Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brain Waves of Newborns Studied Learning Disorders Are Target

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brain Waves of Newborns Studied Learning Disorders Are Target

Article excerpt

Five-year-old Robert Jones seemed oblivious to the electrodes being taped to his head as he glanced around a brightly colored room on the edge of psychology's frontier.

Robert and hundreds of other children are part of a long study seeing if a newborn's brain waves can be used to predict learning disorders. The research could be a godsend for the estimated 700,000 infants born annually who are at risk of developing learning problems.

"Our hope is if we can identify these kids at birth, we can start intervening shortly after, eight or nine years earlier than it otherwise would be," said Dennis Molfese, a Southern Illinois University psychologist directing the study with his wife, Victoria.

"If that's the case, then we can get sort of a running start on not only teaching the kids strategies to circumvent the disability, but perhaps even to do away with the disability altogether," he said.

Such lofty ambitions didn't concern Robert, whose brain waves were monitored while he listened to computer-generated beeps and boops. He sat still, intrigued by a toy in front of him.

"He was a preemie baby and he's been involved in it since then," said his mother, Margaret Jones of Anna, Ill. "He enjoys it. This year, he just wanted to do it, so I let him."

Molfese's research began in 1977 with a group of 32 babies who were tracked for four years, including his own son, David. The infants were monitored while listening to noises, the premise being their brain waves show how well they can discriminate between speech sounds, which is a key step to learning language.

Since 1986, with $1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Molfeses have been following 400 newborns. …

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