There's growing evidence that children with dyslexia may have heightened social and emotional intelligence.
Along with showing that dyslexia may be much more complex than poor reading skills, new study findings add to previous research indicating that dyslexia is often linked with hidden interpersonal strengths.
"There are anecdotes that some kids with dyslexia have greater social and emotional intelligence," said study co-author Virginia Sturm, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco Memory and Aging Center.
"We don't want to say that all kids with dyslexia are necessarily gifted in this way, but we can think about dyslexia as being associated with both strengths and weaknesses," Sturm added in a university news release.
In terms of weaknesses, the researchers noted that higher emotional reactivity and sensitivity among children with dyslexia could increase their risk for anxiety and depression.
For the study, investigators assessed 32 children with dyslexia, ages 8-12, and 22 children without the learning disability.
The children with dyslexia were tested to confirm they had difficulty reading, and had assessments of their thinking skills and comprehension of emotional terms. The children and their parents also completed questionnaires about the youngsters' emotional and mental health.
The researchers found the children with dyslexia had stronger physiological and behavioral responses when watching emotionally powerful videos, compared to the children without dyslexia.
This stronger emotional response was associated with greater connectivity in the brain's salience network, which is involved in emotion generation and self-awareness, according to the study.
"The message for families is that this condition may be defined by its negative effects on reading, but we need to look more deeply and broadly to all brain functions in dyslexia in order to gain a better understanding of associated strengths and identify effective remediation strategies," said co-author Dr. Maria Luisa Gorno-Tempini, a professor and co-director of the UCSF Dyslexia Center.
The findings have implications for education for children with dyslexia, Sturm said.
"We need to base teaching on strengths as well as weaknesses. For example, kids with dyslexia may do better in one-on-one or group teaching scenarios depending on how they connect emotionally with teachers or peers," she said. "But we also need to be aware of their vulnerability to anxiety and depression and be sure they have adequate support to process their potentially strong emotions."
The results were recently published online in the journal Cortex.