Defining Reading Deficits Could Lead to Early Interventions for Schizophrenia

Visual and auditory impairments are common traits of schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia often experience language problems that can lead to hallucinations and distorted thinking. Another common issue that people with schizophrenia face is the inability to accurately process written words. The way in which people process words and comprehend written material is essential to overall quality of life. People with literacy challenges have more problems communicating with others and are less able to maintain daily activities and keep gainful employment. Because both visual and language skills are necessary to maintaining a stable quality of life, it is imperative to understand how deficits in these areas interact in individuals at risk for schizophrenia.

To explore the relationship between visual and speech processing, Veronica Whitford of the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal conducted a study on 36 individuals, 20 of whom had a history of schizophrenia. Using several tests, Whitford assessed the participants’ eye movements, executive processing functions and comprehension. She found that the participants with schizophrenia had higher levels of eye movement than the controls, which led to more reading challenges and slower reading. These individuals exhibited difficulties in comprehension and had problems converting the written words into phonetically correct speech.

Whitford discovered that the participants with schizophrenia had impairments in key reading functions that were above and beyond those found in the participants without schizophrenia. She also noticed that these deficits were similar to those in individuals with dyslexia. She believes that further exploration of neurological development in people with dyslexia and people with schizophrenia could provide additional insight into links and possible interventions. Whitford added, “If true, reading measures, in combination with other information such as family history, might be used to better identify people in the early stages of the illness and thus allow for better targeting of early interventions.” Whitford noted that regardless of mental health, every individual should be afforded the opportunity to enhance their reading and comprehension skills in order to improve their quality of life. The findings of this study may very well be the first step on the path toward that end for people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

Whitford, V., O’Driscoll, G. A., Pack, C. C., Joober, R., Malla, A., Titone, D. (2012). Reading impairments in schizophrenia relate to individual differences in phonological processing and oculomotor control: Evidence from a gaze-contingent moving window paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028062

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  • Victor


    May 2nd, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    This is pretty amazing stuff right here! Who knew that having challenges with reading and other language processing could be a conclusive indicator of future onset of schizophrenia? The more that we get reading and possibly speech therapists involved with school age children, then we have a great opportunity to catch this early, and if not stop it, at least provide some early intervention that may slow the progression of the disease as well as teach families and students both more about what could happen later on and some better ways to deal with it. Great job/.

  • Shell


    May 2nd, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    What parents from generations ago would have given to know this kind of information when it came to their own children!
    I am sure that these families had a tremendously difficult time as their children got oldre and began experiencing so many of these problems together.
    Just knowing half of what we know today could have greatly improved the quality of life for so many people.
    But I suppose we can’t bemaon the knowledge of the past, we just have to be grateful for that that we know now and for how much more we will gain in the future.

  • Nona


    May 3rd, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    I would have never thought that these few things would almost start to fit together to tell a story like puzzle pieces.

    It might not be the complete story, but it is a part that has not been explored before, and that kind of new research always shows promise for giving people answers that they have lacked before.

  • Aiden


    May 3rd, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Knowing that there is information like this available is one thing, but knowing the right person at the right time to help you diagnose this very early on is bound to be tricky. How is a parent supposed to know when those reading cues are off when he or she has never had any training in this area? And most teachers are so overwhelmed with large class sizes and keeping the lid on some behavior that it is going to be tough for them to tell early on that something might be a little off too. I am glad that this information is coming out, and maybe there will be far more training in the future to help those who are aorund kids have a better feel for these kinds of things, but for now I am not sure just how many plain old folks like me would even be able to distinguish that there was a problem and seek help from someone who would understand it better.

  • Matt


    May 4th, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    So doesn’t this approach not give a conclusive result?Because the traits are similar to dyslexia do how would they ascertain whether it is a risk for dyslexia or schizophrenia?

  • Vickie


    May 5th, 2012 at 7:25 AM

    I know that knowing all of this is going to be so important for some parents. . . but for the owrrywarts,do you think that it could cause them to always be on the lookout for something? Like you know how there are certain people who always are looking for something to go wrong and be wrong, this could fan the flames for them. But of course if they found out something early enough them of course that would be a good thing, but I just know that there are some parents always looking and watching for some thing to go wrong and to be wrong.

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