shown to result in a number of syndromes involving attentional processes. Iron deficiency has been linked to negative effects on development. and academic skills in children who were exposed throughout pregnancy to low to moderate amounts of alcohol (11. 1989). 1997). & Brennan. 1994). but in one study cocaine use in pregnancy was associated with multiple-risk factors and disruption in the discourse-pragmatics of language (Mentis & Lundgren. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . measurement of brain structure and function has provided information and a further understanding of the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities. and production and imbalances of neurotransmitters have been implicated in a number of conditions. 1995). and learning disabilities (Morgane et al. environmental epidemiology. Maternal smoking has been associated with altered auditory functioning and reading (Fried. Silver. Dietary precursors of neurotransmitters are critical to their regulation. per week). even after supplementation (Lozoff. and these are the children who are possibly most exposed to lead from industrial sources and old housing. and also an opportunity for prevention of some learning disabilities. 1987).80 oz. (1991) found significant deficits in sequential processing. 2000) found that ethanol administered in just two doses. This would coincide with fetal exposure during the last trimester of pregnancy. 1992).10 have attentional deficits (LaDue. 1993). Several studies have investigated the effects of malnutrition and undernutrition on cognition and behavior. 1992). learning disabilities. 1995). & Menkes. The developmental effects of cigarettes.. 1991. 1992). Malloy et al. Kinsbourne. Also.. Kotha.. 1989). adaptability. 1995).. Watkinson. including aggression. & Tatelbaum.

Rossell. & David. 1991). and minor developmental malformations which affect the cerebral cortex. The planum temporale lies on the supratemporal plane deep in the Sylvian fissure and extends from the posterior border of Heschel’s gyrus to the bifurcation of the Sylvian fissure.11 Measurement of Brain Structure and Function Neuroanatomical Studies Neuroanatomical investigations of brain morphology have provided strong evidence that there are differences in the brains of individuals with dyslexia (or reading disability) versus those without problems in reading (normal controls). 1990. & Galaburda. This asymmetry is thought to be established by 31 weeks of gestation (Chi. 1993). It is believed to consist cytoarchitectonically of secondary auditory cortex (Shapleske. Galaburda and his colleagues have been the main contributors to this area of investigation (Galaburda. These researchers have found areas of symmetry and asymmetry in normal brains that differ in individuals with reading disabilities. 1999). symmetry is the rule in the planum temporale of brains of dyslexic subjects studied at autopsy. 1989. & Galaburda. 1993. The planum temporale is an area of the temporal lobe known to be language-relevant in normal controls (Steinmetz & Galaburda. Rosen. The work of Galaburda and colleagues has shown that about two-thirds of normal control brains show an asymmetry. Autopsy Findings In autopsy research. Therefore. Drislane. 1999). 1993. Kaufmann. and Witelson and Pallie (1973) have shown hemispheric asymmetry of the planum temporale to be present in fetal brains. the planum temporale of the left hemisphere is larger that that of the right hemisphere. 1994. anatomical differences in one of the language centres of the brain are consistent with the functional deficits of dyslexia. the brains of reliably diagnosed cases of developmental dyslexia have shown the absence of ordinary asymmetry. Included in this category of investigation are postmortem or autopsy studies of the cytoarchitectonic features of the brain. 1994. & Gilles. 1993). Woodruff. Galaburda. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . Livingstone. Dooling. Menard. These findings are relevant since individuals with dyslexia have language processing difficulties. 1988. & Galaburda. 1991. Rosen. In contrast. The main findings of these three categories of neuroanatomical studies have been reviewed and are presented below. Galaburda. and increased symmetry is also found in imaging studies (discussed below) (Best & Demb. The autopsied brains of individuals with dyslexia show alterations in the pattern of cerebral asymmetry of the language area with size differences. and reading is a language-related task. Sherman. with the remaining having asymmetry in favour of the right side (Best & Demb. Between 20% and 25% of normal control brains show no asymmetry. 1997. 1999). 1999. Galaburda & Livingstone. as cited in Best & Demb. Structural and functional neuroimaging techniques have also been applied to investigate these differences. Humphreys. & Rosen.

Duara et al. namely. Rumsey et al. (1991) and Larsen. Humphreys et al. 1994. 1996. Fletcher. From the MGN. 1994). Jenner. autopsy studies have also revealed multiple focal areas of malformation of the cerebral cortex located in the language-relevant perisylvian regions (Galaburda. it was determined that the abnormality in development had occurred sometime between the end of pregnancy and the end of the second year of life (Galaburda. specifically in the medial geniculate nuclei (MGN). According to Galaburda.. in their view. the pruning which takes place in normal controls does not take place in individuals with dyslexia (Galaburda. individuals with dyslexia do not have the asymmetry or the same patterns of asymmetry of brain structures that is evident in individuals without dyslexia. A number of investigators have demonstrated a high incidence of symmetry in the temporal lobe in individuals with dyslexia. symmetry may represent the absence of necessary developmental “pruning” of neural networks which is required for specific functions such as language. and Ødegaard (1990) Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . there were more small neurons and fewer large neurons in the left MGN in individuals with dyslexia versus controls (Galaburda & Livingstone. which are associated with languagerelated functions. Kushch et al..12 Because abnormal auditory processing has been demonstrated in individuals with dyslexia (as discussed later). and the temporal gyrus. Leonard et al. accompanying anatomical abnormalities in the auditory system have also been the focus of autopsy studies. These findings are of particular relevance in view of the left hemisphere-based phonological defect in individuals with dyslexia (Tallal. In other words. which is another anomalous expression of cerebral asymmetry (similar to that of the planum temporale) which.. Neuroanantomical abnormalities in the magnocellular visual pathway have been reported (Galaburda & Livingstone. which are part of the metathalamus and lie underneath the pulvinar. Rosen. Lundberg... 1998. Schultz et al. The perisylvian cortices found to be affected by the minor malformations include the following: the frontal cortex (both in the region of and anterior to Broca’s area). 1989. Studies have shown that when scarring was dated according to the stages of brain development. and Galaburda (1999) concluded that there is a neuronal size difference in the primary visual cortex in dyslexic brains. 1996. Breitmeyer. 1993. 1998). Galaburda et al. 1989). 1993. 1993). Structural Neuroimaging Techniques MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) studies have substantiated the findings of autopsy studies. but the brains of individuals with dyslexia showed that the left side MGN neurons were significantly smaller than those on the right side. fibres of the acoustic radiation pass to the auditory areas in the temporal lobes. and these have been postulated to underlie functioning of the transient visual system in individuals with reading disabilities (Iovino. 1990).. Also. represents abnormal circuits involved in reading. the parietal operculum. (Best & Demb. 1997). 1989. 1993. 1999. These findings have been related to experimental animal research. 1994). & Fitch. 1993). the inferior parietal lobule. thereby resulting in atypical brain structures.. Miller. Hugdahl et al. & Foorman. Logan. Høien. In addition to the asymmetries anomaly. Normal controls showed no asymmetry of this area.

13 showed a reversal of the normal leftward asymmetry in the region of the brain involving the angular gyrus in the parietal lobe. On the other hand. 1992). Further. and Stodkilde-Jorgensen (1998) demonstrated symmetry or rightward asymmetry in the temporal lobes (lateral to insula) of the dyslexics in their study. They concluded that dyslexics may show reduced asymmetry of the planum temporale.. especially the corpus callosum (Hynd et al. and partial volume effects may account for this variability. 1991) also reported shorter insula length bilaterally and asymmetrical frontal regions in individuals with dyslexia. Hynd et al. Different morphometric characteristics were positively correlated with the degree of impairment of phonological abilities. but studies have been confounded by comorbidity. The latter was related to poorer passage comprehension. Njiokiktjien. and Vaal (1994) concluded that. They concluded that these two neurological markers for dyslexia were independent. orientation and position. particularly in the isthmus. Hynd and his colleagues (Hynd. The insula was significantly smaller. In a study by Robichon and Habib (1998). for some individuals with dyslexia. such as slice thickness. the absence of normal left asymmetry was found to correlate with degraded reading skills and phonemic analysis skills. 1995 versus Larsen. MRI and neuropsychological findings of dyslexic adults were correlated and compared with normal controls. and the midsaggital surface was larger. In a review of the literature on the planum temporale. Marshall. Höien. Logan (1996) reported that individuals with dyslexia had significantly shorter insula regions bilaterally than controls. it was concluded that genetic influences play a dominant role Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . Best and Demb (1999) examined the relationship between a deficit in the magnocellular visual pathway and planum temporale symmetry. de Sonneville. Methodological and sampling differences. in which he and his colleagues investigated 75 individuals with dyslexia and 22 controls involving twin pairs. there have been conflicting reports regarding other areas. & Ødegaard. but rather represented a neuroanatomical difference in dyslexic families. reportedly the largest dyslexic sample yet studied. the posterior portion of the corpus callosum (isthmus and splenium) was marginally smaller. There has been substantial replication of findings. in which more rigid methods were applied. Pennington (1999) summarized the findings of a structural MRI study of brain size differences in dyslexia. (1999) summarized the methodological concerns in operationalizing consistent criteria for anatomical boundaries when measuring the planum temporale and the need to use standardized measures of assessment and operationalized diagnostic criteria. Shapleske et al. On the basis of a preliminary test within twin pairs discordant for dyslexia. The corpus callosum of the dyslexic group was more circular in shape and thicker. Further. despite a multitude of developmental factors influencing the final size. This supports the hypothesis that. Elbro. Dalby. & SemrudClikeman. total corpus callosal size is implicated in reading disabilities. difficulty in reading may be associated with deficient interhemispheric transfer. (1995) identified asymmetries in the genu of the corpus callosum of individuals with dyslexia and positively correlated both the genu and splenium with reading performance. and the callosal thickness was smaller. particularly with respect to the planum temporale. it was suggested that these size differences in the insular and posterior corpus callosum were not specific to dyslexia.

Paulesu et al. Hagman et al. Gross-Glenn et al. In these studies. and Donohue (1998) demonstrated that in normal adult readers there was a correlation of regional cerebral blood flow in the left angular gyrus and flow in the extrastriatal. & Naylor.14 in individual differences in brain size. A significant difference in cerebral blood flow in children diagnosed with dyslexia has been reported (Flowers. by measuring the activity in the brain of individuals with dyslexia while they are engaged in reading tasks. atypical brain activity in specific areas has been identified and directly correlated with developmental language disorders and reading subskill functions. Flowers. and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) have added a unique dimension to the study of the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities. and temporal lobe regions during single word reading. especially when studying young children. 1993. (1991) found regional metabolic activity measured with PET scan to be similar in individuals with dyslexia and those without dyslexia. Functional imaging studies have shown gender differences in patterns of brain activation during phonological processing and that separation of males and females is required in future studies (Lambe. 1999). rCBF (regional cerebral blood flow). These include such factors as the effects of task difficulty in relation to developmental level of the subjects. whereas the reading-disabled group showed activation of the immediately posterior temporoparietal region. 1996). controls showed activation to the left superotemporal region corresponding to Wernicke’s area. the cerebral blood flow patterns of remediated subjects with dyslexia did not differ from those of subjects with persistent impairment. Regardless. Using this method. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . more research to clarify the findings was recommended. and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder was emphasized by Pennington. and Logan (1996) indicated that individuals with dyslexia had significantly higher glucose metabolism in the medial left temporal lobe and a failure of activation of the left temporoparietal cortex. including PET (positron emission tomography). 1993). These are therefore “in vivo” studies of the brain. age. occipital. Wood. (1992) reported significant differences in the medial temporal lobe with PET studies.. He did not find clear evidence of differences in the corpus callosum in a reading-disabled group. fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). In a PET scan study. The importance of controlling variance due to gender. Horwitz. Rumsey. IQ. Functional Neuroimaging Techniques Functional neuroimaging techniques. 1991. impressive data have been collected. as well as technical difficulties in providing a suitable testing environment for children. Potentially confounding variables are associated with functional neuroimaging investigations. an association between dyslexia and phonological awareness deficits has been demonstrated (Flowers. the left angular gyrus was functionally disconnected from these areas. In view of the inconsistencies. In men with dyslexia. Interestingly. necessity to account for changes in brain size and shape with development. Further. There have been a number of findings of differences in individuals with reading disabilities.

Boynton. and ventral visual pathway (Eden et al. These findings correspond well with the reduced structural posterior asymmetry observed in the CT scan and postmortem studies. Nevertheless. Higher metabolic activity (local utilization rate for glucose) in the lingual area (inferior occipital regions bilaterally) was reported by Lou (1992) with PET studies. it is apparent that there are significant differences in brain activity in individuals with dyslexia in comparison to normal readers. Pennington (1999) has cautioned that the interpretation of these functional neuroimaging studies remains ambiguous. the neuroanatomical and neuroimaging studies have provided Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . may represent a compensatory strategy.. neuroanatomical investigations have substantiated what had been surmised from the early traditional studies of acquired brain lesions and associated changes in functions and have brought forward new evidence to support the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities. including: Wernicke’s area. and the differences were found in multiple brain sites.. Prefrontal cortex activity was also symmetrical in individuals with dyslexia versus asymmetrical in normal controls. Therefore. or may reflect impaired processing capacity. (1999) demonstrated a significant difference in rCBF activation in the cerebellum during motor tasks in a group of dyslexic adults. under-functioning. Pennington considered that differences in brain activation may be an indication of greater effort by the dyslexic group. 1998). Advances in neuroimaging have permitted brain dissection “in vivo. In summary.. the temporoparietal junction. Although the neuroanatomical correlates of dyslexia do not answer the question about whether dyslexia is a condition at one extreme in the normal distribution of reading skill (Dalby et al. by inference. or dyslexia could be secondary to the brain activity differences. establishing causal links with this methodology is difficult. or both dyslexia and the activity difference could be caused by a third factor. the left insula (Paulesu et al. concurrent with neurological and neuropsychological evaluations. There were also some differences concentrated in the occipital and frontal lobe regions. Rumsey (1996) reviewed functional neuroimaging studies of individuals with dyslexia compared to controls. An fMRI investigation supported the autopsy findings of abnormalities in the magnocellular pathway and implied a strong relationship between visual motion perception and reading (Demb. 1998). 1996). posterior perisylvian area (Rumsey et al. All of the studies reported some differences in brain activity. In contrast to controls. It was concluded that cerebellar deficits alone could not account for the reading disability but adversely affected acquisition of automatic..” a transparent window of brain functions. Nicolson et al. the lingual gyrus. and a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scan showed striatal regions as hypoperfused and. since the identified differences in brain activity could be secondary to dyslexia. overlearned skills. individuals with dyslexia showed little asymmetry. This methodology has supported previous findings and hypotheses while providing new evidence of brain structure/function relationships. & Heeger. 1997).15 reflecting that reading depends on neural activity in a widely distributed set of specific brain regions. 1996).

With the advent of more powerful computing and statistical procedures. & Wood. Although the latter is not purely an electrophysiological recording technique it does involve the detection and localization of small magnetic fields associated with intra-cranial electromagnetic activity. Several recent. 1992). and there have been methodological weaknesses associated with these studies. 1988. 1988). Harter. however.16 evidence linking learning disabilities to neurobiological etiology. & Simmons. significant results have been found in studies using quantitative EEG methods which examined carefully screened subtypes of individuals with learning disabilities while they carried out specific tasks. Proportionately less left hemisphere 40 Hz activity for a reading-disabled group.. brain stem evoked responses (ABR). & Rubia. Campbell. 1972. in response to single words during initial learning and the same words in a subsequent recognition memory test series (Stelmack. Noldy-Cullum. although less isomorphic. For example dyslexic children exhibited more energy in the 3-7 Hz band in the parietooccipital region during rest conditions (Sklar. suggesting relatively poor orientation to the external stimuli. Hanley. In contrast. 1990). 1993. well controlled. but these studies were criticized for methodological reasons. implicating the posterior speech region around Wernicke's area (Ackerman. Electrophysiological Studies Numerous variations in cortical and subcortical electrophysiological measurement techniques have been employed in the study of brain-behaviour relationships of individuals with learning disabilities. Dykman. The increased alpha-decreased beta was more evident over the left posterior quadrant. and conversely. with reading-disabled subjects having a longer P3 and smaller amplitude to the target stimuli when compared with controls (Fawcett et al. there have been conflicting reports (Fein et al. EEG/Power spectral analysis. cortical evoked potential studies have shown significant differences on the P3 waveform. 1995. suggesting differences in information processing in contrast to normal controls. Exp¢sito. 1986). Harter. have also substantiated this association. Miguel. Saxe. These children also showed a decrease in beta. magnetoencephalography (MEG). Dyslexic children with dysphonemic-sequencing problems showed an increase in alpha during a phonemic discrimination task. Sheer. & Fletcher. cortical evoked responses (ERPs) and. in contrast to normal controls or an arithmetic-disabled subgroup. 1989. Similar results on a Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . the arithmetic-disabled subgroup exhibited proportionately less 40 Hz righthemispheric activity than the reading-disabled subgroup during a nonverbal task (Mattson. & Wood. Anllo-Vento. Oglesby. This finding was replicated in a number of independent studies. Measurement strategies have included auditory. 1992). & Newton.. quantitative analysis of electroencephalographic recordings have shown promise as an investigative research tool. and subsequently. Taylor & Keenan. Diering. 1973). was found. Electrophysiological investigations. A larger amplitude for normal controls versus children with learning disabilities was demonstrated for a negative wave at 450 ms. ABR studies have generally not yielded significant data. Martin-Loeches. Ortiz. & Armitage. more recently.

Connolly. following stimulus onset. The individuals with dyslexia initially activated the left inferior frontal cortex (suggesting involvement of Broca's area). difficult to assess individuals with cerebral palsy. These sensors are immersed into a helmet-shaped container of liquid helium that is brought close to the head for data collection. Kujala. ERP research has also been used in innovative ways to serve the needs of highly diverse patient populations. and Connolly (1995a) have made a case for its use with highly involved. Research using auditory cortical evoked response technology has also yielded significant findings. and Kemps (in press) present a review of how ERPs have been used in the assessment of individuals with language impairment. Dywin. Using a probe technique. research using MEG has uncovered interesting findings. have been reported (Ackerman. as early as the preschool years. with 81% accuracy. and low birth weight. & Remschmidt (1998) concluded that dyslexics have a specific phoneme processing deficit. Dykman.. With difficult reading material. since other perinatal predictors of later performance. This is a very impressive finding. In contrast. The authors suggested that individuals with reading impairment.g. became involved in controls but not in individuals with dyslexia. the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale.g. MEG works on the principle that very weak magnetic fields are detected by means of an array of superconducting sensors. in Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . D'Arcy. e. there remain some fundamental differences as to whether phonological processing problems are problems in their own right or whether they are problems because of a more fundamental sensory information processing difficulty (e. This finding could help to identify children. Deimel. et al. were successfully classified into three language skill levels at 3 and 5 years of age. For example Byrne. Recently. Within 200-400 msec.17 lexical task. Molfese and Molfese (1997) recorded neonatal auditory evoked potentials within 36 hours after birth to different sound contrasts. Apgar score. at risk. particularly in identifying phonemic deficits as a significant variable in differentiating reading-disabled students from controls. (1996) used whole-head MEG to track the cortical activation sequence during visual word recognition in individuals with dyslexia and controls. Salmelin et al. involving distinguishing word pairs that rhymed or did not rhyme. & Oglesby. 1994). Interestingly this area has been reported to be involved when normal subjects are required to perform a silent noun generation task. For example Schulte-Körne. the left temporal lobe. The superconductivity is preserved only at very low temperatures. including Wernicke's area. Bartling. at follow up. which they suggest provides support for a more fundamental temporal information processing deficit. These same children. Although there is some emerging consensus from the ERP literature that phonological awareness is critical in the acquisition of reading and spelling. observed in their sample of adults with dyslexia. were less effective as predictors of long-term developmental outcome. Newman. reading-disabled groups generated a large bilateral central and parietal decrease in P300 as they changed from easy to difficult material. (2000) presented evidence. a temporal order information processing deficit). (1984) concluded that the language-dominant hemisphere was more involved in a reading task. Johnstone et al.

1996). which in turn impairs the development of phonological awareness (Heilman et al.18 order to compensate for their underdeveloped phonological skills. Voeller. 1993. 1996. Lovegrove. Stein. Heilman. Lovegrove. Eden. Visiospatial deficits have also been reported in a number of studies (Curley & Ginard. The vast majority have focused on reading disabilities. have yielded results consistent with neuroanatomical and neuroimaging data. considerable attention has been focused on problems with either the acquisition of reading (developmental dyslexia) or math (dyscalculia) skills. motor and behavioural/emotional functions. 1996. those methodologically sound studies which have examined discrete skills in carefully selected subtypes of people with learning disabilities. 1995a) have also been identified. Miller. 1995). Independent deficits in speech and non-speech discriminative capacity have been reported as a significant factor in reading disabilities (Studdert-Kennedy & Mody. try to guess the word from whatever other limited information there may be available to them. 1993. 1993.. Dysfunctions of the central auditory system (Katz & Smith. and SPECT scans) and electrophysiological studies have shown that the brains of those with reading disabilities respond differently from those of control subjects. & Davidson. sensory. under study. Wood. 1991) and temporal information processing deficits in both the auditory and visual modalities (Bakker. Stein. 1990. The usefulness of various electrophysiological and magnetoencephalographic measurement techniques is variable and a function of the type of technique employed as well as how well the targeted behaviour or cognitive process. Twell. has provided a greater understanding of the neuropsychological profile of individuals with learning disabilities and also indirect evidence of underlying cerebral dysfunction. Although many of the research studies can be criticized for methodological problems.. Eden.1996). This research. there is no question that the advances made in the measurement of higher cognitive functions over the past two decades have been impressive. Within the neuropsychological literature. This converging evidence further strengthens the position that learning disabilities have a basis in neurobiology. has been operationally defined. Wood. Neuropsychological Studies Neuropsychological investigations of learning disabilities have been based on psychometric testing of a variety of cognitive. Slaghuis. These functions have been correlated with other types of measures of brain structure and function. Slaghuis. 1995a. & Alexander. Weaknesses in the activation of motor articulatory gestures may account for the difficulty in grapheme-to-phoneme conversion. & Wood. Deficient phonological awareness is now viewed as a primary problem in developmental dyslexia (Eden. 1996). 1995b. & Wood. Ogden. The critical work of Tallal. and Fitch (1993) has provided evidence of a basic temporal processing impairment in language-impaired children that affects speech perception and production and is thought to result in these phonological processing deficits.. PET. 1992. 1993. & Kingston. Evidence from neuroimaging (fMRI. & Wood. Generally. 1993. therefore. Eden et al. Slaghuis et al. Wood. particularly on tasks involving phonological awareness. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . Stein.

scholastic aptitude. 1994). impaired comprehension and production of affective signals. but is generalized. has been reported as the right hemisphere deficit syndrome (Voeller. reading. 1993. Olson. Stein. 1993).. 1990). 1993. & Gross-Tsur. 1987. & Yamashita. 1996). Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . This low spatial frequency deficit hypothesis has been supported by various studies (Chase. & Aram. 1993. as have mathematical problems (Ashcraft et al. 1995).. Right hemisphere dysfunction has also been associated with specific learning disabilities. resulting in dyslexia in some children (Njiokiktjien. & Hynd. 1996). Adult strokes were found to affect cognitive abilities such as reasoning. 1988. Shalev. and visuospatial deficits (Tranel et al. the ability to make rapid visual discriminations and to establish internal representations of letters and grapheme clusters in lexical memory is critically affected. & Marshall. spatial orientation. 1995). 1995). Numerous studies have attempted to identify the neurological basis of learning disabilities in terms of left—versus right—hemisphere dysfunction. and higher-order cognition about social behaviours (Voeller. Ogden. Branch. Lower reading performance has also been associated with the right hemisphere (Aram & Ekelman. Leavell & Lewandowski. & Tranel. The association of chronic social difficulties coupled with deficits in producing and comprehending emotional expressions. In the normal reader. Chase & Jenner. The right hemisphere is therefore implicated in the processing of social-emotional information in the same way that the left hemisphere is specialized for language (Tranel. 1987). prosody. da Prati. Hall. 1994. recognition of nonverbal cues (SemrudClikeman & Hynd. Yamashita. 1995. 1992). Branch et al. perceptual speed and memory clusters. 1996. and motor systems (Stein. A slow rate of processing of low spatial frequency information in the magnocellular channel of the lateral geniculate nucleus has been proposed as one deficiency accounting for some reading disabilities (Chase. Damage to the right hemisphere in adults is associated with deficits in social skills. the cortical language areas are disturbed in their development through migration disorders and abnormal asymmetry. Livingstone. problem-solving. Rourke & Conway. Gillespie. Cossu. Chase & Jenner. 1995). providing the cortical maps with the global pattern information before information about the finer visual details arrives via the parvo pathway. Eden et al. Wertman-Elad. 1994).. 1990). It is hypothesized that. such that normal left hemisphere dominance does not develop. the magnocellular pathway processes information more rapidly than the parvocellular route. Amir.. It has been speculated that abnormality of the magnocellular system is not limited to the visual modality. as a result of genetic or epigenetic hormonal and/or immunological factors. in combination with left-hemibody signs. Aram et al. These results are consistent with the neuroanatomical findings. affecting the auditory. Voeller. Manor. and arithmetic processing (Ashcraft.19 Irregular neurophysiological dynamics of the visual system may account for the random omissions and insertions of individuals with dyslexia during the reading process (Been. 1995. 1990. 1990. 1992. 1988). Cohen. 1996). Differences in the control of saccadic eye movements have been found between individuals with dyslexia and controls (Lennerstrand. When low spatial frequencies are processed too slowly. 1995. 1996.. 1993). & Jacobsson. language or verbal learning (Aram. 1997. Ygge. somesthetic. written language (Aram & Ekelman.

1995). Shalev. frontal lobe dysfunction (Heilman et al. Trites. 1997. left hemisphere lesions predominate in the clinico-pathological analysis of acalculia or computation difficulty (Rourke & Conway. 1992. and complex psychomotor skills and psycho-social functioning. the reason that one individual has difficulty reading may not be the same reason as another individual. Trites & Fiedorowicz. but also different learning disabilities. Doehring. 1996. 1991. 1995). in that. Fiedorowicz. underlying immaturity in the myelination within the central nervous system (Condor. with very profound effects resulting from early right hemisphere insults. 1995. 1986. 1977. In the child. & Sailing. 1978. 1988). as well as difficulties in processing novel information (Rourke & Fuerst. Harnadek & Rourke. Shalev et al. Branch. tactile perception. including the nonverbal learning disability (NLD) subtype (GrossTsur. This pattern of strengths and deficits has now been identified in individuals with a wide variety of congenital and developmental disorders and is associated with diffuse brain dysfunction. 1993). 1992. 1995. 1996).. In summary. left temporal lobe dysfunction (Cohen. leading some researchers to speculate that it is characteristic of white matter disease or dysfunction (Rourke. Therefore. these investigations have demonstrated that neuropsychological characteristics are associated with learning disabilities. Fiedorowicz & Trites. & Buff. 1996. 1981. Spafford & Grosser. Patel. & Fiedorowicz. & Hynd.. Rourke & Fuerst. but have primary neuropsychological deficits involving visual perception. neuroimaging. & Amir. & Dean. 1995. early damage or dysfunction in the right or left hemispheres has been reported to disrupt arithmetic learning. and electrophysiological findings Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . 1976).20 With regard to arithmetic disabilities. 1997). 1995). whereas in the adult. Town. 1992. Research has shown that the locus of an abnormality in the brain is significant. Rourke & Conway. Nicholson. 1994. Doehring.. Individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities typically have well-developed auditory perception (including phonological awareness) and simple motor skills. The attentional problems associated with some cases of learning disabilities appear to have a widely distributed neurobiological basis ranging from the brainstem reticular activating system to the basal ganglia and on into the frontal cortex (Bakker. and cerebellar impairment (Fawcett. Several subtypes of reading disabilities have been reported (Boder. abnormalities in different areas of the brain relate to different reading problems. 1996). 1987). They offer indirect evidence of localization of dysfunctions which is consistent with the neuroanatomical. namely. Tranel et al. Not only have different subtypes of reading disabilities been identified. both the right and left hemispheres have been implicated (Ashcraft et al. Some specific areas of dysfunction have been identified in association with developmental dyslexia. 1971. Doehring & Hoshko. 1995. Anderson. Cohen. Manor. 1992).

Appreciating the neurobiological basis can facilitate the development of effective educational programs. e. and socioeconomic factors (Drillien. public policy makers have been slow to recognize the implications of this fact for the field of learning disabilities. the literature was reviewed from many perspectives to demonstrate the breadth of the available evidence that bears on this subject. 1990). brain functioning. However. 1991. as well as educational programs designed specifically to meet the needs of individuals with learning disabilities (Fiedorowicz & Trites. and subsequent learning and behavioural abilities. research using genetic analysis. 1989). with instructional goals.g. It would be a formidable task to review every study that demonstrates the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities: instead. Although there are still many unanswered questions. Werner. Supportive caregiving (Kopp. have the power to mitigate the academic and cognitive deficits associated with the condition. Of particular relevance to this review is that this has provided compelling scientific evidence in support of the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities. and neuropsychological evaluation.21 Conclusion Recent advances in neuroscience technology as well as the development of innovative research designs have enabled scientists to answer some intriguing questions involving brain-behaviour relationships. Recognition of the neurobiological basis of learning disabilities does not necessarily lead to a bleak outlook. 1996). Thomson. because the individual’s environment has the potential to reduce or amplify the impact of the learning disabilities. it seems impossible to deny that learning disabilities are a manifestation of atypical brain development and/or function. quality of the home environment (Kalmar. electrophysiological recording. have yielded highly convergent conclusions in support of a neurobiological etiology. content. The effective treatment of any condition or disease must be based on an adequate understanding of the etiology and genesis of that condition. neuroanatomical neuroimaging. 1990). Studies employing widely divergent methodologies. & Burgoyne. the pathological analysis of brain tissue at autopsy. Lerner. The fields of behavioural toxicology and teratology have provided evidence that many preventable biological factors can negatively affect brain development. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . and pace of delivery designed to maximize success for individuals with learning disabilities. 1980..

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and to the number of other professionals who provided feedback about the paper. He is a member of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology. PhD. and Director of the Behavioural Research Unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.. Nova Scotia. Neurobiological Basis Of Learning Disabilities (2001) Learning Disabilities Association of Canada . She is a member of the Professional Advisory Board for both the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC) and Children & Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD). His research interests focus on the broad area of brain relationships in children. is Health Policy Officer for the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and a member of the LDA America Research Committee. is Head. PhD.. and Director. The Meighen Centre at Mount Allison University. Correctional Services Canada. AUTHORS’ NOTES 1. Her clinical and research interests include various aspects of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. Her research focuses on the developmental learning and attention problems. Wayne MacDonald. G.. Bonnie J.Psych. she is involved in the field of learning disabilities in the United States and Canada in areas of research and prevention. LDAC is thankful for the financial support offered by The Burns Memorial Fund and the Social Development Partnership Program. She is also a member of the Professional Advisory Committee of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. and has a private practice in Neuropsychology in Ottawa. This paper was made possible through the volunteer efforts of the authors for the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC). Alexander M. Kaplan.N. Her current interest is the development of human rights policy for youths at risk.C. Halifax. is President of Achieve Educational Services Inc. as well as nutrition-behaviour interactions. PhD. C. PhD. and the International Association of Juvenile and Family Court Magistrates. is currently an Executive Director in a Montreal project management firm.B. Research Assistants. Barbara McElgunn. She is a neuropsychologist and former academic from McGill University. His current research interests include learning disabilities in young adults. PhD. She is an advisory board member of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. LL.42 Christina Fiedorowicz. B. Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University. The authors and LDAC wish to acknowledge the dedicated contributions of Stephanie Greenham and Ruth Sullivan. R. has a private practice in neuropsychology and holds faculty appointments in the Departments of Psychology. Department of Psychology. With a background in Neurological and Neurosurgical Nursing.L. is a Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Calgary. specializing in learning disabilities. Wilson. Ontario. 2. Esther Benezra. Human Resources Development Canada.