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Video games top treatment for dyslexia, say researchers

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Most people think video games and reading don’t mix, but it turns out a little Halo here and there might actually be effective in treating dyslexia.

So says a group of neurologists from Italy's University of Padua, who found a correlation between a dyslexic child's visual attention span and their ability to read. The results of their study, published in the most recent edition of Current Biology, indicate that playing video games for just 12 hours is more beneficial than a full year of intense therapy.

Not just any game will do, though. To get the most benefits from a console, scientists say the game must be fast-paced, with action games being ideal.

Perhaps even more startling was the finding that the improvements were not just short term, but had lasting effects that still outshined traditional therapy.

"We tested reading, phonological, and attentional skills in two matched groups of children with dyslexia before and after they played action or nonaction video games for nine sessions of 80 min per day," the authors said. "We found that only playing action video games improved children’s reading speed, without any cost in accuracy, more so than 1 year of reading development and more than or equal to highly demanding traditional reading treatments. Attentional skills also improved during action video game training."

Researchers studied two groups of 10-year olds: one playing action games and one playing slower-paced titles. Those who picked up the faster-paced games showed a general reading improvement of up to 40 percent, cutting their reading speed almost in half. Players of non-action games showed no noticeable improvement.

"Our findings – supported by results showing that attention can be studied and efficiently trained during infancy – pave the way for low-resource-demanding early prevention programs that could drastically reduce the incident of reading disorders," wrote researchers.

Roughly 10 percent of all children suffer from some form of dyslexia. The cause of the disorder is still unknown, but current treatments require significant resources.

A positive link between gaming and reading isn't without precedent. Several studies have linked gaming with improved eyesight and increased focus. In 2007 a professor at the University of Connecticut made waves by using Halo to help teach classic literature.

The doctors behind the study note that more research is required into the benefits of gaming for dyslexic patients, but this could open the door for a low-cost way of reducing reading disorders. Sounds like a lot more fun, too.

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