NARSAD Grantee Helps Uncover Schizophrenia Warning Sign

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Debra Titone, Ph.D. at McGill University, Expert on schizophrenia and schizophrenia warning signs
Debra Titone, Ph.D.

A recent study, led in part by NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Debra Titone, Ph.D. at McGill University, indicates that patients with schizophrenia are likely to have problems with reading fluency. This discovery may become a possible schizophrenia warning sign and help in early diagnosis and intervention.

While prior research has linked abnormalities in eye movements with schizophrenia, reading ability has been thought to be unaffected. In this study, the researchers went beyond the usual single-word reading tests and evaluated eye movement while study participants read simple sentences. Evaluating twenty patients with schizophrenia and sixteen non-psychiatric participants, they found that patients with schizophrenia had greater difficulty reading quickly, processing individual words and processing upcoming words—all of which would aid in reading fluency.

The findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. In addition to offering a potential schizophrenia early warning sign, Dr. Titone adds that, "Improving reading through intervention in people with schizophrenia may be important to improving their ability to function in society."

Read more about this research

Article comments

Interesting research. My 28 yo son, who is diagnosed with sz also had an IEP for reading/spelling/language difficulties in elementary school. Poor visual motor fluency may be an early indicator that can help lead to early intervention.

need more on schizophrenia new treatment for people whoare being treated for mental illness

My son was identified with a disorder of eye brain disconnect when he was in first grade. He was prescribed a six month treatment of computer eye coordination. When he was 26 he was diagnosised with Schizophrenia, this research supports what I have long suspected.

My son was very bright an A student and in Junior High just dramatically dropped to a D-F student who refused to do any school work. He seemed to stop developing normally and was not motivated. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at 22 years old. For years he kept saying he needed glasses but his eyesight was deemed fine by many visits to eye doctors. He said bright red lights bothered him as he drove at night, etc.. Thank you for your research.

Unless I am missing something here, it's a little disconcerting that the title to this article purports to be about a warning sign that has been uncovered only to find that said study was conducted on individuals who already have schizophrenia. I am not at all disputing the usefulness of the study as my own sibling, as well as the individuals I've worked with over the years, certainly now have difficulty with reading fluency and it would be lovely if their fluency could be improved; however, none, that I know of had any such difficulties as children or teens. Although I have been told that studies have indicated that there is absolutely no evidence that schizophrenia is diagnosed more frequently in individuals with higher levels of intelligence, my own experience, as well as that of many of my social work colleagues, has led us to question this statement. The very brightest persons I worked with - almost all of whom were, in fact, skillful and prolific readers in their early lives - in my 20+ career as a social worker (in psychiatric and other settings) were those who were diagnosed with schizophrenia. If another NARSAD supporter could send me a reference to the aforementioned studies that prove otherwise, I'd love to have it. In the meantime, I will anxiously await the study that demonstrates that impairment of reading fluency begins prior to the onset of schizophrenia, thereby serving as a warning sign. [My apologies to the researcher if this is discussed in the full journal article to which I do not have access.]

How do you differentiate these finding from those who were diagnosed with dyslexia as a child? In other words, how many of the participants in this study already had a diagnosis of dylexia before the study was undertaken? How do you know that those who showed signs of reading fluency and comprehension problems didn't already have trouble reading? Did any one think to study the link between dylexia in childhood and later development of schizophrenia/ shizoaffective/ biporlar affective disorders?

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Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
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