For too many years, children not doing well in school were stigmatized with the preconception that they didn’t try hard enough, that they were lazy, or didn’t care about the importance of education. It took science a while to figure out learning disabilities are a broad spectrum of neurological impairments and act accordingly by adapting education to those with special needs. However, new research concluded that brain hubs might be behinds learning disabilities.
The neurologic process causing developmental language disorder (DLD), dyslexia (learning disability in reading), and dyscalculia (learning disability in math) is far from being fully understood. And these became the new stigma for children that have difficulties in adapting to a stiff educational program.
Studies are still being made to get to the bottom of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) that affects motor coordination. Those are the neurological dysfunctions considered to be the causes of learning disabilities.
A new outcome
Research recently published in Current Biology on April 6, 2020, discovered that it isn’t the actual neurological disfunction but a weak connection between the brain network’s hubs. Researchers from the University of Cambridge put aside the diagnosis stigma and looked into the brain to understand what is really going on. They mapped the brain with the help of an Artificial Intelligence called Growing Hierarchical Self-Organizing Map (GHSOM).
GHSOM algorithm put aside the formal diagnosis and used a transdiagnostic approach. It mapped the brains of 479 children. The algorithm used the results of previous tests for cognitive, behavioral, and learning skills, as well as magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of those children.
The results the AI came up with say that learning deficits aren’t the consequence of formerly known cognitive impairments but of nodes with specific importance in the brain network called brain hubs. Their many diverse connections give their importance. Structural hubs are present from birth.
Brain hubs and learning disabilities
During childhood, functional hubs emerge in primary areas and shift to association areas. The connectivity in brain hubs strengthens as the individual matures.
According to McEvoy, Nathan, & Norton, a transdiagnostic approach means to “apply the same underlying treatment principles across mental disorders, without tailoring the protocol to specific diagnoses.” This suggests that students struggling with learning disabilities might need a different treatment approach than they are currently receiving.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2019 that, in the US, 14% of public-school students benefit from special education services. The British Department for Education said for the same year that 3.9% of British students need the same assistance.