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Software offers hope for dyslexics

By Julie Clothier for CNN

BrightStar is aimed to "retrain" the parts of the brain involved in reading and other tasks dyslexics find difficult.
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Computer Software

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Dyslexia sufferers showed "small but significant improvements" in their reading abilities while testing computer software designed to treat the condition, scientists have reported.

But they say further research into the BrightStar system is needed to determine whether it is the reason behind the improvements.

The software involves a series of flashing lights and shapes appearing on a computer monitor, timed to coincide with the users' heart rate. This is done by connecting them to a heart rate monitor, twice a week for 45 minutes over six weeks.

Originally developed by scientists in Israel, its backers say the lights will stimulate and therefore retrain the parts of the brain involved in reading and other tasks that dyslexics find difficult.

This enables the brain to process information more efficiently and help with word recognition, they say.

According to a paper published in the British journal "Dyslexia," a group tested while using Bright Star showed "small but significant improvements" in reading and naming speed, when they were compared to a placebo group.

However, Stephen Jackson, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham in England, who lead the research into BrightStar, told CNN that more research was needed to determine whether the improvements were a direct result of the program.

One possible reason for the improvement, he said, was that using the program slowed subjects' heart rates and their breathing.

"If you give someone with dyslexia a reading task, they are going to be stressed about it. Anything that is calming is going to lower the heart rate, which might be beneficial."

He said more robust studies were needed in order to draw conclusive evidence about the improvements.

"We don't know specifically why the program had an impact. Whether it was the computer that was responsible for the impact remains to be seen."

BrightStar has been operating in the UK for two and a half years, and during that time 1,400 people have undergone treatment using the program at the company's central London premises.

Spokesman for the company, Edward Waldron-Davies, told CNN that even though the research did not pinpoint exactly why there was an improvement in users of the software's reading and writing, the change was a positive one.

"The company doesn't seek to cure dyslexia, it seeks to improve the reading and writing ability of people with dyslexia."

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