Dyslexia, Rhythm and The Brain


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Dyslexia, Rhythm and the Brain

Professor Usha Goswami, Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, Cambridge, presented an overview of how brain rhythms encode speech rhythms and why this neural process may be atypical in dyslexia.

By Julia Hewerdine


Dyslexia, Rhythm and the Brain

Usha Goswami is the Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge. The Centre uses EEG and fNIRS to explore the developing brain.

Usha Goswani gave a fascinating talk about how a typical learner hears the syllables in speech compared to a learner with dyslexia.  Children with dyslexia show sensory impairment in processing rhythm. A group of students were given a basic task of physically tapping along to speech. The students with dyslexia showed a much greater variability in results, showing they found it much harder to stay in time.

She talked about how she developed a more direct measure of syllable stress perception. An example of a stressed syllable would be that when we say the word ‘garden’ we stress the first syllable: GAR den.  Stressed syllables appear in most languages at 2Hz. Children with dyslexia find difficulty recovering and processing the prosodic structure form speech signals, particularly the rise in time of each part of the sentence.

It appears that the slower oscillations .90-2.5Hz are more important in the development in language and are the foundations for building understanding the faster oscillations.  Children with dyslexia will develop an altered foundation which makes the development towards the higher frequency patterns harder for them.

The research study used an ‘EEG’ (sponge head cap) to conduct tests, using a music task. It revealed that the dyslexic learners’ brainwaves fired at different times compared to others’ – slightly early. It was noted that at slower rates (0 – 2 Hz)  the dyslexia brain does not encode speech signals. The underlying beat structure in the music task was 2 Hz, (beats occurring every 500 ms or two beats a second). The dyslexics only showed impairment in neural entrainment at the slower rate of 2 Hz. Intriguingly, they also showed better entrainment than controls at the faster rate of 10 Hz.

The study data suggested that children with developmental dyslexia are ‘in tune but out of time’.  Usha Goswami has used the results of her study to suggest that rhythmic entrainment difficulties may be at the heart of developmental dyslexia.


The Dyslexia Matters Team are keen to understand the many fields of research that aim to further unlock the reasons why learners with dyslexia face the difficulties they do.


Following current research is one of the ways in which we can help you achieve your goal related to dyslexia. Sign up to join the hundreds of candidates already benefitting from our courses and be part of our journey to make the changes people with dyslexia need.’