Ep. 23 - The Neuroscience of Resilience & Dyslexia w/ Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D.

Episode Summary

Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D., leading cognitive neuroscientist, joins the READ Podcast to explore pressing questions about the brain, resilience, and learning disabilities. Dr. Hoeft examines the definitions of resilience and outlines its promotive factors related to the reading brain and children with learning disabilities. She cites the latest brain research on the role of stigma and stereotype threat in children with LD, drawing implications on how to combat stigma and cultivate a more inclusive environment in schools. At the end of the episode, Dr. Hoeft discusses her leadership to support the worldwide community during and post-pandemic and calls for solutions to democratize education for all.

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

1. The Neurobiology of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is neurobiological, meaning its markers and factors are brain-based.

"[Neurobiological explains] how each individual is biologically different, and people are going to have strengths, differences, and weaknesses. In terms of dyslexia specifically, there are neurobiological differences that makes it more challenging for them to learn to read."

2. Early Screening and Evidence-Based Education by the Numbers

"Early screening is NOT a tool to label kids, but it instead identifies the risks so that we can prioritize resources and help children. Screening helps us identify children for their strengths and weaknesses so that we can better serve their success."

Did you know?

  • It is most effective to identify children earlier in Pre-K or Kindergarten. For every year we wait to identify and intervene for reading difficulties, there is about a 25 to 50% reduction in effectiveness of remediation.
  • For every $1 spent on high quality and evidence-based early instruction and intervention, there is a $16 to $30 return on investment from the local to global economy.

"If there's science that supports and tells us that we can identify and remediate children's risk [of reading difficulties] early with a very high accuracy and effectiveness, then why wait?"

3. Cognitive and Social Emotional Resilience

Dr. Hoeft defines resilience as experiencing a positive outcome given a biological vulnerability.

Cognitive v. Social Emotional Resilience and Children with Dyslexia

Cognitive resilience is when a child has difficulty with decoding and word level reading skills but demonstrates strong reading comprehension skills. Cognitive resilience can be promoted by strong skills in:

  • Executive functioning
  • Language
  • Morphological processing

Social emotional resilience can be promoted by:

  • Internal factors (e.g., growth mindset, locus of control, self-determination)
  • Family support (e.g., sense of stability, maternal and parental attachment, positive relationships)
  • School-based community (e.g., peer, mentoring, teachers, small group size)

Did you know? Current research explores the relationship between the social emotional and cognitive aspects of resilience in the executive functioning networks of the brain.

4. The role of stigma and mentoring for children with learning disabilities

There is a correlation between a learning disability and the prevalence of mental health and social emotional outcomes such as depression, anxiety, lower sense of mastery, and growth mindset.

"Stigma does impact children who have an invisible disability like LD and dyslexia."

Research shows that near peer mentoring has benefits for children with learning disabilities including their perceived levels of stress, depression, and interpersonal relationships. Read more about Dr. Hoeft’s study on near peer mentoring here.

"Self-esteem, depression, and interpersonal relationships all had a positive impact [when children with LD] went through these mentoring programs."

The research has found that mentoring has a multidirectional impact on mentors and mentees… bottom line: there is an incredible power of positive, trusting relationships!

5. The call to democratizing education through:
  • The expansion of team science and collaboration between researchers and schools
  • Education technology
  • The prioritization of support and access for children who live in poverty or who have little access to education technology and Internet

"I'd really love to build a more coherent program where we can think about how we can democratize education and how we can live up to what we believe in, which is that reading and learning is a human right."

A larger focus on intersectionality of identities and understanding of how stigma and stereotype threat impacts students with disabilities

"We concluded in research that stigma or stereotype threat are salient experiences in those individuals with learning disorders or learning differences."

When you think about the intersection and those who have LD and are racial minorities or are socioeconomically challenged, you can only imagine the exponentially larger impact [of stigma and stereotype threat] on these individuals that has been completely or often ignored in the research literature.

6. Initiatives that targeted the educational and community needs during and post-pandemic such as:
  • Leveraging the promise and identifying the gaps of education technology

"We knew the promise of education technology but we weren’t capitalizing on it… And even though we might show a positive impact on education technology, if you can’t access to internet when there’s a shutdown, that is going to change the way you access education and opportunities."



Learn More About Dr. Hoeft and Her Research    Dr. Hoeft on Twitter

More About Dr. Hoeft  Dr. Hoeft's Ask a Brain Scientist Series

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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.