Corina, D. P., Lawyer, L. A., Hauser, P. C., & Hirshorn, E. (2013). Lexical processing in deaf readers: An fMRI investigation of reading proficiency. Public Library of Science ONE, 8(1), e54696. DOI: 10.137/journal.pone.0054696
Individuals with significant hearing loss often fail to attain competency in reading orthographic scripts which encode the sound properties of spoken language. Nevertheless, some profoundly deaf individuals do learn to read at age-appropriate levels. The question of what differentiates proficient deaf readers from less-proficient readers is poorly understood but topical, as efforts to develop appropriate and effective interventions are needed. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activation in deaf readers (N = 21), comparing proficient (N = 11) and less proficient (N = 10) readers’ performance in a widely used test of implicit reading. Proficient deaf readers activated left inferior frontal gyrus and left middle and superior temporal gyrus in a pattern that is consistent with regions reported in hearing readers. In contrast, the less-proficient readers exhibited a pattern of response characterized by inferior and middle frontal lobe activation (right>left) which bears some similarity to areas reported in studies of logographic reading, raising the possibility that these individuals are using a qualitatively different mode of orthographic processing than is traditionally observed in hearing individuals reading sound-based scripts. The evaluation of proficient and less-proficient readers points to different modes of processing printed English words. Importantly, these preliminary findings allow us to begin to establish the impact of linguistic and educational factors on the neural systems that underlie reading achievement in profoundly deaf individuals.