Education

Children with dyslexia given electric shocks to read faster

By Kitty Knowles 31 March 2016
Summary

Dyslexia: Doctors say that regular treatment with mild electric shocks can help dyslexic children.

Earlier this month we told you about a website that shows you what it’s like to read if you have dyslexia.

As one man who viewed the confusing moving text noted: “Being dyslexic is hard. Really hard.”

Now though, doctors claim to have found a way to improve the reading of dyslexic children, but on the surface it might seem somewhat controversial…

Electric shock treatment

Researchers at the Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome say that giving dyslexic children mild electric shock treatment can improve their cognitive skills.

The team say that attaching shock-delivering electrodes to the scalp for three 20-minute sessions a week helps dyslexic children to read faster.

“Reading rates accelerated by about 13 per cent, which is like the benefit of a year’s schooling in six weeks,” researcher Dr Deny Menghini, told The Times.

Eighteen children and teenagers with dyslexia were volunteered by their parents for the six-week experiment, although half were control subjects and did not receive electric shocks.

After the sessions, the ‘shocked’ children were better at reading uncommon words, and were 60% faster at reading words invented for the test. This improvement remained the same six months later.

Subjects feel only “slight” sensations

It might sound mean, but the discovery could provide life-changing support for dyslexia sufferers, and researchers were keen to stress that the shocks were barely felt by their young test subjects.

“We used one milliampere of current, which is equal to the electricity that powers a single Christmas tree light,” said Menghini. “The subjects felt nothing, except a slight vibration at the start. Real electroshock therapy uses 600 milliamperes.”

“There have been no side effects like headaches,” she added.

Future treatment

Dyslexia can be experienced in different ways, and Dr Menghini’s team has already started a second round of tests targeting a different part of the brain.

Not everyone however, feels that electric shock treatment is the way forward.

Sue Fowler, a co-founder of the Dyslexia Research Trust, cast doubt on the real-life implications of the experiments.

“There are lots of ways to increase reading speed that are not so dramatic, like using yellow and blue lenses in glasses, which can help stop words moving around,” she said.

Read more: This website shows you what it’s like to read as a dyslexic