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Faculty & Research

Nadine Gaab

Associate Professor of Education

Nadine Gaab

Degree:  Ph.D., University of Zürich, Switzerland, (2004)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Office:  Larsen 504
Faculty Assistant:  Annemari Korte

Profile

Nadine Gaab is an associate professor of Education. She received a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Zürich in Switzerland and did postdoctoral training at Stanford University and MIT.

Gaab’s work focuses on developmental cognitive neuroscience, particularly in language-based learning disabilities and typical and atypical reading development. Her research within the Gaablab the development of typical and atypical language and literacy skills in the pediatric brain as well as pre-markers of learning disabilities. Her work also focuses on developing EDtech screening tools for screening literacy milestones and developmental dyslexia as well as on educational policy and advocacy on behalf of children with learning disabilities.

She is the 2019 recipient of the LDA Award (Learning Disabilities Association America) for her work on learning disabilities. In 2018, Gaab was presented with the Allan C. Crocker Award for her advocacy on behalf of children with dyslexia and reading disabilities and efforts around the recent passage of the Massachusetts screening legislation. She has also been recognized by the International Dyslexia Association in her receipt of the Norman Geschwind Memorial lecture in 2020 and the Alice H. Garside Award for outstanding leadership in advancing the science and advocacy of dyslexia. She is a co-founder of EarlyBird Education, a company that focuses on developing screeners for the early identification of reading difficulties, including dyslexia, and works to provide practical solutions for evidence-based responses following screenings.

The Gaablab employs cross-sectional and longitudinal study designs and works closely with numerous public and private schools and districts within the US.
 

Click here to see a full list of Nadine Gaab’s courses.

Areas of Expertise
Sponsored Projects

 

Examining distinct and shared mechanisms underlying arithmetic and reading development through behavioral and neural measures: a longitudinal investigation (2021-2026)
NIH/NICHD

Arithmetic and reading are the most fundamental skills acquired during elementary school and are crucial for successful academic achievement, employment prospects, and mental health. Despite the significance of arithmetical and reading skills, many children and adults in developed societies exhibit deficient reading and arithmetical abilities. Accumulating evidence suggests a strong neurocognitive and genetic link between reading and arithmetic, with high co-occurrence rates of both reading and arithmetical learning difficulties. However, the developmental trajectories of typical and atypical arithmetical and reading skills have been predominantly studied apart and potential shared mechanisms of typical and atypical reading and arithmetic development are unknown. Here, for the first time, we propose a longitudinal investigation that aims to (a) compare typical and atypical developmental trajectories of reading and arithmetic from kindergarten to third grade, (b) characterize similarities, differences, and classification power of neural and cognitive measures to profile the shared mechanisms underlying arithmetic and reading, and (c) determine a set of predictors in kindergarten predicting arithmetic and reading outcome after four years of formal instruction. Employing a longitudinal study design, the proposed project aims to investigate the developmental relationships of reading and arithmetic in the typical and atypical development of arithmetical skills from the beginning of kindergarten to third grade, in 180 children with either a familial risk for arithmetic difficulties (AD), a familial risk for reading difficulties (RD), or without any familial risk for reading or arithmetical difficulties, using functional and structural brain measures and behavioral correlates. Neural correlates of arithmetic, reading, and related subskills, together with a comprehensive psychometric battery measuring reading and arithmetical development and domain-general and domain-specific skills, will be examined four times over four years during critical stages of acquiring literacy and numerical concepts. By targeting children with a family history of AD and RD, and due to the genetic profile overlap of these two conditions, the probability of children exhibiting atypical reading and arithmetic development is increased, which will allow us to study and compare the developmental trajectories of both typical and atypical reading and arithmetical skills.This study has the potential to provide a model for understanding developmental learning disabilities, their underlying mechanisms, and their co-occurrence. The current focus on a reactive, deficit-driven instead of a preventive model in the field of learning disabilities is detrimental for students, as interventions have been proven to be most effective at an earlier age of heightened brain plasticity and because of the implications for mental health in struggling students as a result of the current “wait-to-fail” approach. Understanding the shared and distinct underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms between typical and atypical arithmetic and reading skills and their precursors will be of great significance for the development of early screening, diagnostic, and intervention tools.

 

Why do so many children struggle with learning to read and what can we do about it. The need for a global, neurodevelopmental perspective from infancy to school-age (2021-2022)
Jacobs Foundation

 

 

Milagros para Ninos : Screening preschoolers in Latino families for early signs of reading disabilities (2021-2022)
Children's Hospital Boston

Typically, developmental dyslexia is not diagnosed until a child has failed to learn to read as expected, usually in second grade or later. As a result, children with dyslexia must often make up a large gap in reading ability and experience to reach the level of their typically reading peers (Hiebert, 2000). Years of failure to read can lead to reduced self esteem, depression and other psychological and clinical implications (Valas, 1999). Furthermore, targeted interventions are most effective when administered in kindergarten and first grade (Torgesen, 2000). Thus, to date, dyslexia is generally diagnosed after the most effective time for intervention has passed, which can be termed the ‘dyslexia paradox’.While several behavioral measures show promise in predicting which children will develop dyslexia even before reading onset (Ozernov-Palchik et al., 2016; Scarborough, 1998; Schatschneider, Fletcher, Francis, Carlson, & Foorman, 2004), most of these studies have included white middle-class families; it remains unclear whether the same measures also reliably predict reading performance in children with diverse language and social backgrounds. Since bilingualism and socioeconomic status are interrelated (Garcia, 2015), reading difficulty in bilingual children is often attributed to developing English skills or altered language environment associated with low-income households and a diagnosis of developmental dyslexia may therefore be easily overlooked or confirmed later in age.Here, we propose a longitudinal study in the Primary Care Settings of BCH. We propose to Screen:- 50 bilingual children from Spanish speaking homes with a Latino background- 50 monolingual English speaking childrenwith a 40-60 minute screening battery at their 5-year well visit. We will then reassess these children at their 6-year well visit. We will further ask the parents to fill out a questionnaire regarding home literacy and their own history of reading acquisition and impairments. We will then examine which tests are most predictive in each group with the overall goal to develop a short screening tool for reading difficulty that is appropriate for English-Spanish bilingual children (from primarily low income families). Currently, no such tool exists in either clinical or educational setting. This will improve the early identification of children at-risk for developmental dyslexia and/or language-based learning disabilities in preschoolers from Latino families that primarily speak Spanish in their homes.Subsequently, early remediation can be customized for these children which will provide linguistically- and culturally-sensitive support. Most importantly, early identification has the potential to reduce the downstream psychological and clinical negative consequences associated with delayed or ambiguous diagnosis.

 

Early Dyslexia/Reading Disability Screening App (2021-2022)
Children's Hospital Boston

The early dyslexia/reading disability screening project shares many of the same missions and goals that the Foundations share. Through our project, we intend to focus on education -specifically dyslexia and reading disabilities as a result of environmental factors - with the overarching goal of having long-term, scalable and societal impact. We want to focus on the knowledge and strategies that are available to children who struggle with reading as a result of dyslexia or their language environment at home. We will achieve this by collaborating with other experts to drive faster and greater progress. The mission of our project lies in the fact that children with dyslexia and reading disabilities need to learn reading in ways that are often not well-aligned with teaching methodologies implemented in mainstream school systems -this can be addressed before the child encounters socio-emotional difficulties. Overall, we want to spread awareness of early screening based on evidence-based techniques that will drive for further successful outcomes and reverse the 'dyslexia paradox'1 by providing a tangible, scalable solution.

 

BabyBOLD : Examining neural mechanisms of developmental dyslexia from infancy to school-age (2021-2022)
Children's Hospital Boston

Developmental Dyslexia (DD) is a strongly heritable specific learning disability of neurobiological origin, but the underlying neural mechanisms are largely unknown. Although DD is not diagnosed until a child has failed to learn to read, usually in late elementary school, after reading impairments and associated psychological burdens manifest, interventions are most effective in younger children. Thus, to date, DD is generally diagnosed after the most effective time for intervention has passed. A tentative pathway between genetic effects, early brain development, and behavior in DD has been proposed but only a few studies have examined longitudinal brain development in infants at risk for DD and none have investigated the development of brain structure or metabolic function. Furthermore, although behavioral research has demonstrated a strong relationship between reading skills in parents and their children, the intergenerational transmission of structural and functional brain alterations in DD is unknown. Building on our previous work, which showed atypical functional and structural brain development in infants, preschoolers, and kindergarteners at-risk for dyslexia, the goal of this proposed project is to characterize trajectories of early brain development in infants with (FHD+) and without (FHD-) a familial risk for DD from early infancy through elementary school and to further examine intergenerational transmission of brain alterations associated with DD in child-parent dyads. We will utilize a longitudinal approach and MR measures will be obtained in a new infant cohort, and an existing child cohort for which infant data have already been collected. Furthermore, the parents of all children will be examined. Using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging as well as magnetic resonance spectroscopy and behavioral measures, Aim 1 (cross-sectional) will characterize atypical structural, functional and metabolic brain development in FHD+ compared to FHD- infants and children at 5 time points. Aim 2 (longitudinal) utilizes growth curve and trajectory analyses to characterize and compare developmental trajectories of FHD+ and FHD- infants from infancy through elementary school. Aim 3 will examine the intergenerational transmission of brain structure/function critical for reading as well as behavioral reading skills in children-parent dyads. The current practice of DD diagnosis only after years of reading failure is detrimental to the well-being of children and their families who experience the psychosocial implications of DD for years prior to diagnosis. Identifying the underlying neural mechanisms of DD in infancy is highly innovative and has the potential to inform early identification of children at risk and the development of early preventive and intervention strategies during a period of heightened brain plasticity. It may also draw increased research attention to this age group (infancy) in DD and has the potential to provide a model for longitudinal studies of other developmental disabilities. It can further highlight the importance of examining brain development trajectories starting in infancy to illuminate emerging brain-behavior associations across the developmental timeline.

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