Re: [xmca] reading ability is genetic!? (read this one!)

From: Emily Duvall (
Date: Wed Sep 20 2006 - 08:23:45 PDT

My two cents worth.
People may be labeled as having specific learning disabilities in
reading, such as dyslexia, due to combinations of elements.
Disorders of processing seem to be inherited, but as to how they
manifest across generations is less precise - we often see families
where one person may be diagnosed as having ADHD, another with Specific
Learning Disability and family history is remarkable for the variety. In
other cases everyone seems to manifest in more or less the same way.
However, it's pretty unusual to have a processing disorder pop out of
nowhere. The next question we might ask, if that seems to be the case,
usually pertains to early ear infections. And, if you think about it,
those sorts of environmental factors make sense as contributing to the
structure of brain in its early development.
In addition, in terms of processing disorders such as auditory
processing, the impact may be more along lines related to phonology,
such as phonemic awareness, whereas visual processing disorders may
impact differently.
However, a child may be diagnosed as having a specific learing
disability with, say, auditory processing concerns and further (more
expensive and time consuming) diagnosis may reveal, perhaps,
optomologically related insufficiencies or deficiencies (eg related to
saccade). Lesions also manifest in ways that can suggest learning
disabilities - I have worked with children who have had neurosurgery to
remove lesions - and low and behold no more learning disability.But this
is not always the case of course.
Environmentally, there is more and more concern that deficiencies in
education not be mistaken for learning disabilities just as ability due
to enriched environment not necessarily be mistaken for gifted abilities.
Furthermore, where language is more orthographically consistent learning
disabilities may seem to extinguish over time or at least recede in
terms of being problematic in any way that requires intervention by way
of accommodations or modifications later in life.
~ Emily

Griswold, Olga wrote:

>I am not a geneticist, but it seems to me that claiming that reading disabilities are genetic is somewhat different from claiming that reading in general is genetic.
>People may have varying levels of phonemic awareness, which affects reading abilities, but phonemic awareness can be improved through training. If the pre-training level of phonemic awareness may, to some degree, be in-born (after all, we all have different abilities in different areas), the fact that it can be increased through training makes its purely genetic nature somewhat questionable.
>Moreover, reading is a very multi-faceted phenomenon. Even dyslexic children can be and are taught to read. If we define reading merely as the ability to perceive symbols on a page, sequence them, and recode them into sounds, which are then understood as words, then we are severely limiting the definition of reading. By this definition, dyslexics using compensatory strategies are not reading, but doing something else even if the result - understanding of written texts - is the same for them as for non-dyslexic readers.
>The claim that reading is genetic eerily reminds me of the consistent and continuous misrepresentation of the FOXP2 gene as "the grammar gene," when, in fact, the gene affects motor routines and not language acquisition per se.
>Olga Griswold
>-----Original Message-----
>From: on behalf of Katarina Rodina
>Sent: Wed 9/20/2006 6:46 AM
>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>Subject: Re: [xmca] reading ability is genetic!? (read this one!)
>environment vs. inheritance as etiological factors for learning (in this
>case developmental dyslexia dysabilities is one of the "eternal" debates
>in cognitive science). Elena Grigorenko (a genetician and psychologist) is
>a specialist in this field of research. She claims that one of the most
>important causes for reading dysabilities (dyslexia) is inheritance.
>Together with collegues from The University of Yale, she has found a
>second gene in the 6th chromosome, that may cause dyslexia. There are also
>scholars claiming that dyslexia depends on the cultural context, so that
>in different cultures, there will be different kinds of causes for
>I agree about the use and abuse of statistical methods. Quantitative
>research approach, typically positivistic, is somewhat dissonant in our
>postmodern times...
>On Wed, September 20, 2006 14:35, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>Here's a paper by this group:
>>They prove that differential reading ability in people is genetic using
>>At 05:51 PM 20/09/2006 +0700, you wrote:
>>>I poked my nose into the paper and found the following, which may
>>>explain the psycholinguistic framework they're working within.
>>>"Another key issue that we wish to explore is the role of semantics.
>>>One possibility that needs to be considered is that the independent
>>>genetic variance that we have found to be associated with irregular
>>>word reading in fact reflects the genetic effect of semantics. That
>>>is, as irregular words activate semantics, while nonwords do not,
>>>this semantic factor accounts for the necessity to propose
>>>independent genetic influences on these two reading skills (a
>>>hypothesis consistent with connectionist models such as those of
>>>Plaut et al., 1996). This possibility can be explicitly examined
>>>within a twin sample by separately assessing semantic performance in
>>>addition to irregular word and nonword reading (for instance by
>>>verbally asking subjects to define words). If irregular word reading
>>>cannot be achieved without semantics, this measured semantic
>>>performance should load on the same genetic factor that explains
>>>irregular word reading. If, on the other hand, semantics is a
>>>cognitive module independent of lexical processing, then a good fit
>>>to these three variables should require a new, additional genetic
>>>On 20/09/2006, at 4:58 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>Can anyone deal with this stupidity:
>>>>I haven't read the research and it's not my discipline, but I heard
>>>>the Macquarie University guy interviewed on Radio National last
>>>>year, and his thesis is based on data comparing the reading ability
>>>>of kids arriving at primary school, and presuming that any
>>>>difference in ability must be genetic, because there is nothing
>>>>between birth and arriving at school which he thinks could affect
>>>>ability to learn to read. ... or is there so much of this rubbish
>>>>about that it's not worth contesting? I mean these people get
>>>>government money for purveying this stuff!
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
>>identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
>>xmca mailing list

He only earns his freedom and his life, who takes them every day by storm.
-- Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Emily D. Duvall Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Assistant-Instructor Language and Literacy Education (LLED) Department of Curriculum and Instruction College of Education Penn State University 256 Chambers Bldg. University Park , PA 16802 814-861-3315 (home) 814-404-6175 (cell) 814-863-4511 (office) FAX: 814-863-7602

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