A significant proportion of children have unexpected difficulties mastering speech, language and/or reading, despite adequate intelligence and opportunity. It has long been suspected that genetic factors make a substantial contribution to such disorders. With advances in DNA methods, scientists can now identify key genes that are involved and study how they work. The FOXP2 gene provides a compelling example. Rare mutations of this gene cause problems with learning to sequence mouth movements during speech, accompanied by deficits in language production and comprehension, spanning spoken and written domains. FOXP2 codes for a regulatory protein which switches other genes on and off. Versions of FOXP2 are found in many species; studies of animals and birds are deciphering how it affects development and function of brain circuits. This research shows that genetic contributions to human language are built on pathways that are evolutionarily ancient. Overall, the FOXP2 story highlights the value of interdisciplinary research for tracing the connections between genes, neurons, circuits and behaviour.
ADULT: Recognize the various speech/language issues of adults who have dyslexia and other language learning disabilities.
RESEARCH: Examine research findings and implications for practice relevant to students with dyslexia and other language learning disabilities.
RESEARCH: Understand how genes, brains and contemporary culture contribute to learning disorders and develop effective strategies to support each child’s success both in school and in life.
Disclosure: Simon Fisher has no relevant financial or nonfinancial relationships to disclose.
Director, Professor of Language and Genetics,
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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