Literacy acquisition and reading difficulties in braille - differences and similarities to print
Project Leader: Katarzyna Jednoróg, Ph.D., Dsc Habil
Grant SONATA BIS (2016/22/E/HS6/00119, Nencki Institute)


The project has two aims. First, we plan to examine how braille-reading acquisition changes the brain structure and function in blind children and compare it to print-reading acquisition in sighted children. We know from studies on sighted children and adults that the acquisition of literacy transforms learner’s brain. It improves early visual processing and reorganizes the ventral occipito-temporal pathway with specific role of the visual word form area (VWFA) in the left hemisphere. Interestingly in adult blind braille readers as well as in adult sighted beginning braille readers VWFA was activated by braille reading relative to tactile control task. The question thus remains, is there a universal reading network irrespective of reading modality that emerges with literacy? We hypothesize that both the modality and the serial nature of braille as compared to simultaneous and parallel visual processing will affect the reading network and that we will find brain areas uniquely engaged in print vs. braille reading (specifically ventral areas subserving fast lexical processing) as well as other areas common for print and braille (such as dorsal areas engaged in sublexical processing and articulation).

The second aim of the project is to describe the cognitive nature of braille reading difficulties and compare it with cognitive nature of print reading difficulties. Like many sighted children who struggle with learning to read, a proportion of blind children have specific difficulties related to reading braille that cannot be easily explained. The current project proposes a comprehensive comparison between reading difficulties in sighted children and reading difficulties in blind braille readers on both behavioral and neural levels. In the present project we plan to include a battery of tasks assessing these skills to both sighted and blind typical and atypical readers. In view of the sequential nature of the braille reading, we hypothesize to observe different associations between reading and behavioral/cognitive measures in braille versus print readers.

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