OBJECTIVES In children with clinically diagnosed learning disabilities with focal findings on neurologic or neuropsychological evaluations, there is a hypothesized association between disorders in automaticity and focal structural abnormalities observed in brain MRIs. METHODS We undertook a retrospective analysis of cases referred to a tertiary-hospital-based learning disabilities program. Individuals were coded as having a focal deficit if either neurologic or neuropsychological evaluation demonstrated focal dysfunction. Those with abnormal MRI findings were categorized based on findings. Children with abnormalities from each of these categories were compared in terms of deficits in automaticity, as measured by the tasks of Rapid Automatized Naming, Rapid Alternating Stimulus Naming, or the timed motor performance battery from the Physical and Neurological Examination for Soft Signs. Data were compared in children with and without disorders of automaticity regarding type of brain structure abnormality. RESULTS Of the 1,587 children evaluated, 127 had a focal deficit. Eighty-seven had a brain MRI (52 on 1.5-tesla machines and 35 on 3.0-tesla machines). Forty of these images were found to be abnormal. These children were compared with a clinic sample of 150 patients with learning disabilities and no focal findings on examination, who also had undergone MRI. Only 5 of the latter group had abnormalities on MRI. Reduced verbal automaticity was associated with cerebellar abnormalities, whereas reduced automaticity on motor or motor and verbal tasks was associated with white matter abnormalities. CONCLUSION Reduced automaticity of retrieval and slow timed motor performance appear to be highly associated with MRI findings.
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