Dyslexia Connected to Difficulties in Recognizing Rhythm

June 29, 2011

A recent study has shown that a dyslexic's difficulty in understanding syllables is connected to an overall difficulty to perceive rhythmic patterns.

Children with dyslexia often have a hard time counting the number of syllables in spoken words or determining whether words rhyme, but a recent study has shown that a dyslexic’s difficulty in understanding syllables in spoken words is connected to an overall difficulty to perceive rhythmic patterns, or metrical structure.

The researchers of the study discovered that a child’s perception of “rise time” was to blame for difficulty with a musical task which was assigned. Rise time is how long it takes for a sound to reach the peak of its intensity. Rise time also appears in speech, as the rise time of a syllable is the time it takes to produce a vowel. Stressed syllables possess longer rise times; as such, rise time is a vital cue that aids individuals to perceive rhythmic regularity in speech.

Researchers at Cambridge administered a group of ten-year-old children—some with dyslexia, some without—a listening task involving short tunes that had simple metrical structures with accents on particular notes.

They then paired two tunes together and asked the children to decide which pair of songs sounded similar and which sounded different. To make two tunes sound "different", the researchers varied the length of the stronger notes.

It was discovered that the children with dyslexia found the music task quite difficult, even when presented with simple tunes containing just a few notes.

The researchers found that it was not the perception of the length of these notes that was shown to affect the out of the child’s task, however, but the child's perception of the rise time of the notes.

These findings illustrate a strong relationship between the ability to perceive metrical structure in music and learning to read.

The researchers suggested that, as rhythm is more evident in music than spoken language, early intervention take place for young children based on musical games. These exercises could provide benefits for dyslexic children and help them learn to read with more ease.

This study is published in the June issue of Cortex.