NEW YORK — — How do you teach a newborn to read?
How can a baby learn to read from its earliest years?
It depends on where it comes from, says a research scientist who has spent the last decade studying how babies learn.
The baby’s brain is not built for reading, she said.
“It’s not really a ‘good enough’ ability to read, it’s a really good ability to do it from very early in life, and then it’s really a combination of other abilities,” said Dr. Jillian E. Fink, a developmental biologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
She has found that babies are better at decoding pictures and letters, but they’re not as good at reading words or sentences.
This is the first study that suggests babies could learn to do both in the same week, she told Reuters Health by phone.
The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.
The scientists studied five months of newborns who were born with Down syndrome and were enrolled in the Johns-Hopkins NICU in Baltimore.
All were between ages 7 and 16.
They asked the babies to read the first word of each sentence, as long as it was not a word the babies had already learned.
Then, the researchers asked the children to complete a series of puzzles that required the infants to figure out letters or words, and to solve the puzzles by reading letters.
The babies were given a small amount of a substance called Lisdexamfetamine, which is used to treat severe seizures and other neurological conditions.
When the children were tested before and after their NICU visits, researchers found that the babies with Down’s syndrome were more adept at decoding.
They were more than twice as likely to decode letters and the right to comprehend a sentence when given LisdEXamfetamines, the study found.
“It was like they were reading a dictionary, they were decoding, and they were doing it at the same time,” Fink said.
When the babies were tested during the NICU stay, the scientists found that they did not appear to have any differences in learning.
Fink is not surprised.
“If you’re just trying to teach babies, you have to give them a whole lot of different things,” she said, adding that the NICUs do not have enough room for babies.
Scientists are trying to figure it out, Fink told Reuters health by phone, but she believes babies have a “pretty robust” ability to learn to decode even if their brains are not developed for it.
“I think that it’s just not really that complicated,” she added.
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