What is the cause of dyslexia? A multifactorial additive risk factor model

Competing theories of dyslexia posit that reading difficulties arise from impaired visual, auditory, phonological, or statistical learning mechanisms. Importantly, many theories posit that dyslexia reflects a cascade of impairments emanating from a single “core deficit”. Here we report two studies evaluating core deficit and multifactorial models. In Study 1, we use publicly available data from the Healthy Brain Network to test the accuracy of phonological processing measures for predicting dyslexia diagnosis and find that over 30% of cases are misclassified (sensitivity = 66.7%; specificity = 68.2%). In Study 2, we collect a battery of psychophysical measures of visual motion processing and standardized measures of phonological processing in 106 school‐aged children to investigate whether dyslexia is best conceptualized under a core‐deficit model, or as a disorder with heterogenous origins. Specifically, by capitalizing on the drift diffusion model to analyze performance on a visual motion discrimination experiment, we show that deficits in visual motion processing, perceptual decision‐making, and phonological processing manifest largely independently. Based on statistical models of how variance in reading skill is parceled across measures of visual processing, phonological processing, and decision‐making, our results challenge the notion that a unifying deficit characterizes dyslexia. Instead, these findings indicate a model where reading skill is explained by several distinct, additive predictors, or risk factors, of reading (dis)ability.

Multifactorial Additive Risk Factor Model of Dyslexia

O’Brien, Yeatman J.D.

Bridging sensory and language theories of dyslexia: Toward a multifactorial model.

Developmental Science, 2020