Background: Literacy acquisition is a demanding process that induces significant changes in the brain, especially in the spoken and written language networks. Nevertheless, large-scale paediatric fMRI studies are still limited.
Methods: We analyzed fMRI data to show how individual differences in reading performance correlate with brain activation for speech and print in 111 children attending kindergarten or first grade and examined group differences between a matched subset of emergent-readers and prereaders.
Results: Across the entire cohort, individual differences analysis revealed that reading skill was positively correlated with the magnitude of activation difference between words and symbol strings in left superior temporal, inferior frontal and fusiform gyri. Group comparisons of the matched subset of pre- and emergent-readers showed higher activity for emergent-readers in left inferior frontal, precentral, and postcentral gyri. Individual differences in activation for natural versus vocoded speech were also positively correlated with reading skill, primarily in the left temporal cortex. However, in contrast to studies on adult illiterates, group comparisons revealed higher activity in prereaders compared to readers in the frontal lobes. Print-speech coactivation was observed only in readers and individual differences analyses revealed a positive correlation between convergence and reading skill in the left superior temporal sulcus.
Conclusions: These results emphasise that a child's brain undergoes several modifications to both visual and oral language systems in the process of learning to read. They also suggest that print-speech convergence is a hallmark of acquiring literacy.
Keywords: fMRI; literacy; prereaders; print-speech convergence; reading acquisition.
© 2017 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.