WASHINGTON — Research suggests that action video games might help people with dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for some to read fluidly and comprehend what they read.
Experts say an estimated five to 10 percent of the population suffers from dyslexia, in which they write or perceive printed words and letters as backwards or transposed.
In addition, people with dyslexia appear to have trouble managing competing sensory cues -- that is, they have difficulty shifting their focus quickly from visual to auditory stimuli, according to Vanessa Harrar of Britain’s University of Oxford.
“So, if you are trying to read something and then trying to listen to somebody who’s reading aloud and you’re trying to follow along with what they are reading -- they have to switch their attention from hearing what they are saying to looking at the piece of paper and back again," she said. "And so we found they have quite sluggish shifting of attention across the senses.”
There is a growing body of research that people with dyslexia have trouble in a part of the brain that is involved in integration of the senses, including visual and auditory stimuli.
Harrar, who herself suffers from dyslexia, led a study in which participants were asked to push a button as quickly as possible when they heard a sound, saw a dim flash or experienced both together. The speed of the reactions was recorded and analyzed.
While everyone was fastest when the same type of stimuli repeated itself, the data showed that dyslexics were slower than normal shifting their attention from a flash of light to a sound. The results of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.
Investigators say the finding, while preliminary, suggests that training programs to help people with dyslexia should take sluggish sensory response into account.
Harrar says that playing action video games could be helpful.
“Video game types of things pop out of here and there, they move your eyes around the screen quite quickly in response to things quite quickly, and the more you play a video game the faster you get that kind of thing," she said. "So, the video game is really training the attention system to move quickly.”
Because there are a variety of symptoms associated with dyslexia and no two people are alike, Harrar says her long-term goal is to tailor individual strategies to help people with the disorder.