Scientists at Stanford University scanned the brain anatomy of 39 children once a year for three consecutive years. The students then took standardized tests to gauge their cognitive, language and reading skills.
In each case the rate of development in the white matter regions of the brain that are associated with reading accurately predicted their test scores, a university release reported Thursday.
The findings could eventually influence reading lessons for pre-elementary children, as previous studies have shown a child's reading skills at age 7 can accurately predict the skill level 10 years down the road.
A child who is struggling at 7 will most likely be a poor reader at age 17, the researchers said.
"By the time kids reach elementary school, we're not great at finding ways of helping them catch up," lead study author Jason D. Yeatman, a doctoral candidate in psychology, said.
"Once we have an accurate model relating the maturation of the brain's reading circuitry to children's acquisition of reading skills, and once we understand which factors are beneficial, I really think it will be possible to develop early intervention protocols for children who are poor readers, and tailor individualized lesson plans to emphasize good development," Yeatman said. "Over the next five to 10 years, that's what we're really hoping to do."