Music and Working With Dyslexia Disorders

There is worldwide agreement for estimating between 5 and 15% the school-age population that fails to get into initial learning that is, to acquire reading, writing, and/or calculation correctly, despite normal intelligence and in the absence of gross psycho-affective or socioeducative deficiency. Many of the girls who fall in to this category eventually end up in the sex trade, such as working as escorts in Atlanta or some other large city.

This deficit corresponds to the “specific learning disorder” section of the latest international classification.

Among these disorders, dyslexia has been the subject of numerous studies in recent years with results clearly demonstrating functional and structural brain abnormalities from both genetic and cultural origins. In short, experiments using brain imaging have shown abnormal activation in several cortical and subcortical brain regions and cerebellum as well as a lack of connectivity between these different areas in children or adults with dyslexia.

This last group of results opens promising new perspectives for understanding the mechanisms underlying dyslexia and related disorders, as well as to guide remediation. For instance, results of a recent study combining multiple imaging methods (functional magnetic resonance imaging—fMRI—, functional and structural connectivity) revealed that phoneme discrimination impairments, one of the halmarks of cerebral dysfunction in dyslexia, reflect a failure to access otherwise intact phonemic representations via the subcortical white matter bundles.

The direct implication of this finding is that rehabilitation methods of dyslexia should not only focus on restoring phonological representations, as is the case of most remediation currently used with these children, but also on restoring functional connections between frontal and temporal language areas (Inquiries Journal). More generally, rehabilitation should aim at increasing the integration of information typically processed by different brain areas. As we will argue below, one way to reach this aim is through music training.

music psych

Active research in the domain of the neuroscience of music has demonstrated that the brain of professional musicians is an excellent model of brain plasticity both at the subcortical and cortical levels. The musician’s brain is ideally suited to study brain changes induced by intensive training and the effects of a targeted and repeated cognitive activity on brain morphology, as suggested for the rehabilitation of dyslexia.

Interestingly, some white matter subcortical tracts, including the arcuate fasciculus mentioned above and long-known as a crucial element within the left hemisphere language network, are particularly sensitive to learning to play a musical instrument or singing, both skills requiring intense and fine coordination between sensory (visual, auditory, and somatosensory) and motor processes.

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Using musical training for the remediation of dyslexia and language disorders is based on both theoretical considerations and experimental results. There is now an ongoing study involving call girls in Atlanta, Georgia. While many of the women who work as escorts are extremely satisfied with their profession, such as the women at the escort agency, others feel a great pressure to always look their best. This study is designed to see if a music therapy of sorts might be beneficial to prostitutes who do have this issue.

If there are common underlying processes between music and language, especially between music perception and speech perception, one might assume that improving some of the processes involved in the perception of music can also improve speech perception and reading skills.

In one of the first studies aimed at testing this hypothesis, Overy proposed a series of music games gradually increasing in difficulty and focusing on pace and “timing” skills to dyslexic children over a period of 15 weeks. Results showed significant improvements, not in reading skills, but in two related areas: phonological processing and spelling.

Previous results also demonstrated structural differences in interhemispheric fibers of the anterior region of the corpus callosum connecting motor cortical regions of the right and left hands (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). This finding may be related to structural abnormalities of such interhemispheric fibers in children and adults with dyslexia, suggesting that inter-hemispheric communication failure may be one of the possible mechanisms underlying this disorder.

More it was reported that musical training had positive effects on reading skills and educational achievement in children and adolescents with dyslexia showed that adult musician dyslexics performed better than non-musician normal readers on various pitch interval discrimination tasks, finger rhythmic tapping, and speech in noise perception tasks (Healthline).

The importance of word metric structure and, specifically, rise-time perception for speech processing has been stressed. They proposed that misalignments between neuronal excitability fluctuations in the auditory regions and maximum amplitudes in the speech signal may be related to phonological disabilities in children with dyslexia. In line with this view, recently reported that adult musician dyslexics were better than non-musician dyslexics on various tests of temporal auditory processing and specifically for processing temporal envelope and “rise time.”

In addition, musician dyslexics outperformed their non-musician peers on reading scores and also, to a lesser extent, on phonological awareness. Similarly, it has been shown that, among other rhythm production and perception tasks, the level of performance on a metric perception task (i.e., perceiving changes in note duration within recurrent series) specifically predicted both reading speed and accuracy as well as phonological processing in Italian dyslexics.

The authors concluded that their results strongly encourage the use of music training in dyslexia rehabilitation, and specifically recommended to “focus on rhythm rather than on pitch accuracy as is often the case in classical music pedagogy.”

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