Professor Jack Fletcher directs the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities and is the principal investigator for a nine million dollar National Center Grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the learning disabilities in fourth graders.
"The reasons we're looking at grade four is to try and determine whether intervention as late as grade four can be as effective as interventions that start early," he said. "We are particularly interested in kids who have continued to struggle in elementary school."
Four hundred students in Austin and Houston schools are being followed for the next three years. One group will receive new reading interventions for two years. One group will receive interventions for one year, and one group will continue with current standard practices. Based on these results, a new intervention will begin in the fourth year.
"Part of the question we have is 'what represents a learning disability.' and the question we're focused on is the whole issue of how do you incorporate instructional response into the definition of kids with learning disabilities," Fletcher said.
A unique component of the UH research includes neuroimaging of the brains to study the relationship of reading instruction and brain function and how the brain changes when children develop reading interventions.
"We're trying to understand difference in brain organization both in terms of brain anatomy and in particular how different brain regions are connected which is very addressable now through structural imaging steps," he said.
This research features collaboration with the UT Health Science Center and UT Austin and experts across disciplines.
"This inter-institutional collaboration is absolutely key to a major area like Houston in terms of developing and implementing research based strategies for helping kids," Fletcher said.