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Updates from NICHD: Current Directions in Learning Disabilities Research Brett Miller, PhD Program Director Reading, Writing, & Related LD Program NICHD.

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Presentation on theme: "Updates from NICHD: Current Directions in Learning Disabilities Research Brett Miller, PhD Program Director Reading, Writing, & Related LD Program NICHD."— Presentation transcript:

1 Updates from NICHD: Current Directions in Learning Disabilities Research Brett Miller, PhD Program Director Reading, Writing, & Related LD Program NICHD

2 Updates on LD research at NICHD Brief background on NICHD and interest in learning disabilities Highlights of new and continuing initiatives at NICHD Recent findings

3 How does learning disabilities’ research fit into the mission of the National Institutes of Health?

4 National Institutes of Health World’s largest supporter of biomedical, behavioral, and social science research and training. ~$31 Billion budget 80+% of budget goes to grantees NICHD is 1 of the 27 ICs at NIH

5 Mission of NICHD: Where do learning disabilities fit in? Ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted Women suffer no harmful effects from reproductive processes All children have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives, free from disease or disability Ensure the health, productivity, independence, and well-being of all people through optimal rehabilitation.

6 Learning Disabilities - Team effort at the NICHD James Griffin ▫Program Director for Early Learning and School Readiness Kathy Mann Koepke ▫Program Director for the Math & Science, Cognition & Learning: Development and Disorders Peggy McCardle ▫Program Director for Language, Bilingualism & Biliteracy ▫Branch Chief for Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB) Brett Miller ▫Program Director for Reading, Writing and Related Learning Disabilities

7 Basic Questions of Interest to CDBB How do individuals learn/develop reading, writing, and math skills? What goes wrong when they don’t? What can we do about it? (Prevention and remediation)

8 Why study individuals with and without learning disabilities? Foundational research on human learning and learning disabilities is an integral part of child development and health. Learners who do not struggle help us understand how a particular skill usually develops ▫This is critical context for understanding research results when working with struggling learners or those with a disability Insufficient to study only one group. We need to understand the needs of all learners regardless of disability or age.

9 What’s been happening at NICHD?

10 Continued focus on reading Enhanced focus on writing and mathematics Enhanced focus on historically underserved populations Integrating career development into Centers and Hubs Moving to tackle historically challenging issues for field

11 Learning Disabilities Research Centers: Background These centers form the cornerstone of our LD research activities at NICHD ▫Basic and translational (intervention) science ▫Transdisciplinary approach to examining core issues related to learning disabilities (e.g., etiology) Historically focused on reading (but expanding..) Recompeted in 2011: 4 awards made in fall 2011 (1 new center and 3 renewed)

12 How has the program evolved? Enhanced focus on writing, reading comprehension, and relation of executive function skills to literacy development Enhanced focus on career development and dissemination Thematic with broader efforts to integrate learning disabilities efforts within branch (e.g., math) Critically, shows ongoing commitment to topic and continues thematic work on core issues related to etiology, classification and identification, and remediation of learning disabilities IDA symposium in 2012 serve as capstone for previous funding round

13 Awards: New and Renewing Renewing: ▫University of Colorado – Richard Olson ▫Florida State University – Richard Wagner ▫University of Houston – Jack Fletcher New: ▫University of Washington – Virginia Berninger

14 Brief description of Centers’ Foci University of Colorado (Richard Olson) ▫Examining genetic and environmental factors that underlie reading and writing disabilities as well as ADHD  E.g., twin studies Florida State University (Richard Wagner) ▫Research on classification models for reading disabilities ▫Intervention efforts on reading & writing ▫Twin study --- examining the interplay of genes and environment

15 Brief description of Centers’ Foci University of Houston (Jack Fletcher) ▫Focus on definitional and measurement issues in learning disabilities ▫Intervention for individuals with reading comprehension problems ▫Neurobiological investigation of response to instruction University of Washington (Virginia Berninger) ▫Focus on writing and broader literacy and oral language skill development ▫Includes intervention, neurobiological, and genetics research


17 Learning Disabilities Research Hubs Designed to complement the LDRCs NICHD’s first systematic effort to look in an integrative, cross-programmatic fashion at LD impacting reading, writing, and math ▫Inherently, broader by design Tackling understudied topics and populations ▫Willing to tolerate risk ▫Required focus on understudied topic and/or understudied population Integrated mentored opportunity for researchers ▫Intended to help seed field

18 What to expect? Anticipate 2-3 ‘Hubs’ Work to developed systematic and complementary interactions with LDRCs

19 Sample of recent findings coming from NICHD’s investments

20 Approximate Number System (ANS) System that represents the approximate magnitude of items ▫In humans, this is 1, 2, 3, or more than 3 objects Present at birth ▫Can show the ANS shortly after birth Foundational to later math skill acquisition ▫Differences in an adolescents approximation abilities predict math performance ▫Also retrospectively correlates with performance as far back as kindergarten

21 Hoeft and Colleagues (2010) Asked whether brain measures can predict later reading performance of those individuals with dyslexia Used fMRI, DTI and behavioral tests for early adolescents and then conducted behavioral test 2.5 years later Tried to predict the adolescents performance 2.5 years later with initial data at time 1

22 Hoeft and colleagues continued Individuals with dyslexia who read relatively well showed greater activation in the right hemisphere (initial visit) and stronger connectivity ▫Inferior frontal gyrus (fMRI results) ▫Superior longitudinal fasciulus (DTI results) More diffuse activation in the left hemisphere Remarkably, researchers were able to predict which individuals with dyslexia would be able to compensate for their challenges prospectively (2.5 years later) ▫Over 90% accuracy using fMRI and DTI data

23 Last Reflections Integrative study of learning disabilities Our focus is literacy and math Enhanced emphasis on understudied populations Balanced focus on challenging and understudied topics

24 Brett Miller

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